Private, Public or Hybrid? It's a Little Less Cloudy Now…

Jul 24

An extremely useful and information-packed webinar was presented today courtesy of Gartner Inc.  The session, called “Private Cloud Computing and the Future of Infrastructure” was delivered by Thomas Bittman, VP and distinguished analyst.

The slide deck is available for download at no charge, even for those who are not clients of Gartner. The link to the replay and slides is here, with free sign-up.

I attended the webinar because of some recent questions I’ve heard asked by non-technical information management professionals. What does cloud really mean, especially in public sector and secure environments? Is “private” cloud an oxymoron, marketing fluff or is there really a place for it in an organization’s IT or IM roadmap? Is “hybrid” just hype, or is it a useful transition for companies who want to test the waters? These are the questions that I had in my head when I logged on to the webinar today.

What is a “private cloud”?

The Gartner definition actually made sense to me. For some time, I have been somewhat skeptical, wondering if the “private” aspect was just another repackaging of existing network infrastructure, without any of the benefits an established public cloud service can offer. Was it just IT getting better at marketing or rebranding themselves? The definition presented in Bittman’s slides was, quite simply, “a form of cloud computing that is used by only one organization, or that ensures that an organization is completely isolated from others”.  (Slide 5, if you view the on-demand webinar). Using this definition, private cloud services can be either internally or externally hosted/managed. What matters most is the segregation of data and content from other entities.  Large organizations, according to this Gartner presentation, will be most likely to begin a cloud implementation by looking at a private solution. They have the current IT infrastructure, technical expertise, and a critical mass of  confidential/sensitive content that make this form of cloud adoption worthwhile.

Private cloud services are a natural stepping stone for many large organizations who are already using virtualization tools, but aren’t ready to adopt public cloud services. The essential characteristics for private cloud services are:

  • Self-service agility
  • Standardization of platforms/tools
  • Usage metering
  • and, IT-as-a-Business

These four characteristics (slide 8 in the on-demand presentation) – not WHERE the services are hosted -  are essential to understanding  how cloud services are defined.  And it does require a substantial rethinking of how IT serves business units, and how costs are distributed. Aligning costs and roll-out plans with how IT services are consumed – not a a big-bang annual budget and project plans – apply to private cloud services as well as public. This is perhaps the biggest intellectual and cultural change for an organization to make. If this can be executed successfully, a move to public cloud services, is likely to be an easier next step, particularly for applications and content that’s less sensitive in nature.

As always, culture and internal change management is the tough part for most organizations. Thinking differently about technology acquisition, collaboration with business users, and how IT “markets” itself to the enterprise is a fundamental challenge to thinking “cloud”. Regardless of where the boxes sit…

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