The private cloud: myth or reality?

August 28th, 2010 | by Aaron Tan

Public clouds just don’t cut it when it comes to mission critical applications that form the backbone of your business. Security concerns, especially when you’re dealing with sensitive customer data like building security drawings, could also put a damper on any cloud computing strategy.

You could try to build a “private cloud“, though the term could be misleading, depending on your definition of cloud computing.

In May, Amazon Web Services senior vice president Andy Jassy noted that private clouds usually incur “very high fixed cost and lack the benefits of the cloud. Companies still own all the capital expenditure, data centers, servers; it’s not pay as you go and it’s not truly elastic on the company level because you still own and manage the infrastructure by yourself.”

To many large organizations, the idea of a private cloud is not new. If you are running a data center and providing business units with IT services on a charge-back basis and with predefined service levels, you are already doing cloud computing to some degree. The difference now is, you get to do that more efficiently through server consolidation, and with the help of technologies such as virtualization.

Enterprise IT vendors are now capitalizing on this cloud wave by offering cloud products and services on two levels. The first, of course, is to offer a public cloud service that runs applications such as CRM packages in the case of, or sell infrastructure components and services that companies need to run private clouds.

In fact, when vendors talk about private cloud offerings, they are mostly referring to a set of data center technologies that let you run your computing infrastructure more efficiently and with greater flexibility than before.

These data centers may not necessarily be used to power a private cloud. In some cases, they could just operate like a server farm built for scientific data modeling or large-scale number crunching. The keyword here is on-demand, where the combination of technologies allows you to match the use of IT resources to your workloads.

Ultimately, you still own and manage the infrastructure in a private cloud. While you may enjoy the benefits of cloud concepts like elasticity in a private cloud, the fundamental proposition of cloud computing – no capital investment and pricing benefits from large economies of scale – is still missing.

Virtual Computing Environment’s Vblock
I will refrain from using the “cloud” moniker when referring to Vblock, a set of data center technologies targeted at companies interested in building private clouds that EMC showcased to journalists and analysts at the Shanghai World Expo this week.

According to Par Botes, CTO at EMC Asia-Pacific, each Vblock is essentially an infrastructure package comprising Cisco UCS servers and network switches, EMC’s storage systems and VMware’s virtualisation software that runs virtual machines.

This stack of integrated products from Cisco, EMC and VMware is a cumulation of efforts by all three vendors in the Virtual Computing Environment Coalition to reduce the cost and complexity of assembling a set of computing, storage and network equipment used in data centers. By using Vblock as the underlying infrastructure unit, Par said companies do not need to undertake extensive testing to integrate various data center components. In one customer example, the time it takes to deploy new hardware has also been reduced by as much as 40 percent.

The move toward the Vblock as the baseline infrastructure unit that can run hundreds or thousands of virtual machines heralds a shift in how data centers are run and managed. Traditionally in any IT set up, you typically have professionals specializing in various domains such as networking, applications and systems administration. And because IT organizations also mirror these functional groups, there is likely to be employee tension arising in companies moving toward virtualized data centers.

The Vblock also marks a heightened emphasis by vendors on delivering entire IT stacks comprising a suite of hardware and/or software to reduce IT complexity. Virtualisation has by and large facilitated and accelerated this trend by decoupling the link between hardware and software that has partly contributed to this complexity.

At the same time, virtualisation has also eroded the features that may have differentiated one network switch, operating system or server from another. Coalitions such as the VCE may be seen as an attempt to restore some of those, at least by ensuring things work well across different products sold by members in the same alliance.

The Vblock on its own is a compelling proposition for companies who are looking for ways to reduce infrastructure complexities. The use of the term private cloud by the VCE to market the product is not only unnecessary, it further obfuscates the dialog on what cloud computing really means.


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