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1/12/2010
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Private Clouds Are A Fix, Not The Future

Cloud Connect's Alistair Croll argues that internal enterprise clouds are a temporary phenomenon, to be followed by a big migration to public cloud infrastructure.

Plenty of consulting firms are offering to re-tool enterprise IT with cloud-like technologies, promising reduced costs and faster IT deployments. "Let us define the architecture, then run it for you, and everything will be just fine," they promise. And for the next five years, it will be. That's because the savings from virtualization, automation, and other technologies will get the CEO to leave the CIO alone for a while.

Cloud operators, meanwhile, are getting much, much more efficient in other ways. They're negotiating with cities for electrical pricing. Filing patents on boats that can sail the seas, cooling themselves with seawater. Building data centers near dams. Writing their own operations software. Building custom switches.

They can do these things because, unlike enterprise IT, making IT efficient is their core business. An enterprise CIO might do internal charge-backs because it helps with end-of-year accounting. But a cloud provider does it because otherwise they don't get paid, which is a much stronger reason to do it right.

Trust is the last excuse to hug your servers. And it, too, will go away.

Today, the biggest objection to deploying in a true cloud (by which I mean, machines you don't own and that are shared with people you don't know) is that you don't have control and visibility. Enterprises say that they want more information on what's deployed where, or that cloud platforms violate certification and governance constraints. This, too, will pass. Ten years ago we wouldn't have thought of posting our personal lives online; today, we can muster at best a faint protest when Facebook turns all our data public.

So here's my big prediction for cloud computing:

For the next three or four years, enterprises will deploy private and hybrid clouds, putting millions into the coffers of consulting companies and business process outsourcers. There will be great savings, and rejoicing.

Public cloud infrastructure will be reserved for startups, experimentation, testing, massively parallel tasks (such as genomics, data warehouse analytics, or Monte Carlo simulations) and other bursty, not-private work.

Within a few years, however, the true cloud operators will have an unavoidable cost advantage because it's all they worry about. They'll also be closer to consumers (because they have POPs everywhere and partnerships with content delivery systems), and connecting with consumers and partners will become an increasingly essential part of any enterprise IT strategy.

Computing legislation will catch up, and we'll find better ways of auditing and inspecting systems we don't own that will satisfy regulators. Government adoption of cloud computing, ubiquitous access to data, and the consumerization of IT will drive this.

As a result, in three to five years, there will be a second big enterprise IT migration from private to public infrastructures.

Don't believe everything you hear about private clouds. Just because you've finally fixed IT doesn't make you a long-term cloud computing provider. Plan accordingly.

Alistair Croll is principal analyst with Bitcurrent and conference chair of Cloud Connect.

InformationWeek's "A New IT Manifesto" report looks at a variety of new approaches and technologies that let IT rebels take on a whole new role, enhancing their companies' competitiveness and engaging their entire organizations more intimately with customers. Download the report here (registration required).

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