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Clearly, the number of private cloud computing deployments is growing by leaps and bounds. Recent QuinStreet Enterprise Research indicates that private cloud is the most popular type of cloud deployment, and will likely far outpace the public cloud over the next year. The survey shows that 36 percent of respondents currently have a private cloud and an additional 29 percent expect to deploy a private cloud.
The popularity of this emerging technology is no surprise. A private cloud enables enterprises to use software to pool resources into a unified virtualized computing environment. This software defined computing resource – whether large or small – is far more dynamic and scalable than a traditional hardware-centric data center. In some cases it offers greater ability to leverage third party resources on an on-demand basis. While many enterprises host a private cloud in-house, some firms hire an external provider to host their private deployment. This allows them to add computing power based on monthly or seasonal needs, and then pare back computing capability if less is needed.
Private cloud’s advocates claim it offers many of the advantages of the public cloud, yet with far superior security and privacy. But while a private cloud offer many benefits, setting up and managing this type of deployment offers plenty of challenges.
First, no small amount of confusion exists over what exactly constitutes a private cloud – which often translates into several management debates as companies set up their own private clouds. Which form of the deployment should we use, and why? For some firms, merely virtualizing a portion of their datacenter constitutes a private cloud, and certainly this alone offers advantages. On the other end of the spectrum, some companies opt for a robust, full-featured infrastructure-as-a-service deployment. Whatever the case, vexing questions keep cropping up: application management in this new environment, tiered staff access, issues around scheduled provisioning, database issues – the greater flexibility of private cloud also offers far more choices than before.
Consequently, making the most of this type of deployment requires a full-fledged, carefully considered private cloud plan. When writing this plan, businesses must be aware that they will shoulder considerable cost in building a private cloud – just as they would with a traditional hardware-based datacenter. Indeed, critics of the private cloud claim that it offers no savings over a traditional datacenter build-out; the only way to save money with the cloud is by offloading datacenter build-out costs onto a public cloud platform, they say. Private cloud advocates counter that, while the private cloud may not be a money saver, per se, it offers major longterm advantages over the rapidly aging hardware-only datacenter. These advocates also note that some of this build-out cost can be lowered by using a third party provider for a private cloud.
Whatever your opinion on this debate, the fact that enterprises must invest significantly to conceive of, architect, build and monitor their private cloud means this undertaking represents considerable financial risk.
Essential Preliminary Decisions
Given the costs, it’s essential to make a series of key decisions that all private cloud deployments call for – before the first step is taken.
The first decision an enterprise must make is whether to build their private cloud in their own data center, or host it with a third party provider. (An externally hosted private cloud is often referred to as a “managed private cloud.”)
Building a private cloud in-house is the higher end option, yet typically makes sense for only larger businesses. To be worth the cost, an enterprise must have a large array of servers to virtualize (perhaps a thousand or more). However, opinions vary on this, with some vendors claiming far fewer servers are needed to justify an in-house private cloud. At any rate, since many firms fall far short of the larger server number, the externally hosted private cloud is a logical choice. In this scenario, a business in effect extends a security perimeter around this remote deployment.
To be sure, a remote deployment raises security concerns. Critics says it’s no safer than a public cloud; advocates say that a well managed third party provider can offer a level of privacy and security that’s similar to that of an in-house deployment.
The other key decision when first deploying a private cloud – closely related to the first decision – is whether to deploy your cloud with a vendor pre-built solution (sometimes called “cloud in a box”) or opt for a commodity build. Many companies are drawn to the vendor pre-builds because they take some of the risk and headache out of launching something as cutting edge as a software-defined datacenter. Other companies opt for the commodity option, knowing they may encounter more snafus, but wanting to keep costs low and avoid vendor lock-in.
One of the most obvious points to consider is staff. Building and monitoring a private cloud will require considerable skills and personnel hours. (Again, it’s lack of staff that pushes many firms to the externally hosted managed cloud.) Another key issue to weigh is network and application compatibility. In particular, those unsung legacy applications that were coded by a long-gone development team might not make the migration to a private cloud.
Also of vital importance: enterprises must decide what total workload – what array of tasks – their private cloud will be required to handle, and consequently, what level of technical capacity this deployment must entail. And this of course has to be envisioned not just for this year, but for several (or more) years to come.
And perhaps most important, a true bottom line consideration: how will you measure the success (or lack thereof) of your private cloud deployment? This core consideration will likely play a critical role in determining budget for the proposed deployment as management weighs the plan. What is the expected return on investment, and how exactly will this be monitored and tracked over time?
Without carefully considering all the above questions, an enterprise’s private cloud is unlikely to reach its full potential. The private cloud offers numerous operational and competitive advantages but, as many companies have learned, it’s a not a simple platform to deploy.
To learn how businesses are deploying private clouds – and to explore a broad range of cloud vendors – visit the Private Cloud Project Center.