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Summary:

Since the concept of “private cloud” was introduced, there have been efforts by certain people to prove it “wrong” or show that it doesn’t make sense when compared with the public cloud. This seems like a silly crusade — both provide tremendous value.

school bus

Since the concept of “private cloud” was introduced, there have been efforts by certain people to prove it “wrong” or show that it doesn’t make sense when compared with the public cloud. This seems like a silly crusade, not because I’m a supporter of private cloud (which I am), but because both provide tremendous value if you actually understand the value that “cloud” has delivered to the industry.

But Sinclair, cloud delivers value because of the economies of scale it brings through aggregation, etc., etc., and so on,” you say? Perhaps, but the value of cloud computing has much more to do with its definition in the abstract and less so to do with its availability in a public form factor.  James Urquhart recently wrote “Why definitions of cloud are creating ‘false’ debates,” where he hypothesizes (accurately so) that the difference of opinion is that some characterize “cloud” as a business model, while others as an operations model.

Clearly, when looked at from the business model point of view, the concept of cloud makes significant sense in a public fashion. But as an operations model — a model where resources are pooled together behind abstractions that dynamically manage applications and resources — it has significant positive implications in the enterprise. This might be easier to explain through an analogy of sorts.

Let’s suppose, for the purposes of this thought experiment, that the bus (the big automobile that carries lots of people) has yet to be invented. A politician notices the inefficiency of always using a car that fits no more than four people, particularly in the case where lots of people are going back and forth between two cities — the politician’s home city and a neighboring city. This politician decided that the cities should operate a municipal (or public) mass transit service to transport a significant number of people per trip between the two cities, for some small fee per person. The politician commissions the invention of the bus to transport 50-100 people at a time. The idea of offering this as a public service is powerful, and as the number of passengers grows, it starts to experience significant economies of scale.

All is well, until some suggest that the bus itself is useful in contexts outside of public transit. Schools want their own buses to pick up and drop off children; prisons determine buses are a good way to transport large numbers of prisoners; someone wants to start a luxury tour service via bus; and movie stars that hate to fly feel buying a bus is an effective way to travel along with their friends, family and staff.

The politician becomes angry, stating that all of those use cases are best satisfied via the public transport system she developed, and these “private” uses are “false mass transit services” because they could never reach the economies that the public service offers. Furthermore, she argues, these proponents of “private mass transit” are getting in their own way because the public transit system is not only cost effective, but safe and generally on time, and all of the constraints that these other use cases point to in usage of public transit are merely “excuses.” The fact of the matter is, to a bus-rider, riding in a bus provides the same end utility regardless of how the bus is provided – they get where they want without having to drive a car.

Does this seem awkward and familiar at the same time? It does to me. The problem is that the politician is lumping the invention of the bus — the technology necessary for public mass transit to work – and the public mass transit system itself into a single cohesive model, and taking the stance that the real marginal savings of public mass transit is the only economic output to take into consideration. Others have decoupled the bus from the public transit service, saying that although there is huge value in public transit, the bus itself adds so much value to a huge number of use cases (such as prisoner transport) that are ill suited for public mass transit because of constraints.

Without the bus, those “private” use cases are still using four-passenger cars for all their transport needs. However, the bus solves a significant number of problems relating to moving large numbers of people relatively efficiently without having to adopt public mass transit. Similar to Urquhart’s assessment, the problem in this bus analogy is that someone is focused on the public-transit business model while others are focusing on the operations-model efficiencies that the bus can bring to other use cases.

Confounding cloud computing from a service point of view with the technology that enables cloud services is terribly misguided. The fact of the matter is that tge technology behind cloud services is extremely valuable on its own, just like a bus is extremely value outside of the public mass transit context. Take Platform as a Service, for instance. PaaS provides a tremendous amount of agility through…

  1. The pooling of resources (servers, load balancers, etc.) into a single abstract pool of resources
  2. Automation of devops workflows, thereby increasing time to market
  3. Utilization boosts (in multitenant environments)
  4. Simplified management around previously complex topics (e.g., scaling out, etc.)

This value has nothing to do with economies of scale or outsourced IT, but has everything to do with a paradigm shift in the deployment and management of applications. If an organization chooses to layer a PaaS tier – a private PaaS - atop its own infrastructure, whether it be dozens, hundreds or thousands of servers, it will experience genuine value. The technology developed to supply PaaS is much more useful than just the fact that it’s offered as a service — it can drive a whole new era of efficiency as a layer in the private cloud stack, on top of an enterprise’s existing infrastructure.

This is why “false cloud” articles, like one by Phil Wainewright titled “Private cloud discredited, part 2,” disturb me. They are too myopic in terms of debate basis, focusing on economies of scale and not much else, and fail to separate the invention of cloud enabling software layers like PaaS (the bus) from their first use in the public cloud context (public mass transit). Just as throwing away the bus in any context other than public mass transit system makes little sense, dismissing the massive efficiencies achievable by deploying technologies like private PaaS would be crazy. As David Linthicum put it in a recent post: “[M]any fail to accept there may be times when the architectural patterns of public clouds best serve the requirements of the business when implemented locally — in a private cloud.”

Sinclair Schuller is co-founder and CEO of Apprenda.

Image courtesy of Flickr user KB35.

  1. This is an overly simplistic analogy by an obviously biased private cloud vendor. He conveniently forgets to mention the cost and effort of implementing, insuring, and maintaining a fleet of private buses. Private clouds are expensive. If you’re absolutely certain a private cloud is your ultimate destination (e.g. you’ll always have to transport those prisoners), then yes, you may need a private cloud.

    A better analogy would be to the airline industry. Ask yourself if you really need private aircraft—and all the overhead that entails—if that isn’t your core business.

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  2. ..and what happens if there’s a prison riot and run out of private buses to ship everyone out. Do they buy more for that very rare occurrence? It’s a very weak argument into Private Clouds IMO. Agree 100% with Woebot biased and does not represent the true picuture..

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  3. I agree with @woebot, the main benefit of the public cloud is the cost and the ability to focus on the core business instead of IT maintaining an IT dept.

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  4. Richard Lauren Saturday, June 4, 2011

    FYI private clouds are not expensive and with virtualisation are child’s-play to scale.

    Iconic OS is a browser-based iconic interface for personal web servers. Our free and open source interface makes managing your private clould easier than you could imaging.

    We are just launching public beta now so drop by for an invite…

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  5. All, thanks for the comments! Hopefully I can clarify a few things. First, on the vendor side of things, we’re not a private cloud vendor nor do we carry the associated bias. We’re a private PaaS vendor – it’s quite different because we have ZERO incentive to convince anyone to deploy to private cloud. Our customers can deploy SaaSGrid on public cloud infrastructure like EC2 to get their own PaaS layer (much like Beanstalk) or if they choose, they can go to private cloud or co-location or whatever. Our customer base is quite evenly split between public and private cloud deployments. If you’ve ever read SaaSBlogs.com, you’d know that I’m a huge supporter of public cloud (and have been since the beginning), but pragmatically, a significant number of relevant use cases exist for both.

    Given the above, the point of the post isn’t to show how private cloud is better than public (or vice-versa). I think that debate is far too simplistic in nature. Rather, the point of the post is to highlight that cloud technologies developed for a public form factor need not be used exclusively that way, and the ROI (based on the context of the customer) might be quite high if cloud technology like PaaS is layered ontop of existing investments (or even on EC2). The ROI would have to take all costs into account. To be fair, a proper understanding of the adoption of public cloud would require that we not “conveniently forget” the costs of adoption (any re-engineering required all the way to “simple costs” like getting applications re-evaluated by regulatory bodies).

    Analogies have to be somewhat lowest common denominator in terms of presentation; going to deep causes most analogies to get hairy. Again, the point of the analogy wasn’t to show that in all cases, the private bus uses were superior to the public transit model. The public transit model works very well, but as the post discusses, the bus’ utility is quite high all on its own, and that by being prescriptive about the usage of the bus, we’re in danger of leaving low friction value on the table.

    Other analogies like airlines are good too – after all, FedEx and UPS aren’t airlines but have fleets that are larger than most airlines across the globe and their core business isn’t being an airline, not to mention the thousands of private charter services, individually owned airplanes, security services, etc.

    Regarding cost savings being one of the primary benefits of public cloud, take a look at David Linthicum’s recent post: http://www.infoworld.com/d/cloud-computing/the-cloud-wont-save-you-money-and-thats-ok-923

    I think cost savings might be a motivator for the masses, but doesn’t always pan out for the Fortune 1000. After all, 1 moderately powered EC2 instance, left on 24×7, is more expensive per month than most managed server offerings. Cloud delivers immense flexibility and agility, but I can have someone else deal with the IT headaches through managed servers at a cheaper rate.

    I hope this helps, and thanks again for the thoughtful comments!

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  6. Charlie Bauer Sunday, June 5, 2011

    I liked your use of the bus analogy. There is a word to describe your politician’s focus on the mass transit system as the only viabke public transport solution. The word is “cathexis”.

    Respectfully,

    Charlie

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  7. Sinclair is dead on correct! Hallelujah. Private cloud provides the means to gain greater utilization from existing resources across the enterprise. This isn’t an all or nothing bet. The world needs both public and private transportation — for they each have a use case and ROI. Most orgs need a hybrid approach, i.e., Enterprise IT in the role of general contractor to ensure least cost routing of resource to the proper cloud with the right policies and protocols to ensure security and management of the workload. Given the comments here it would seem that most folks view private cloud as a CYA for IT and the existing establishment of vendors, when quite the opposite is true. For leading edge CIOs and their teams, they understand a hybrid future is not just a vision, but an achievable reality. With the leadership of Sinclair and others — help is there to get internal resource up to the task.

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  8. All, thanks for the comments! Hopefully I can clarify a few things. First, on the vendor side of things, we’re not a private cloud vendor nor do we carry the associated bias. We’re a private PaaS vendor – it’s quite different because we have ZERO incentive to convince anyone to deploy to private cloud. Our customers can deploy SaaSGrid on public cloud infrastructure like EC2 to get their own PaaS layer (much like Beanstalk) or if they choose, they can go to private cloud or co-location or whatever. Our customer base is quite evenly split between public and private cloud deployments. If you’ve ever read SaaSBlogs.com, you’d know that I’m a huge supporter of public cloud (and have been since the beginning), but pragmatically, a significant number of relevant use cases exist for both.

    Given the above, the point of the post isn’t to show how private cloud is better than public (or vice-versa). I think that debate is far too simplistic in nature. Rather, the point of the post is to highlight that cloud technologies developed for a public form factor need not be used exclusively that way, and the ROI (based on the context of the customer) might be quite high if cloud technology like PaaS is layered ontop of existing investments (or even on EC2). The ROI would have to take all costs into account. To be fair, a proper understanding of the adoption of public cloud would require that we not “conveniently forget” the costs of adoption (any re-engineering required all the way to “simple costs” like getting applications re-evaluated by regulatory bodies).

    Analogies have to be somewhat lowest common denominator in terms of presentation; going to deep causes most analogies to get hairy. Again, the point of the analogy wasn’t to show that in all cases, the private bus uses were superior to the public transit model. The public transit model works very well, but as the post discusses, the bus’ utility is quite high all on its own, and that by being prescriptive about the usage of the bus, we’re in danger of leaving low friction value on the table.

    Other analogies like airlines are good too – after all, FedEx and UPS aren’t airlines but have fleets that are larger than most airlines across the globe and their core business isn’t being an airline, not to mention the thousands of private charter services, individually owned airplanes, security services, etc.

    Regarding cost savings being one of the primary benefits of public cloud, take a look at David Linthicum’s recent post: http://www.infoworld.com/d/cloud-computing/the-cloud-wont-save-you-money-and-thats-ok-923

    I think cost savings might be a motivator for the masses, but doesn’t always pan out for the Fortune 1000. After all, 1 moderately powered EC2 instance, left on 24×7, is more expensive per month than most managed server offerings. Cloud delivers immense flexibility and agility, but I can have someone else deal with the IT headaches through managed servers at a cheaper rate.

    I hope this helps, and thanks again for the thoughtful comments!

    BTW – Sorry if this shows up as a duplicated comment. I had some issues posting it.

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  9. Great analogy and agree that private and public clouds complement each other as one isn’t necessarily better than the other; it just depends on what systems are in place and what a business is looking to accomplish. In fact, at Qwest, we see a lot of businesses looking at the hybrid approach where an organization provides and manages some resources in-house and others externally. By leveraging a public and private network, there’s less network disruption, more control over data protection, and existing investments in infrastructure can still be utilized.

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  10. I guess the public vs private cloud debate depends on the organization and what they want to accomplish. If an organization is trying to take existing applications and move them into a cloud environment, then either may be valid. If they are trying to provide business utility, then why take an existing application and move it to the cloud? Look at SaaS to provide that business utility. Again, this depends on the organization. They may have a lot of time and money invested in an existing application that runs the business and there may not be a viable SaaS alternative.

    I think this decision is easier for smaller businesses or those without existing complex systems. Some CIOs are looking at opportunities to redesign their business processes to simplify them. My company uses primarily SaaS for everything from billing to expenses to document management and collaboration. Granted we are not a Fortune 500 company and our needs may be simpler, but I find that many businesses could use a bit of simplification.

    Perhaps as businesses move to the private cloud, the next step is to redesign business processes and eventually get rid of the private cloud in favor of SaaS.

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