Most businesses can’t afford their own private island, but many do feel it’s worthwhile to invest in a private cloud. In fact, 27% of respondents in TheServerside.com Readership Survey 2011 are currently developing a private cloud. That’s a significantly more involved process than simply deploying applications to a public cloud. Here’s a brief overview of the pros and cons of implementing a private cloud and how to make sure you get your money’s worth.
To start, it’s important to know what apples-to-apples comparison you’re using. There are two ways to look at the pros and cons of a private cloud. The first is to compare this kind of cloud to an internal, non-cloud infrastructure. The other is to compare the private cloud to the public cloud. The list of benefits is very different depending on which comparison you’re making.
Private cloud comparison #1
A private cloud has a significant advantage over the traditional dedicated hosting model when it comes to managing resources. Instead of having a collection of web, active directory, CRM and app servers (many of which will be underutilized much of the time), you can have a few private cloud servers or hypervisors that fill all these roles. Load balancing technology allows you to ensure that these resources are used to maximize efficiency and minimize costs. You can also add more virtual servers as needed via a third-party cloud provider. The private cloud servers are still located behind the outer firewall and your database servers are kept behind yet another firewall where they are doubly secure.
Private cloud comparison #2
A private cloud has a number of features that simply aren’t available in the public cloud. Greater control over the security measures implemented (e.g. network isolation, firewalls, database privacy, and secure connectivity) are the biggest selling points for many corporations. Enterprises that need to customize their cloud also appreciate the flexibility of the private cloud vs. the more “one-size-fits-all” environment of the public cloud. If your business handles a lot of data, you may also enjoy the ability to back up your data more quickly and effectively in a private cloud instead of relying on backups that take place at a pace that’s directly tied to your internet speed.
The main drawback of a private cloud is that it does cost more than going with a public cloud. These higher prices can involve upfront costs, usage fees and maintenance/administration resources. However, with a private cloud you may have less risk of being locked in to a specific vendor. When you maintain more ownership, responsibility and control, it’s easier to make changes and migrate to new apps based on strategic business initiatives rather than what your cloud provider has available. That being said, larger companies are most likely to achieve the economy of scale necessary to see a significant ROI in a private cloud.
Build or “buy” your private cloud
Naturally, some benefits and drawbacks vary depending on whether you set up an internal private cloud or have it hosted by a third party. MySiriusZone.com has a list of questions that can help you decide which approach is right for your organization based on what you’re trying to achieve. For example, it may make more sense to switch to an internal private cloud setup if you can reuse some of your existing infrastructure for that purpose.
Assuming you are interested in building and/or implementing a private cloud with the assistance of a third party, you’ll want to make sure the vendor offers a level of service that makes their fees worthwhile. Here are some areas where you should be asking questions:
- Where will the servers be located? Dedicated servers can be hosted off-site or on-site. This will determine who is responsible for physically maintaining them and keeping them secure. Your location’s server room may actually be less well-equipped than a data center of a major private cloud provider.
- Who is responsible for day-to-day management? The external cloud provider should be taking on a substantial amount of responsibility for managing the infrastructure, OS, updates, etc. Otherwise, you’re not really freeing up much of your own IT resources by migrating to the cloud. Server and storage virtualization should make the admin work that you do handle in-house easier and more transparent.
- Is scalability readily available? Just because you use a private cloud shouldn’t mean you are limited to only a certain amount of server space (assuming the vendor is physically hosting your servers in their data centers). Instead, you should have scalability and burstable computing power substantially similar to what’s accessible to public cloud users. Ideally, scaling should be a process you can automate based on your own business criteria to ensure availability while tightly controlling costs.