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Until recently, private clouds were known best for the confusion they inspired, rather than the benefit they demonstrated. That may finally be changing.
To grasp how the conversation on private cloud has evolved, let's explore its traditional definition. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a cloud infrastructure is provisioned for exclusive use by a single organization comprising multiple consumers (i.e., business units). It may be owned, managed and operated by an organization, a third party or some combination of these entities, and it may exist on- or off-premises. But this definition is just the beginning for companies interested in transforming their data centers.
To promote greater clarity on what a private cloud is, industry experts are taking a new tack by looking at what private cloud is not. They're now focusing on the private cloud benefits, which is organizations' endgame, anyway. With less confusion about what a private cloud does, organizations can focus on what needs to be in place to meet goals and how to lay the foundation for a private cloud.
John Treadway, a vice president at the consultancy Cloud Technology Partners, noted that three key motivations steer organizations to a private cloud infrastructure: control, transparency and agility.
Broadly speaking, that means control over data center resources to do development, transparency to know what costs are and why, and agility to build quickly at a lower cost.
"What companies really want is to beat the competition, to be faster delivering services to their customers and to see greater productivity," Treadway said.
A lot of organizations claim to have a private cloud, but what they really have is traditional virtualization with some level of automation.
Lauren Nelson, analyst, Forrester Research
While reducing costs has been bandied about as private clouds' top driver, Thomas Bittman, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner Inc., said attitudes about the value of private clouds are shifting. More enterprises now cite speed and agility as the primary benefits of private cloud. To Bittman, this signals not only maturity in thinking, but also a better understanding of business requirements.
That's good news, because, in a third-quarter 2012 Forrester Research Inc. survey, 46% of respondents reported that, over the next 12 months, building a private cloud is a priority.
Private cloud misconceptions abound
If ever there was a time to get private clouds right, it's now, but organizations remain confused about the constituent elements of a cloud.
"A lot of organizations claim to have a private cloud, but what they really have is traditional virtualization with some level of automation," said Lauren Nelson, analyst at Forrester Research.
There's a resounding chorus of agreement among industry analysts that there is a disconnect between a true private cloud and what many organizations believe to be a private cloud.
At a recent Gartner Symposium, Bittman addressed the five misconceptions about private cloud and the corresponding realities. Here are some key points:
- Private cloud is not virtualization. Server and infrastructure virtualization are important foundations for private cloud computing, but they are hardly the be-all and end-all of private clouds. Instead, the private cloud model often uses some form of virtualization to create an on-premises cloud service.
- Private clouds are not just about lower costs. Cost reduction can be introduced via improved allocation of resources or elimination of common, rote tasks for standard offerings. But the real benefits are self-service, automation and metering for usage, as well as agility, speed in development, time to market and business-unit experimentation.
- Private clouds are not necessarily on-premises. Instead, private cloud computing is defined by privacy, not location, ownership or management responsibility.
- Private cloud is not limited to Infrastructure as a Service.
- Private clouds are not always going to be private. Over time, they will evolve to enable hybrid cloud computing.
Understanding what a private cloud is not is vital to recognizing the reality of where many organizations are today with private clouds, and then to answering critical questions about the goals in implementing the model and putting a roadmap in place to get there.
About the author
Lynn Haber reports on business and technology from Norwell, Mass.