Public vs. Private Cloud Debate Goes On

While there are important differences between a public cloud and a private cloud computing environment, industry leaders say the pros and cons of each aren't as significant as the fact that both options are available for businesses and enterprises. At the recent CloudBeat 2011 conference in Redwood City, Calif., executives of various companies delivering cloud technology and services said any combination of public, private or hybrid clouds may be the right solution for any company based on its n

December 7, 2011

3 Min Read
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While there are important differences between a public cloud and a private cloud computing environment, industry leaders say the pros and cons of each aren't as significant as the fact that both options are available for businesses and enterprises. At the recent CloudBeat 2011 conference in Redwood City, Calif., executives of various companies delivering cloud technology and services said any combination of public, private or hybrid clouds may be the right solution for any company based on its needs.

During a panel discussion provocatively titled "The Private Cloud is Way Overrated," moderator Michael Crandell, CEO of RightScale, which sells an automated cloud management platform, made the point that public clouds, such as Amazon Web Services, are commodity-based, pay-as-you-go services for buying compute cycles from a third party. A private cloud is the same service, but operated within just one company.

"If you take that as the definition, are those two in competition, or do they complement each other or both? Because often it's misconstrued as that the private cloud is the false cloud," Crandell said. That prompted a response from Marten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus Systems, which develops on-premise private clouds for its customers: "That’s like saying an espresso machine is a false Starbucks."

Mikos added, "We make the best espresso machines in the world, and we see Amazon as the Starbucks." Another panelist added, continuing the analogy, that someone can use an espresso machine at home but still make an occasional visit to a Starbucks. There are going to be variations in cloud business models for different business verticals, and "we need many more adjectives to precede the word 'cloud,'" said Lew Tucker, VP and CTO of cloud computing at Cisco Systems. Besides unique clouds for financials services, health care and government verticals, there are public clouds, on-premise private clouds, hosted private clouds and even, as another panelist noted, private clouds with a portion made available publicly.

Chris Pinkham, CEO of Nimbula, whose software turns a company’s own infrastructure into a secure private cloud, thinks the whole discussion misses the point. "I think we spend way too much time arguing over the nuances of terminology," said Pinkham. "I think that what’s more important is what is the service and to whom is the service available."

However, Pinkham made clear that a private cloud is not a false cloud. Just like a public cloud, a private cloud is an IT resource that is shared by multiple users; in a private cloud, that group of users is the various departments within one company plugging into the cloud. He said that businesses contemplating a private cloud should separate management of the IT assets--such as servers, storage and networking--from management of applications that run in that cloud.

"If you’re doing IT within your own data center, [your] job it is to turn that infrastructure into a service, and they should be relieved of all application responsibility. Other people within the organization should be in charge of managing applications," said Pinkham.

Yet another scenario is for companies to use a public cloud service for some commodity business tasks, such as customer relationship management, but a private cloud for more "sophisticated" purposes, said John Engates, CTO at Rackspace, a cloud hosting provider. He cited examples of financial services firms or other Fortune 100 companies using a private cloud for research and development projects.

Engates substituted the Starbucks analogy with an automotive analogy. "The public cloud is like a four-door sedan, but as you move out of the four-door sedan, you might need an SUV or a tractor trailer," he said.

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