Are Private Clouds Worth the Hassle?

August 5, 2010 Off By Hoofer
Grazed from IT Business Edge.  Author: Arthur Cole.

Private clouds are still drawing keen interest among enterprise managers, primarily as a means to gain all the benefits of public cloud computing while retaining full control of data, applications and infrastructure.

It’s perfectly natural to want to have your cake and eat it too, but that doesn’t mean private clouds automatically give you everything you desire. Clearly, the technology offers some key advantages over current static architectures, but in many ways it falls short of the capabilities found in the public realm. And there is a fairly steep learning curve when it comes to deploying and managing your own cloud that, quite frankly, hasn’t entered into the conversation just yet.

None of that seems to be getting in the way of a good time, however, at least from a hardware vendor’s point of view. IDC recently released a four-year estimate on hardware sales trends and concluded that private clouds will be primarily responsible for driving the industry to $6.4 billion in 2014. The bulk of that, about $5.7 billion, would come from server sales, more than double the pace in 2009.

And clearly, there is growing interest across a wide spectrum of both hardware and software vendors in taking some of the sting out of building and maintaining private clouds. Quest Software, for example, took a bold stride in this direction recently with the acquisition of Surgient, a specialist in private cloud and IaaS automation technology. Along with its Surgient Automation Platform, the company has a self-provisioning virtual machine that can be used for cloud software testing in Hyper-V environments.

But does the private cloud really lend itself to a do-it-yourself mentality? Australian IT analyst Sam Higgins argues no, saying the logistics involved in maintaining a true private cloud, as opposed to a virtual machine cluster or some other half-measure, will quickly outweigh any benefits in infrastructure consolidation or application delivery. Not only will you need a first-class server/storage/network environment, but tools like comprehensive IT asset management, automated provisioning, service usage monitoring and end-user self-service as well — all governed by a single service desk and complete service catalogue. A tall order by anyone’s standards.

And even after all that, the private cloud still falls short of a public cloud in one key area: scalability. As Forbes.com’s David Carr points out, anyone facing a sudden burst of demand won’t be able to ramp up capacity or processing power beyond what their internal infrastructure can support. This is where the hybrid cloud comes in handy in that it keeps everything in house except in emergency situations. But is it worth the time and expense to build a private cloud that works well most of the time, except when you really need it?

For the very large organization, that answer might still be yes if it can be demonstrated that private cloud technology can make more efficient use of available resources and could further streamline the often bloated environments that have taken root over the years.

As for the rest of the industry, it would seem that the ROI calculations on private clouds are still in the formative stage.