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Public versus private cloud debate rages on

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As public cloud adoption rises, many IT pros wonder if the private cloud is doomed. But some experts think on-premises clouds still have their place -- even if it's in a hybrid cloud.

Choosing a cloud environment for your data is not a task to take lightly. The final choice could impact the technological direction of your enterprise, and, if not made carefully, cost a lot of time and money.

The public versus private cloud debate isn't new. But, while the benefits of public cloud, such as scalability and elasticity, are undeniable, compliance concerns and the costs of moving data off site still lead some organizations down the private cloud path.

"There doesn't seem to be a lot going on out there in the world of private cloud, or at least that's the perception," says David Linthicum, senior vice president at Cloud Technology Partners, a cloud consulting firm in Boston, and a TechTarget contributor. "Maybe that is not the reality, [but] going forward, I think enterprises are, and rightfully so, asking about the business case for private cloud."

In this podcast, Linthicum moderates a debate between Bernard Golden, CEO of Navica, a cloud consulting firm, and John Engates, CTO of Rackspace, a cloud provider and managed services provider, about the future business cases for public versus private cloud.

Is there still a business case for private cloud?

There is no magic button on the side of the server that you press that makes it suddenly cloud-capable. … It's going to require software infrastructure, hardware infrastructure … [and] operational skills.
Bernard GoldenCEO of Navica

A common driver for private cloud adoption is compliance, or organizations needing to adhere to specific regulations, standards and legislation. In some cases, public cloud providers are unable to keep data within the national boundary that some businesses require.

"The business case is typically, I think, centered around an IT organization that has constraints on a particular set of solutions -- some part of their application portfolio that precludes the use of a public cloud environment," Golden says.

In addition, moving to a public cloud may not be financially feasible for enterprises that have already built their data center. Some enterprises have built data centers over many years, accumulating software and hardware.

For companies with large, existing data center assets -- whether through a long-term colocation contract or a company-owned data center -- "[it] might not make financial sense to go out and spend the money on public cloud," Engates says.

Moving to public cloud can also increase costs when it requires new technology and a new workforce with public cloud skills.

"There is no magic button on the side of the server that you press that makes it suddenly cloud-capable. … It's going to require software infrastructure, hardware infrastructure … [and] operational skills," Golden says. Enterprises need to weigh if the move is worth the investment, both financially and operationally, in the long term. [3:50 – 9:47]

Is security still a big part of the public versus private cloud debate?

Security is an evergreen topic that always comes up when comparing private and public clouds. A benefit of public cloud is that big cloud providers, such as Amazon Web Services, Azure and Google, offer numerous security services for users, and also take on some of the security management tasks themselves.

Still, some enterprises do not want to give up control to public cloud providers. But private cloud users face another challenge: keeping security technologies up to date and hiring an experienced security staff to protect from potential attacks.

"Well, a lot of what gets called security is really compliance, and compliance is a very important reason companies might require to run systems on their own on premises … I think of [security as] being how resistant are the resources to attack[s], how well do we protect against intrusions and stuff like that. I think it's pretty hard to make the claim that a private cloud can be executed better than what the public cloud providers do on that dimension," Golden says.

Enterprises need to extend security beyond the infrastructure. Attacks can occur anywhere, for both public and private cloud. "It has a lot to do with how you manage it, the policies around it and, then, really, the compliance sometimes forces your hand in some ways," Engates says. [14:28 - 16:48]

What advice do you have for enterprises considering public cloud adoption?

Public cloud adoption is on the rise and it's become harder to ignore the benefits. Still, enterprises must first determine whether the migration is right for them.

To make this decision, look at the applications you run and want in the future. "Do a really clear analysis of the application portfolio that you've got and application portfolio you're likely to develop -- what proportions of those require cloud capabilities that have constraints that require them to remain on premises?," Golden says.

Hybrid and multicloud could be the answer for most enterprises that require some resources to stay on premises. Unfortunately, a move to a hybrid environment still requires an experienced staff with hybrid skill sets. Also, most enterprises will face data and application integration challenges, as well as issues related to compatibility across infrastructures.

"I think you need to come in with your eyes open and understand the total picture of your IT requirements and spend, and where it's going … total cost of ownership is a big part of it," Engates says. "Take inventory of your skills, understand what you're good at and what you're not good at."

Overall, private cloud will likely play an important role for a "long time to come," as enterprises move to hybrid and multicloud, he adds. [29:08 – 32:31]

So is private cloud here to stay?

The public versus private cloud debate is unlikely to end any time soon. While some argue that public cloud will gradually replace private environments, others have a hard time believing that on-premises systems will fade. Each choice has its own benefits and challenges, but it all depends on the future needs of the enterprise.

The amount of workloads that stay on premises will likely "be lower than most people in the industry expect," Golden predicts. "Many vendors and many analysts kind of use a mental model that, 'Oh yeah, there will be all these things in the public cloud, but 80% will still be on premises' and I think that's optimistic given the kind of trends [emerging]. … But it's like going to a fortune teller at the fairgrounds -- it's not certain." [21:51 - 29:08]

Next Steps

What does it mean to have a truly hybrid cloud?

Don't let your private cloud project fail

Is private cloud taking a back seat?

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