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Why 'Private Cloud' Computing Is Real - And Worth Considering

Companies that want the benefits of cloud computing services without the risks are looking to create cloud-like environments in their own data centers. To do it, they'll need to add a layer of new technologies--virtualization management, cloud APIs, self-service portals, chargeback systems, and more--to existing data center systems and processes.

Be ready for a debate as you discuss this new way of doing things. Just the term "private cloud" irks some computer industry veterans, who argue that cloud computing by definition is something that happens outside of your data center, or that the technologies involved in private clouds have been around for years, or both. Even some of my InformationWeek colleagues pooh-pooh private clouds. "Nothing new under the sun," scoffed one editor

It's true that no single piece of an internal cloud architecture looks like breakthrough technology; it all looks deceptively familiar. I would argue, however, that private clouds represent a convergence of tech trends holding great promise for enterprise computing. Private clouds are a more powerful combination of modular commodity hardware that can be sliced and diced into many small pieces, with networking and storage that can be dynamically allocated through preset policies.

A virtualization management layer treats that whole set of technologies as a combined resource, while Internet networking and Web services allow us to interact with the cloud from any location. We can create new services out of existing ones hosted in the cloud and run user workloads at the click of a button. End users were far removed from the old mainframe and Unix server data center; with clouds, the business user can become king. Creating a private cloud will take considerable IT skill, but once one is built, authorized business users will be able to tap that computing power without a lot of know-how.

The Department of Veterans Affairs has deployed a small internal cloud. It wanted an early-warning system that could analyze data from its 100-plus clinics and hospitals and spot outbreaks of infectious diseases, and it had to do so on a tight budget. The project, dubbed the Health Associated Infection and Influenza Surveillance System, was built on six standard blade servers with converged network and storage I/O. The CPUs can be managed individually or as a virtualized whole, with workloads shifted and capacity summoned as necessary.

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