The problem with using the term “cloud” is that it has very different definitions. For many, the cloud is the use of a commercial service such as Amazon’s EC2 or a CRM product like SalesForce. There is another meaning however and its growing importance to a broad swath of Web workers can’t be overstated.
Outside of the use of commercial cloud services, the cloud also describes the architecture and technologies that are used to actually provide cloud services. This trend has picked up its pace the past few years and it’s going by the name of the “private cloud.”
In a private cloud, companies can essentially leverage cloud computing using their own resources instead of turning to an Internet-based service like Microsoft Azure, Amazon EC2, or Rackspace or one of the myriad SaaS vendors. Deploying a private cloud however means you get all the benefits (scalability, metering, etc) – of a public cloud service – without giving up control and security. For businesses, that’s pretty exciting.
The technologies that make the private cloud possible are well known – from virtualization (which brings scalability, flexible resources management, and maximum hardware utilization) to data center automation (typically for auto-provisioning of physical hosts). But that’s not all – chargeback metering keeps businesses in the know about the real cost of IT and identity-based security ensures access control to the infrastructure and to the application resources needed.
Few enterprises have gone entirely to a private cloud however. Instead, they use their private clouds for testing and development. And for many, those interested in taking advantage of the many opportunities in the cloud need not look very far for some support. Tech stalwarts including HP, Microsoft, Rackspace, and many opthers such as OpSouce, Firehost, Abiquo, GoGrid are all positioning themselves within this emerging market. While many tech industry pundits consider the cloud nothing more than a way to package custom server configurations, it’s hard to deny the potential benefits – even though it comes with some drawbacks too.
The argument against the private cloud is that it is just another step toward the commoditization of IT, where internal customers pick from a menu of metered services across a virtualized infrastructure, rather than specifying the nth requirement for custom deployments that tie up resources forever. On the other hand, one of the most exciting use cases for the private cloud is the ability for enterprises to establish quasi-public clouds for partners, which may accelerate business-to-business e-commerce in unanticipated ways.
The model of providing commodity services on top of pooled, well-managed virtual resources has merit, because it has the potential to reduce cost and eliminate many labor issues once fundamental to the IT equation.