Is your private cloud defensive or responsive?

A strong minority of enterprise IT shops are prioritizing the development of a private cloud, but Forrester surveys suggest these moves will fail. The reason lies in the motivation behind these efforts and the focus. Most are building private clouds to keep their developers from going to the public cloud and are focused on the physical aspects of the cloud, not the operations – and it’s the operations that make the cloud.

“The Cloud” is no longer an elusive term that is just entering the market. Today, enterprises of all sizes and across all verticals are talking about, and deciding how to implement cloud strategies. That’s because the promise of instant access to a technology service at a fraction of the cost of traditional IT deployments means faster time-to-market and higher productivity for the business. But, consuming public cloud services still poses major concerns for IT security and operations managers. Security remains the number one concern among senior IT decision-makers – cited almost twice as often as the next highest concern, maturity. As a result, for many enterprises their favored way of delivering cloud value without these risks is to set up a private cloud.

The prioritization of building a private cloud grew in 2010 for 24 per cent of IT decision who view building an internal cloud as a high or critical priority. In examining these decision makers, we found that the desire to adopt an internal private cloud crosses industries and geographies. Yet two characteristics are strong indicators of the likelihood of building a private cloud: company size and growth of the virtualized environment. It’s no surprise that 60 per cent of those prioritizing private clouds are at companies with more than 1,000 employees. These large enterprises sink more investment into their own data centers, operations personnel, and IT processes, so they have more to lose if the business goes to the public cloud.

Although the prioritization of private clouds is affecting a wide range of organizations, investments in several key areas differ for those who are prioritizing versus those who are not. Specifically, increased investments are being made in four infrastructure categories to accommodate the private cloud option, including the overall data center budget and consulting and outsourcing services. But, these same organizations are still not investing enough in key operational requirements that are essential to guaranteeing the success of a private cloud. For example, automation and self-service portals are two major factors contributing to a well-oiled private cloud. Yet, 44 per cent of those prioritizing private clouds have no plans to invest in automation software for their virtualized environment. And only 11 per cent of cloud builders have a self-service portal implemented today, while 62 per cent are interested, but holding off. It’s going to be very difficult to lure developers away from the public cloud without these core features.

If you’re one of the 24 per cent prioritizing a private cloud, but just do not have the operational maturity to pull it off, here are a few recommendations to get ahead of the problem:

1..Set the right expectations with your executives. If the company is expecting a private cloud to be up and running in the next year, the infrastructure and operations team may have been sold up the river. Implementing a private cloud isn’t as simple as the vendors say, and simply saying the virtual server environment is a private cloud probably won’t fit the bill either.

2..Standardize and automate the virtual environment. Without aggressively pursuing these steps, the bottom line is private cloud desires simply won’t be met. It’s time to find out whos holding back this effort and why. We’ve found that virtual environment administrators are often trying to protect their jobs and consequently don’t share their knowledge. These workers need to be shown a path of career advancement as they move to a higher value role in private cloud operations. For example, they can improve the use of the virtual environment and managing the pool, not the individual VMs.

3..Realize a self-service portal doesn’t mean loss of control. There should be an approval workflow between the request and the deployment. But, once the approval has been received, the deployment should just happen if capacity is available. This may not provide the 15 minute timelines that developers are accustomed to with public clouds solutions, but it greatly improves the experience with I&O.

4..Seek a hosted cloud provider if it’s too soon to automate and empower. If it’s a struggle to standardize and automate virtualized infrastructure, or there’s reluctance to empower developers, you simply aren’t ready to build or operate a private cloud yourself. If this is the case, refocus efforts on a service provider who can offer a hosted private cloud solution.

5..Map workloads to the appropriate private and public cloud options. It’s important not to think that building a private cloud will suddenly squash a company’s interest in public clouds. That’s because the elasticity, scale, and economics are superior in public cloud offerings. My advice: don’t fight it. Embrace public clouds as part of the strategy and draw lines of distinction between what is best for the public cloud and what should remain in-house. Force-fitting every workload into a private cloud, no matter how capable the solution is, will ultimately be a disservice.

James Staten is Vice President and Principal Analyst at Forrester Research, serving infrastructure and operations professionals. He will be speaking at Forrester’s Enterprise Architecture Forum, February 17-18 in San Francisco.

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