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How IT pros can control their private cloud computing destiny

Private cloud computing makes sense for some, but not all, organizations. Companies with security and privacy concerns, for example -- particularly concerns that relate to sensitive workloads or government regulatory and/or compliance requirements -- are candidates for private clouds.

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At the same time, there's an assumption that large organizations with a reasonably sized IT estate, many existing business applications and the need to routinely build new applications are suited for private clouds. For these organizations, private clouds can reduce costs, improve efficiency and enable a higher-quality delivery of services, thanks to automation and repeatability.

"Users get quicker delivery, more productivity and more agility," said John Treadway, a vice president at the consultancy Cloud Technology Partners. Today, true private cloud deployments are hard to come by. However, many companies have started the journey, and most can benefit from lessons learned – from both the casualties and the successes.

"There's little experience on both the vendor side and the user side," said Jeff Kaplan, Thinkstrategies managing director, adding that best practices are still emerging. Getting help from experts in the trenches is essential to help organizations understand the cloud vendor landscape, get better educated on private clouds and position themselves to reap the many benefits of private cloud computing.

The first step is for organizations to recognize that, even if they are highly virtualized, there's much more work that needs to be done to approach a private cloud computing model.

Before we get to hybrid clouds, companies have a lot of heavy lifting to do.

John Treadway, vice president, Cloud Technology Partners

And while there's more work, there are also more options, especially compared with several years ago, when companies believed they had to build a private cloud from scratch. Companies can use one of several products available today as a jumping off point before they move forward with integration, security, right-sizing, management and process redesign.

And, according to Lauren Nelson, analyst at Forrester Research, the groundwork for private clouds includes various tasks: virtualization maturity, consolidating resources, application rationalization, evaluating an outsourcing application strategy that looks at the entire organization, application modernization and automating processes.

"Companies have to address infrastructure maturity or virtualization, including consolidation and automation; and application maturity, including rationalization, right-sourcing and modernization," Nelson said.

Important elements to get to a private cloud include starting with a core software strategy or cloud stack, from metal to hypervisor to portal. Treadway says that more than 30 products are available, though only six to eight are relevant. The more robust products offer functionality to get started out of the box.

Another key layer is putting a portal in front of the cloud stack. Experts advise against getting locked into any single vendor's portal, which is often included with existing tools. In fact, industry experts are unanimous when it comes taking advice from vendors. "Do it, but take it with a grain of salt," Kaplan advised.

The key thing, say consultants, is not to get locked into a single vendor's vision. Companies can have more than one private cloud. More importantly, companies need an open portal to get to a hybrid cloud model.

Another step is to put a cloud management framework in place to orchestrate cloud management, governance, usage, security and control. Virtualization, automation tools, management controls for greater visibility, provisioning and self-provisioning capabilities all come with technology and vendor alternatives.

On the horizon: Hybrid cloud planning

Taking a long-term view of cloud computing, industry watchers see private clouds as a way station, not the destination, on the cloud journey. "There will be a variety of environments to meet IT requirements," said Nelson, who suggests thinking of hybrid as private-plus-something-else.

That may include legacy systems, a dedicated environment for some applications, traditional virtualization and a separate private cloud (or the two combined), public and private cloud or external private cloud with a hosted option.

How the hybrid environment will play out will vary among organizations, based on each company's applications, security requirements, needs for dedicated resources and Software as a Service possibilities.

As public and private cloud computing models mature and prove their value, successful organizations will find a mix of the two resources. Companies serious about cloud computing are looking ahead, even though hybrid clouds are many years away. "Before we get to hybrid clouds, companies have a lot of heavy lifting to do," Treadway said.

About the author

Lynn Haber reports on business and technology from Norwell, Mass.

This was first published in January 2013

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