What’s a private cloud anyway?

So in a perfect world all data centers be magically become clouds and the world is a better place. All kidding aside..I am tired of all of the hype. Let me put it this way.  All data centers cannot and will not become private clouds– at least not for most typical companies. Let me tell you why I say this.  There are some key principles of the cloud that I think are worth recounting:

1. A cloud is designed to optimize and manage workloads for efficiency. Therefore repeatable and consistent workloads are most appropriate for the cloud.

2. A cloud is intended to implement automation and virtualization so that users can add and subtract services and capacity based on demand.

3. A cloud environment needs to be economically viable.

Why aren’t traditional data centers private clouds?  What if a data center adds some self-service and  virtualization? Is that enough?  Probably not.  A typical data center is a complex environment.  It is not uncommon for a single data center to support five or six different operating systems, five or six different languages, four or five different hardware platforms and perhaps 20 or 30 applications of all sizes and shapes plus an unending number of tools to support the management and maintenance of that environment.  In Cloud Computing for Dummies, written by the team at Hurwitz & Associates there is a considerable amount written about this issue.  Given an environment like this it is almost impossible to achieve workload optimization.  In addition, there are often line of business applications that are complicated, used by a few dozen employees, and are necessary to run the business. There is simply no economic rational for such applications to be moved to a cloud — public or private.  The only alternative for such an application would be to outsource the application all together.

So what does belong in the private cloud? Application and business services that are consistent workloads that are designed for be used on demand by developers, employees, or partners.  Many companies are becoming IT providers to their own employees, partners, customers and suppliers.  These services are predictable and designed as well-defined components that can be optimized for elasticity. They can be used in different situations — for a single business situation to support a single customer or in a scenario that requires the business to support a huge partner network. Typically, these services can be designed to be used by a single operating system (typically Linux) that has been optimized to support these workloads. Many of the capabilities and tasks within this environment has been automated.

Could there be situations where an entire data center could be a private cloud? Sure, if an organization can plan well enough to limit the elements supported within the data center. I think this will happen with specialized companies that have the luxury of not supporting legacy. But for most organizations, reality is a lot messier.

  1. JP
    February 4, 2011 at 10:47 am

    Great blog entry, Judith.

    Typical datacenters are not great targets for cloud computing as you mention, but not entirely for the reasons you describe. Yes, there are some workloads better suited for cloud computing and yes, cloud computing is designed to be “on demand”, but cloud computing is also designed to be utilized for “transient” workloads. A transient workload is one that comes and goes. A test environment for a developer or a production environment for a large scale “proving ground” (think pharma testing)or hadoop clusters whose data processing needs fluxuate.

    There are many applications for private cloud with line of business applications. A typical company usage of a LOB app has peaks and valleys and provided it is optimized for a browser based environment these workloads work perfect in a private cloud environment. This scenario plays out very well when there is a need for more computing capacity at the end of a fiscal quarter, etc.

    Consistent workloads are not great candidates for cloud computing. Great candidates for cloud computing are those that have varying capacity needs and have the flexibility to allow for scaling up and down as needed. I see a bit of contradiction in your article so I’m not sure if you are stating the same thing as I am here because elasticity is definitely a plus for cloud workloads, but predictability is not a great one…predictable workloads are better suited for simple virtualization.

    Again, great information, Judith. Thanks for reading and posting.

    • February 4, 2011 at 11:37 am

      I agree with you that transient workloads are definitely appropriate for both public and private clouds. I don’t agree that consistent workloads aren’t good candidates. Let me explain what I mean. The wording perhaps should have been predictable and relatively uncomplicated workloads that can be optimized. Virtualization is clearly one of the tools but tuning the operating system to support those workloads will support scalability.

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