Has cloud become a four letter word and can it be used in private?

“…everything’s called cloud something-or-other these days, it really annoys me…it’s just another buzzword dreamt up by overpaid marketing types. They just stick the word cloud on the end of every product and act like it’s something new”. This was the impassioned rant that greeted me recently (it’s not an exact quote, the original was far too offensive for this blog) when I joined a sales meeting pitched at a hardened IT professional. He’d been in the business 25 years, man and boy; he’d seen and done it all and didn’t suffer fools gladly. As I plugged my laptop into the projector I glanced down at my lovingly crafted presentation. The first slide was proudly titled Enterprise Private Cloud in large blue letters…my heart sank; this was going to be a tough meeting.

In truth I have some sympathy with his position – after all the term ‘cloud’ has become over used and is at risk of losing any real meaning. The term ‘cloud washing’ is even used now to describe the practice of taking any old Internet based service and rebranding it with word cloud. Of course it’s not just the hardened IT veterans that are annoyed by all of this; it’s also the cloud enthusiasts that support a more clearly defined vision of what the term really means. In order to call something a cloud service, they would argue, it should:

  • Use virtualised infrastructure
  • Use multi-tenant architecture
  • Offer pay-per-use billing
  • Offer user self-provisioning
  • Offer linear scalability
  • Offer open API’s for integration into other cloud services

That definition seems to work pretty well for the kinds of public clouds operated by Amazon, Google and Salesforce.com but what about the private clouds?  A private cloud is one used by a single organisation so surely cannot be multi-tenanted and would, presumably, have little need for pay-per-use billing or user self-provisioning (that’s what the IT department are there for after all?).  When you build a private cloud you still have to specify all the physical resources you need like servers, storage and networking which, frankly, sounds very much like the old pre-cloud world of IT. Some might say that a private cloud isn’t really a cloud at all since it doesn’t meet the above requirements.  Presumably that means that Timico was also wrong to recently launch a product called Enterprise Private Cloud?

 In fact IT departments are increasingly seeing themselves as service providers within their own organisation and so all the key attributes of the public cloud are also attractive within the Enterprise, just at a much smaller scale. Multi-tenant architecture is useful for providing separate pools of resources to different departments or teams who have diverse requirements. Pay-per-use billing is ideal for charging back the cost of running IT services to different cost centres. User self-provisioning empowers technical teams like developers and engineers to manage their own resources without being dependant on IT.

Just like any service provider, though, they need a physical infrastructure on which to build their service that is fit for purpose but also meets the security and regulatory requirements of their businesses. So they absolutely need to know how many CPU’s, how much RAM, how many VLANs and so on are available to them. They must also be able to manage the platform themselves so they are fully empowered to server their internal customer. The key choice then becomes whether to build this infrastructure themselves or outsource the problem to a service provider like Timico.

So to my mind ‘cloud’ can be useful and meaningful term if we have some discipline in the way we apply it and don’t let people get away with using it interchangeably with ‘Internet’. Furthermore the term can be equally applied to a service being offered openly for anyone or to one available only to a closed community of end users. So when Timico talks about offering Private Cloud it’s not about providing anything directly to IT end users, it’s about giving IT departments a platform on which to create their own private clouds and become virtual service providers within their own Enterprises.

So cloud needn’t be a four letter word (especially since it has five letters) and if you do happen to attend a presentation from Timico where we use the term – please don’t beat us up for it. After all we had to call the product something and Enterprise Private Thingamajig didn’t quite have the same ring to it.

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