The Private Cloud A Profitable Future Proofing Tactic?

The Current Situation

I’m reading up on the private cloud concept as Microsoft envisions we’ll be able to build ‘m with the suite of System Center 2012 products. The definition of private cloud is something that’s very flexible. But whether we’re talking about the private, hybrid or public cloud there is a point of disagreement between some on the fact that there are people that don’t see self-service (via a portal, with or without an approval process) as a required element to define a *cloud. I have to agree with Aidan Finn on this one. It’s a requirement. I know you could stretch the concept and that you could build  a private cloud to help IT serve it customers but the idea is that customers can and will do it themselves.

The more I look into system center 2012 and it’s advertised ability to provide private clouds the more I like it. Whilst the current generation has some really nice features I have found it lacking in many areas, especially when you start to cross security boundaries and still integrate the various members of the System Center suite. So the advancements there are very welcome. But there is a danger lurking in the shadows of it all. Complexity combined with the amount of products needed. In this business things need to go fast without sacrificing or compromising on any other thing. If you can’t do that, there is an issue. The answer to these issues is not always to go to the public cloud a hundred percent.

While the entire concept might seem very clear us techies (i.e. still lots of confusion to be found) and the entire business crowd is talking about cloud as if it’s a magic potion that will cure all IT related issues (i.e. they are beyond confused, they are lost) there are still a lot of questions. Even when you have the business grasping the concept (which is great) and have an IT team that’s all eager and wiling to implement it (which is fabulous) things are still not that clear on how to start building and/or using one.

In reality some businesses haven’t even stepped into the virtual era yet or only partially at best. Some people are a bit stuck in the past and still want to buy servers and applications with THEIR money that THEY own and is ONLY for them.  Don’t fight that to much The economics of virtualization are so good (not just financially but also in both flexibility & capabilities) that you can sell it to top management rather easily, no matter what. After that approval just sell the business units servers (that are virtual machines), deliver whatever SLA they want to pay for and be done with it. So that problem is easily solved.

But that’s not a cloud yet. Now that I’m thinking of it, perhaps getting businesses to adopt the concept will be the  hardest. You might not think so by reading about private clouds in the media but I have encountered a lot of skepticism and downright hostility towards the concept. No, it’s not just by some weary IT Pros who are afraid to lose their jobs. Sometimes the show stoppers are the business and users that won’t have any of it. They don’t want to order apps or servers on line, they want then delivered for them. I even see this with the younger workforce when the corporate culture is not very helpful. What ‘s up here? Responsibility. People are avoiding it and it shows in their behavior. As long as they want to take responsibility things go well. If not, technical fear masked as “complexity” or issues like “that’s not our job” suddenly appear.

There is more, a lot of people seems at their limit of what they can handle in information overload at every extra effort is too much.  Sometimes it’s because of laziness or perhaps even stupidity? Perhaps it’s a side effect of what Nicolas Carr writes about the: the internet is making us dumber and dumber as a species. But then again, we only have to look at history to learn that, perhaps, we’ve never been that smart. Sure we have achieved amazing things but that doesn’t mean we don’t act incredibly stupid as individuals or as a group. So perhaps things haven’t changed that much. It’s a bit like the “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss” sort of thing. But on the other hand things are often too complex. When things are easy and become an aid in their work people adopt technology fast and happily.

Sometimes the scale of the business is not of that nature that it’s worthwhile top deploy a cloud. The effort and cost versus the use and benefits are totally out of sync.

That’s all nice and well you tell me, but what’s are technologists to advice to their customers?

Fire & Maneuver

The answer is in the sub title. You can’t stand still and do nothing. It will get you killed (business is warfare with gloves on and some other niceties). Now that’s all good to know but how do we keep moving forward and scoring? There will always be obstacles, risks, fears etc. but we can’t get immobilized by them or we come to a standstill, which means falling behind. The answer is quite simple. Keep moving forward.  But how? Do what you need to do. Here’s my approach. Build a private cloud. Use it to optimize IT and to be ready to make use of * clouds at every opportunity. And to put your mind at ease you can do this without spending vast amounts of money that gets wasted. Just provide some scale up and scale out capacity & capability. The capability is free if you do it right. The capacity will cost you some money. But that’s your buffer to keep things moving smoothly. Done right your CAPEX will be less than not doing this. How can this be?

Private Clouds enable Hybrid Clouds

The thing that I like most about the private cloud is that it enables the use of hybrid cloud computing. On the whole and in the long run hybrid clouds might be a transition to public cloud but as I’ve written before, there are scenarios where the hybrid approach will remain. This might not be the case for the majority of businesses but still I foresee a more permanent role for hybrid clouds for a longer time that most trendy publications seem to indicate. I have no crystal ball but if hybrid cloud computing does remain a long term approach to server computing needs we night well see more and better tools to manage this in the years to come. Cloud vendors who enable and facilitate this approach will have a competitive advantage. The only thing you need to keep I mind that private or cloud computing should not bee seen as replacements or alternatives for the public cloud. They don’t have the elasticity, scale and economics of a public cloud. They are however complementary. As such they enable and facilitate the management and consumption of IT services that have to remain on premises for whatever reason.

Selling The Public Cloud

Where private cloud might help businesses who are cloud shy warm up to the concept, I think the hybrid cloud in combination with integrated and easy management will help them make the jump to using public cloud services faster. That’s the reason this concept will get the care and attention of cloud vendors. It’s a stepping stone for the consumption of their core business (cloud computing) that they are selling to businesses.

What’s in it for the business that builds one?

But why would a business I advise buy into this? Well a private cloud (even if used without the self-service component) is Dynamic Systems Initiative (SDI) / Dynamic Data Center on steroids. And as such it delivers efficiency gains and savings right now even if you never go hybrid or public. I’m an avid supported of this concept but it was not easy to achieve for several reasons, one of them being that the technologies used missed some capabilities we need. And guess what, the tools being delivered for the private could can/could fill those voids. By the way, I was in the room at IT Forum 2004 when Bill Gates came to explain the concept and launch that initiative. The demo back then was deploying hundreds of physical PCs. Times have changed indeed! But back to selling the private cloud. Building a private cloud means you’ll be running a topnotch infrastructure ready for anything. Future proofing your designs at no extra cost and with immediate benefits is to good to ignore for any manager/CTO/CIO. The economics are just too good. If you do it for the right reason that is, meaning you can’t serve all your needs in the public cloud as of yet. So go build that private cloud and don’t get discouraged by the fact that it won’t be a definition example of the concept, as long as it delivers real value to the business you’ll be just fine. It doesn’t guarantee your business survival but it will not be for your lack of trying. The inertia some businesses in a very competitive world are displaying makes them look like rabbits trapped in the beams of the car lights. Not to mention government administrations. We no longer seem to have the stability or rather slowness of change needed to function effectively. Perhaps this has always been the case. I don’t know. We’ve never before in history had such a long period of peace & prosperity for such a broad section of the population. So how to maintain this long term is new challenge by itself.

Danger Ahead!

As mentioned above, if there is one thing that can ruin this party it’s is complexity. I’m more convinced of this than ever before. I’ve been talking to some really smart people in the industry over the weekend and everyone seems to agree on that one. So if I can offer some advice to any provider of tools to build a private cloud.  Minimize complexity and the amount of tools needed to get it set up and working. Make sure that if you need multiple building blocks and tools the integration of them is top notch and second to none. Provide clear guidance and make sure it is really as easy to set up, maintain and adapt as it should be. If not businesses are going to get a bloody nose and IT Pros will choose other solutions to get things done.

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