Private Cloud Poseurs?
Some folks get wrapped around the axle on terminology and strict adherence to definitions; others don’t care so much as long as needs are being met.
Where do YOU fall on the spectrum?
Emphasis in red added by me.
Brian Wood, VP Marketing
Chances are ‘private cloud’ is no cloud at all
‘Cloud-washing’ fogs up user expectations
Cloud computing is shrouded in a big haze of ill-defined terms, but “private cloud” may be one of the most misused. To be a cloud, a computing platform must be a lot more than a data center with a highly efficient virtualized environment, a web portal and the ability to scale up and down dynamically, reports Brandon Butler at Network World.
As many as 70 percent of the “private clouds” out there don’t technically qualify as clouds, according to a study by Forrester Research. “It’s a huge problem,” said James Staten, cloud analyst at Forrester. “It’s cloud-washing.”
The problem is that calling a platform a cloud creates a certain set of expectations on the part of users–expectations that will only be dashed if the platform doesn’t have certain characteristics, including providing on-demand, self-service for users, broad network access, a shared resource pool, the ability to elastically scale resources and measured service.
These characteristics were identified by the National Institutes of Standards in Technology. If your so-called private cloud doesn’t offer self-provisioning or sufficient resources, for example, you may find users turning to Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) Web Services.
To some, however, strict allegiance to NIST’s five cloud characteristics comes down to splitting hairs.
“If you don’t have all five (characteristics), then you’re getting into semantics,” said Andi Mann, a vice president of Strategic Solutions at CA Technologies. “Sometimes 80 percent of cloud is good enough. What it’s really all about is business service. Who cares what you call it; what you care about is that your customers, your business users have the resources they need.”
Forrester: 70% of “private clouds” aren’t really clouds at all
If an enterprise data center has a highly virtualized environment, a web portal for business users to request and access virtual machines and a method for tracking how many of those resources are being used… that’s not quite a private cloud.
If there is enough capacity to supply employees with almost any amount of compute resources they need, and scale that capacity up and down dynamically, but it requires IT workers to provision the systems, then sorry that’s not a private cloud either.
The line between virtualization and a private cloud can be a fuzzy one, and according to a new report by Forrester Research, up to 70% of what IT administrators claim are private clouds are not. “It’s a huge problem,” says Forrester cloud expert James Staten. “It’s cloud-washing.”
Why’s it such a big deal? Staten says if you call a highly virtualized environment a cloud, but it doesn’t have one or more of the key characteristics of a private cloud, then the IT department is setting an unrealistic expectation for users. If users are disappointed when they find out the environment doesn’t have self-provisioning, or an elastic resources pool, they can get discouraged. The next time they need a VM on the fly, where will they turn? The pseudo-private cloud IT has set up, or Amazon Web Services, which IT could have no control over.
Most cloud experts have settled on a generally-agreed upon definition of cloud computing – be it public or private – as having the five characteristics outlined by the National Institutes for Standards in Technology. These include:
- On-demand, self-service for users
- Broad network access
- Shared resource pool
- Ability to elastically scale resources
- Having measured service
Without those five bullets, it’s not technically a cloud. Contrary to some people’s beliefs, virtualization is not a private cloud; it’s an essential ingredient to powering clouds, but in and of itself it does not create one. Mike Adams, marketing manager for VMware, says a private cloud incorporates more sophisticated management capabilities on top of a virtualized environment, giving it the qualities outlined in the NIST definition.
Andi Mann, a vice president of Strategic Solutions at CA Technologies and cloud pundit, pumps the brakes a little bit on this discussion though. “If you don’t have all five (characteristics), then you’re getting into semantics,” he says. The real question, he says, is not whether the five check marks can be made to call something a cloud – it’s whether IT is serving its users appropriately. “Sometimes 80% of cloud is good enough,” he says. “What it’s really all about is business service. Who cares what you call it; what you care about is that your customers, your business users have the resources they need.”
Maybe the enterprise doesn’t need elastic scalability because there are static workloads. It still has all the other benefits of a cloud – self-service, chargebacks, broad network access and a shared resource pool. But, it may not technically meet that NIST definition. “So, if you want to be technical, call it what it is: A highly efficient virtual environment,” Mann says.
So where does all this cloud-washing come from? Staten says fundamentally IT administrators are scared of the cloud. Virtualization experts within the enterprise used to be the top-dogs; when resources were needed, they provisioned the capacity. Cloud is seen as threatening that model by giving users self-service and dynamically scalable resources. What’s left for the virtualization expert to do?
Staten says that’s the wrong way to think about it. There’s still a lot for IT administrator set up, making sure the cloud has a catalog of options available to users, complete with the appropriate security protocols, resource availability and virtualization components. Admins must embrace that philosophy, because if they don’t then users will access the resources themselves anyway, leading to the dreaded “shadow IT.”