Answers for the private cloud curious

Don't climb into the cloud without making these important inquiries. Got private cloud questions? We provide the answers.

Few things intrigue a forward-thinking IT department more than private cloud. No more jam-packed server rooms, fewer performance bottlenecks; the improved economics and enhanced practicality promised by the cloud computing revolution. That's the idea, anyway.

But of course, there is a gulf between the concept and what's real. Enterprises must contend with legacy gear, so shifting today's server-based applications to a new platform requires a huge level of development and expensive man hours. Even if it's a secure, more trustworthy option than public cloud, many organizations would still safely dub private cloud as "on the horizon."

If you are planning for a private cloud, make sure to ask a lot of fundamental questions. What is private cloud? Who uses it? What will I get in return, and what is the risk? You need these answers, even if you're already equipped with some variation of an in-house cloud.

What is private cloud, and who wants it?
A common question is "What's the difference between virtualization and private cloud?" The simple answer is that private clouds feature metered usage, chargeback and on-demand self-service, all of which take it a step beyond the common virtualized server. Moving from virtualization to private cloud, however, is a logical progression for those intrigued by cloud computing.

Who exactly is intrigued by cloud, at least enough to allocate precious IT budget towards it, remains to be seen. In an October 2010 TechTarget survey, nearly two-thirds of few small and medium businesses that responded said "no thanks" when asked about their private cloud ambitions.

But a more recent survey noted that 60% of respondents claimed to have at least a partial private cloud infrastructure in place. In actuality, it's probably a combination of the two: Few organizations are ready to adopt a private cloud, but many have something they like to call "private cloud" in their data centers.

What are the major private cloud risks?
While private cloud can be enticing, there are still roadblocks. Sometimes it's money. How many organizations will drop a quarter of a million dollars for a private cloud system? Even if private cloud can cut IT spending , that's a huge up-front investment at a time when IT spending remains low.

Some concerns are focused on IT. Organizations have noted that application delivery in the cloud can be technically difficult. Merging cloud and in-house processes is rarely simple, and some work is necessary to enable the kind of automation and orchestration features that make private cloud something special. IT shops will probably need to turn to cloud-oriented third-party tools.

Will private offerings rule the cloud computing market?
Some say that the real future is in the hybrid cloud. Want all the benefits of public and private cloud, combined in an extremely scalable, flexible model? Hybrid may be for you, and some are already available for use in the real world. But it's also a lot of work to monitor the flow of data between two different cloud systems, especially since hybrid clouds are still immature. Unless you have a really good reason to choose hybrid cloud, it can be a difficult decision to justify.

Until hybrid cloud technology advances, IT managers will continue to look to private cloud. And the big IT vendors know this, with many of them already presenting private cloud as their primary cloud offering. Dell is selling do-it-yourself in-house clouds, IBM is updating its Tivoli software with VMware capabilities and CSC will install and integrate VCE in 10 weeks through its BizCloud offering.

As cloud computing technology progresses, it's important for IT managers to assess where they reside on a scale from "one" to "private cloud." Some CIOs think that private cloud's a fad, going as far as to say "if you wait long enough, what's out will be back in again." Others continue to voice the same old spiel about security risks. That may be what it really comes down to: How risk averse is your enterprise? Are they willing to dive headfirst into a new technology in the hope of reaping its benefits, or would they prefer to play it safe and wait out this initial surge of cloud intrigue?

Either way, make sure you understand what you're getting into. If you're ready to shell out for the latest and greatest, prepare to build the private cloud of your dreams. If you've already got a private cloud, see if it's time to take it to the next level. And if you're still waiting, make certain that your cloud strategy is in tip-top shape. Researching the market and choosing the best pieces for your private offering will pay dividends when you begin crafting a cloud computing architecture.

Steve Cimino is the Site Editor of SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at scimino@techtarget.com.

This was first published in June 2011

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