Private Clouds: Believe it or not?

Recently there has been some healthy debate around the validity of “private clouds” and whether such a construct is new or just a different name for virtualization and automated provisioning, i.e. a marketecture. In this corner for the anti-Private Cloud sentiment, we have the 2009 Prediction – Rise and Fall of the Private Cloud which argues there is really no such thing as a private cloud and the concept will die quickly as everyone moves to the public cloud. There are some excellent points in this article, I’ll address several below. Take a quick read and come back, I’ll wait… In the other corner, we have Christofer Hoff from Cisco and his response. Finally, Reuven Cohen hits the nail on the head with his post A Public Cloud by Any Other Name is Private which basically states that this is all basically definitional dancing where people argue about concepts without defining any of the underpinning terms.

People’s opinions on this topic seem to correlate most with whether they believe the defining attributes of cloud computing are financial (only paying for capacity utilized, no capex, etc) or whether they believe the defining attributes are technical (shared infrastructure, scale-out architectures, dynamic provisioning). The folks who focus on the financial side tend to believe either there cannot be private clouds because all costs are still incurred by the organization or that there is no way a single organization will be able to drive costs as low as the large cloud providers can with economies of scale.

The folks who see cloud computing as more of an architecture pattern for applications and an infrastructure/operational model tend to believe that the approach is just as relevant for a public cloud provider as it is for a large internal IT organization.

I am firmly in the camp of those who believe private clouds are going to be an important part of IT for at least the next decade. I come to this view using my definition of a cloud which is: an infrastructure architecture, application development model, and operations management discipline that dynamically provide necessary  services whenever and wherever they are needed while sharing costs between all users.  

Using that definition, all manner of clouds including public, private, hybrid, etc. will exist. Will there be certain economies of scale that a Microsoft or Amazon with hundreds of thousands of servers will be able to achieve that a single business won’t? Of course. But there will also be a degree of customization and agility that private clouds will be able to achieve that large providers won’t.

The reason I believe that private clouds as a concept are something new is that this is the first time that all of IT (infrastructure, development, and operations) are being looked at holistically. This is much more than just being able to sling VMs about the datacenter. This about providing a cost effective infrastructure where code that addresses user needs, be it an app, a VM, or a service can be developed rapidly by using foundational services, deployed near real-time, scale as needed, and then be retired at the end of its useful life.

I’m excited by Microsoft’s opportunities along the full spectrum of the cloud. Azure is a very forward looking vision of the public cloud that I still don’t think most people are grasping yet. Likewise, Microsoft’s traditional on premise solutions are evolving very quickly toward both private cloud and public cloud implementations. To me the most important question that will determine our long term success is how well we are able to provide a seamless continuum between the Azure platform and our Server and Tools solutions as they evolve toward cloud services. I think we are targeting an end game that no one else is really going after from on-premise, through private cloud, to public cloud.

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