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Many of us have heard the hype about reaping the benefits of public cloud infrastructures without compromising service levels, security or compliance requirements -- it's called private cloud computing. But when is it the right time for companies to pull the trigger on private cloud without shooting themselves in the foot?
Some industry experts say it's now. They're quick to caution decision-makers, however, that private cloud is a journey, not a destination.
"Private cloud computing isn't something you simply go out and buy; it's an evolution from what we have today," said Tom Bittman, vice president at Gartner.
Furthermore, he adds that the private cloud is a stopgap or stepping stone to utilizing more mature public cloud services when they become available, any time from six months to ten years from now.
Think of private cloud as a new item in the IT toolkit for different economics. Private cloud computing goes beyond virtualization and includes automated workload management, self-service interfaces and some form of usage metering or chargeback. Private cloud computing also requires the ability to share resources to maximize utilization -- among business units, divisions and other groups that may not share resources today -- a change that will affect existing corporate culture, politics, processes and even business relationships.
What is private cloud, and when can I have it?
Forrester defines an internal cloud as a multi-tenant, dynamically provisioned and optimized infrastructure with self-service developer deployment, hosted within the safe confines of the enterprise data center.
Forget about getting started with a big bang. Think of adopting a private cloud strategy as a series of steps that requires that the organization to have the technical pieces in place for private cloud computing and be experientially and culturally ready. "If a company isn't ready, they can't reap the benefits," said James Staten, analyst at Forrester Research.
The higher the sustained utility of the private cloud, the better the payback.
James Staten, analyst at Forrester Research
Taking a more somber tone, Randy Bias, CEO of Cloudscaling.com, a cloud engineering services firm that has designed, built and managed large and complex public and private clouds, said that most organizations don't have the DNA, organizational structure or business incentive to be successful at building a private cloud.
"I think that over the next several years, we're going to see a lot of attempts with the private cloud that will result in failure and misery," he said.
That said, he strongly advises companies working on private cloud initiatives to go into it with their eyes wide open. "Whatever you're building, see it as a short-term goal, not an end goal," he said.
A recent survey of Gartner clients found that 75% of companies expect to pursue private cloud by 2012.
The four stages of private cloud preparation
Every organization considering the private cloud is destined to travel on a maturity journey that industry experts agree consists of a number of stages, from laying the IT infrastructure groundwork to assessing early scenarios for private cloud deployments.
All agree the initial step, IT virtualization maturity, is the essence of evolving to the private cloud. Forrester's Staten outlines four stages of virtualization maturity -- acclimation, strategic consolidation, optimization, and automation -- to assess where your organization is in the process.
The first stage, acclimation, is the time it takes for an organization to learn about virtualization, how it works, test it against simple applications, and then determine where it can safely be applied.
A company is in stage two, strategic consolidation, when its comfort level with virtualization shifts from concept to strategic implementation, having recognized the value proposition of virtualization as an agent of cost savings and change. "At this point the case has to be made for why a workload should not be virtualized," said Staten.
Stage three, optimization, is when virtualization empowers process improvement and organizations get serious about life-cycle management of virtual machines and cleaning up virtual server sprawl. It's at this stage where there must be an experiential shift in thinking about the IT infrastructure. "Thinking in the physical world will hurt you in the virtual world," said Staten.
Companies at stage four of virtualization maturity sit at the precipice of being cloud-ready. These organizations grasp the importance of policy-based automation of the virtualization pool, which, explains Staten, pushes the organization to share services and treat the virtualization pool as an internal cloud service.
Set the stage for your cloud
Inherent in the four steps to virtualization maturity are key elements that set the stage for private cloud computing; namely, a willingness to change the organization and internal processes and gain the political clout to overcome resistance.
Over the next several years, we're going to see a lot of attempts with the private cloud that will result in failure and misery.
Randy Bias, CEO of Cloudscaling.com
Companies who are grounded in stage three are ready to create a greenfield project for private cloud. Experts recommend test and development workloads as a safe place for organizations get their feet wet with private cloud. "It's a good proving ground and learning ground," said Fausto Bernadini, director of IT cloud portfolio services at IBM. Additionally, a greenfield project of non-critical workloads at stage three can help accelerate an organization to stage four.
Private cloud return on investment (ROI) evolves alongside this virtualization maturity path. Ultimately, ROI comes from high utilization of the resources that are dedicated to the private cloud. "The higher the sustained utility of the private cloud, the better the payback," said Staten.
Digging a bit deeper, companies venturing into the private cloud can expect to make big investments in people and processes, as well as new automation and policy enforcement tools.
Unlike the public cloud, where companies can grow and shrink usage (and ultimately costs) based on need, internal private cloud costs are perpetual.
Lynn Haber reports on business and technology from Norwell, MA.