Private Cloud Emerging Trend or Buzzword?

Private Cloud - Emerging Trend or Buzzword?

With a nationwide technology and management consulting practice, Slalom Consulting has worked with a number of clients, from Fortune 500 companies on down, to build cloud-based solutions on platforms such as Amazon's AWS and Microsoft's Azure. Along the way, we've had numerous opportunities to consult with our clients on how to best leverage the cloud in their own businesses. While the IT community in general is starting to understand when to consider cloud computing, new buzzwords have entered the dialog to create additional confusion. One such term is the private cloud.

First, it is helpful to define the public cloud. In our consulting practice and with our client, we tend to use cloud computing as a synonym for public cloud. There are the big providers that we've all heard of - Amazon, Google, Microsoft - as well as countless smaller providers that offer custom services that qualify as cloud computing. While it is difficult to create a crisp definition of cloud computing, some generally accepted characteristics include:

  • A pay as you go economic model
  • An ability to quickly provision and deprovision environments
  • Access to a large amount of elastic computing and storage from an external provider.
As opposed to public cloud in the context of cloud computing, the private cloud is not well understood. In many respects, the term seems to be a marketing buzzword capitalizing on the popularity of the cloud concept. From my vantage point, it is nearly impossible to distinguish an internal cloud from a well-implemented virtualization strategy. Some definitions include self-service portals and metering capabilities for chargebacks as integral parts of a private cloud strategy, while others go further still and define a Private cloud as managed by an external vendor on separate hardware and software. It's clear that it's still too early to define the private cloud and the term will continue to change over time as the underlying technology becomes more tightly defined.

While a public cloud provides many benefits, such as a new economic model, nearly instantaneous provisioning and de-provisioning, and access to potentially unlimited computing power; it also suffers from all the typical drawbacks such as concerns over security and compliance. In many respects, private clouds reverse many of these pros and cons. Private clouds may not have a truly new economic model - you may still need to purchase the requisite hardware and software up front. Likewise, you don't typically have access to nearly unlimited computing power. While you can rapidly provision in a private environment, you don't benefit economically from deprovisioning in the sense that you still own the equipment. On the positive side, you own the environment, so concerns over security and compliance are reduced. Let's consider three scenarios where these types of solutions might both be considered.

Scenario One: External Marketing Site

In this scenario, a marketing professional needs to quickly spin up a site outlining a hot new consumer product that will be launched in a few months. Marketing wants to create a high end user experience that won't conform to the guidelines of their corporate site. They also need to collect relatively limited personal information (name, email address, etc.) of those customers who are interested in hearing updates as the product is released. At the end of a three month window, the site will be shutdown. This is an ideal candidate for a public cloud based solution for the following reasons:

  • The marketing department needs to circumvent some of the standards on the corporate site
  • The site needs to be launched immediately to meet the tight timelines associated with the product launch
  • While some personal information is collected, it is not "high risk" personal information, such as credit card numbers or other personal financial information
  • The solution has no integration points with other parts of the business
  • At the end of a narrow window, the site needs to be decommissioned.
Scenario Two: Support A Retail Purchasing Site During The Holiday Season

During the busy holiday season IT needs to be ready to spin up additional IT horsepower to support retail sales. For security and compliance reasons, the company has decided that their ecommerce system needs to be maintained internally rather being moved to the cloud. In this situation, a Private cloud approach works well for these reasons:

  • Corporate standards have already dictated that customer financial information will be housed internally
  • The ecommerce system is tightly integrated with the company's ERP, CRM, and Business Intelligence solutions.
Scenario Three: Ecommerce Site That Supports User Content

A consumer electronics online retailer has an existing ecommerce site that they use for marketing and selling entertainment products. Like the company in scenario two, they decided customer data must remain under internal control. However, as part of their ecommerce solution, they want to provide product videos to help their customers better understand how to install and use the products they are considering purchasing. Some of these videos will be a professionally produced in high definition, but users will also be allowed to post their own do it yourself videos on the site. This scenario could be a good fit for a hybrid solution:

  • The company can keep its core ecommerce site hosted internally to deal with privacy and security issues
  • The videos will contain no truly private information; they are intended to be open to the public so can sit in the cloud
  • The company doesn't have a good sense yet for the storage needs, so the elasticity inherent in a Public cloud model is a clear benefit.
In summary, I would highlight a few takeaways. First, public clouds are gaining momentum and mindshare. Private clouds are an alternative, but it is still difficult to distinguish marketing from reality as it relates to the underlying technology. Last, it's not one size fits all. Hybrid solutions can be built today, and will likely become even more common as cloud standards are defined and accepted by the IT community.

About the Author

Jerry Kaczmarowski is a general manager at Slalom Consulting (

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