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Private clouds considered a detour on the road to public cloud

Private cloud has its benefits, but some say the cost of maintaining a data center should dissuade companies from investing in more infrastructure.

NEW YORK -- The value of building a true private cloud is murky at best, and five years from now, the push to build private clouds may be remembered as a detour along the road to the ultimate destination: widespread use of the public cloud.

In a panel discussion entitled, Building a Private Cloud: Is It Worth It?, at the Modern Infrastructure Decisions conference here last week, IT professionals with and without private clouds discussed the security, cost and management implications of building and operating a private cloud.

You want to take a good hard look at where you want to end up.

Sean Perry,
CIO, Robert Half International

Implementing the private cloud on top of an existing VMware Inc. vSphere environment is a way to free up staff from doing low-level tasks, such as spinning up new servers, according to Bob Plankers, a virtualization and cloud architect for a major Midwestern university, and who runs VMware vCloud.

"The cloud is about a lot of non-technical things," Plankers said. "I look at staff time spent. Are we able to take advantage of what the humans are good at?"

A private cloud can also help offset high costs in the public cloud, said Daniel Bozeman, solutions architect at Mosaik Solutions, a provider of geospatial network coverage information in Memphis, Tenn. The company is a large consumer of Amazon Web Services (AWS).

In an effort to keep its AWS bill down, the firm implemented a private could from Eucalyptus that was compatible with the application programming interface in order to offload some test and quality assurance workloads, Bozeman said.

But short-term cost savings aside, the massive cost of maintaining a private data center should dissuade IT managers from investing in a private cloud -- or any on-premises IT infrastructure, for that matter -- said Sean Perry, CIO at staffing provider Robert Half International in Menlo Park, Calif.

With a private cloud, "you still have significant infrastructure costs -- real estate, UPSes, generators, etc.," Perry said. New investments in private cloud "move the needle down slightly" in terms of cost, but move the date when you can rid yourself of larger data center expenses further out.

"You want to take a good hard look at where you want to end up," Perry said, "and with each opportunity that comes up ask, 'Does it help me get there?'"

Meanwhile, the public cloud has allowed organizations to develop new businesses at unprecedented speed, said Charles Hammell, a solutions architect with Comcast Converged Products, which is developing IP TV and runs on AWS.

"If you have a non-existent IT organization, public cloud is just a godsend for delivering proof of concepts and fast time to market," Hammell said. If costs justify it, "you can insource after you've proven your value in the public cloud."

As a general rule, Hammell said organizations should try to focus on what it is that they do best -- not delivering a soup-to-nuts infrastructure.

"You don't need to build your own ball bearings," he said.

The public cloud also puts levels of resources within reach that are unthinkable in private environments. Plankers said he directs university researchers to the public cloud for large, high-performance computing jobs.

"Let's say a researcher needs 25,000 CPUs. I don't have 25,000 CPUs," he said.

Panelists acknowledged that traditional enterprise IT shops worry about security and governance in the public cloud, but were confident that those issues would recede.

"Compliance and security? You have to believe that AWS is going to solve that," Perry said.

And they were open to a day in the not-so-distant future when their organizations would have little to no IT infrastructure of their own.

"This might be the last hardware refresh cycle we do, and I'm open to that," Plankers said. "You're still going to need system administrators and capacity planners. I'm not scared."

About the author:
Alex Barrett is the editor in chief of Modern Infra­structure. Write to her at or tweet her at @aebarrett.

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