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The diminishing case for private cloud deployment

Private cloud gives enterprises control over a secure environment and peace of mind to those unsure of public cloud. But project failure is an ever-looming possibility.

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Moving to the cloud is supposed to be a seamless process that provides elasticity and saves money. But many enterprises have found that private cloud deployment leads to more headaches for IT.

A true private cloud must have self-service access, tracking and monitoring of resources, and full automation. An enterprise is drawn to a private cloud because it's designed to provide better security and more control than a public cloud. But is that always the case?

The complexity of a private cloud and maintenance costs are actually alarming to IT admins.

"Private cloud projects fail due to a lack of architectural understanding of the technology," said David Linthicum, vice president of Cloud Technology Partners in Boston. "Thus, the implementations become much more difficult than expected."

Enterprises should focus on using the cloud solely to deliver the value and the benefits they need, regardless of whether it fulfills the true definition of the private cloud. The goal is to improve business agility, not adhere to an industry definition.

Public versus private cloud doesn't mean the former will save enterprises money and the latter provides better security. The challenges vary for each enterprise -- depending on which cloud it migrates to.

Pinpoint the causes of private cloud failure

More often than not, a private cloud fails because enterprise IT did not do its due diligence and ask themselves the proper questions about their environment.

A private cloud can fail in a number of ways. Many private clouds are overloaded and optimized for every workload. And this puts too much stress on the cloud and hinders performance. If staff members are not trained properly, then the private cloud will not be properly managed. Also, IT often has a tendency to not involve the business side in the migration process, so expectations are not in sync.

An enterprise can also underestimate the need for redundancy, and assume the setup from their data center will work in a private cloud.

No matter how a private cloud migration goes awry, enterprises are forced to spend more money to fix the problems or revert back to a virtualized environment.

Step one to an unsuccessful private cloud migration is a lack of understanding in an enterprise. And IT is left to play catch-up from there.

"To really understand what a private cloud is -- you have to make sure that you've added a layer of management," said Judith Hurwitz, president and CEO at Hurwitz and Associates, a research firm based in Needham, Mass. "It's really the automation services that are most important there."

Public vs. private cloud debate continues

On the flip side, public clouds allow workloads to scale up and down easily without latency issues -- for the most part -- and little management from enterprise IT.

"When you do a private cloud, you have to learn lessons from how public cloud providers establish their environment," Hurwitz said.     

Most enterprises adopt the private cloud because they believe it is more secure than a public cloud.

With a private cloud, the enterprise owns the physical servers and can limit accessibility. In a public cloud, the provider is in control, so trust is an issue. Data stays behind a firewall in a private cloud, and an enterprise will always know where it is -- and perhaps more important -- who has access to it.

But public cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, have significantly improved security and compliance. And even highly regulated industries are beginning to feel more secure in a public cloud.

Depending on an enterprise’s security requirements, it’s possible that a public cloud might be more compliant than an on-premises data center.

"Public clouds are getting more and more secure," said Dave Bartoletti, an analyst with Forrester Research in Cambridge, Mass. "Every year, public clouds gain greater footprint and pass increasingly stringent security tests."

Adam Hughes is a news editor with TechTarget. He can be reached via email at ahughes@techtarget.com or on Twitter at @AdamHughesTT.

Next Steps

Read part two of this story on the perks of private vs. public cloud

This was last published in December 2014

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Full disclosure: I am Co-founder and CEO at Platform9, a vendor in this space.

It is true that public clouds aren't necessarily insecure and private clouds aren't necessarily easy to implement. However, this article doesn't seem to take costs into account: every customer using public clouds at scale seems to chafe at the costs, and Private Clouds are the only solution if the costs matter enough to you.

Private Clouds would be far more successful if customers adhered to a few basics:

1. Reuse existing components:
a. Existing infrastructure components such as compute, storage and networks.
b. Existing workload images (VM images)
c. Existing operational workflows
d. Even existing workload instances (Virtual Instances)
Why? Well, because changing these adds costs, adds delays, opens up skill gaps; and generally makes everything worse. If your cloud platform requires you to throw everything you have out the window, get one that is better designed.

2. Get an SLA in place for your cloud platform, much like the public cloud:
a. If you are deploying the cloud platform yourself, well, you need to have the skill to ensure this SLA can be delivered to your customers. (Either with your inhouse people or outsourced help).
b. If not, consider using a service such as Platform9 that provides you an SLA similar to public cloud SLA.

3. Retain existing workflows and introduce cloud workflows incrementally:
By workflows, I mean self-service access to end users; and the operational workflows for Administrators when these end users need help.
Workflows change when you introduce a private cloud due to self-service and placement automation. Much like a civil engineering project, retain existing workflows and slowly open the taps on new workflows. Once you have the new workflows working well, you can widen access to the cloud to a larger audience progressively.
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Some decent thoughts, although I'd argue one of the most significant drivers is actually cost. Public vs Private depending on your scale becomes as much a question of dollars as anything else. Sadly, TCO isn't always calculated accurately.

I'd also say that the statement "Do Private Clouds fail..." and the associated logic about lack of tech understanding etc is sort of misleading. All sorts of IT projects have the potential (and do) fail, just as all sorts of projects are succesful. Same rules regarding knowledge, architecture, resources etc all apply regardless if you're talking about building a Private Cloud or any other IT (or even non-IT) project.
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I typically find the challenge of Private Cloud to fit into a few common buckets:

1 - Most don't know how to think about the services that are defined in a service-catalog. IT typically doesn't think like a "service provider".

2 - Most don't know how to budget for on-demand capacity, because they have budgeted per-project for so long.

3 - Most are behind in deployment, so they are fighting against expectation set by public clouds like AWS.

4 - When they are transparent with pricing, they don't actually compare to public clouds (but their customers do), and people questions why they are paying 3-5x for short-term resources. 
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