Is there really such thing as a private cloud?

The IT community is now strongly focusing on the impact of cloud computing on their businesses. This can largely be explained by the fact that the rapid growth in the use of cloud services in recent years massively disrupts traditional IT delivery models.

But much confusion remains regarding the nature, scope and definition of cloud computing. The situation is becoming cloudier (excuse the pun), as major IT suppliers start to re-brand existing offerings as "private clouds". Attributes of cloud computing typically include scalability, elasticity, multi-tenancy, payment models that are linked to usage, resources delivered from virtualized environments and the provision of all support and management tasks by a cloud services provider.

However, the emergence of the marketing term, "private cloud" challenges common definitions of cloud computing and creates confusion. It is a term that is commonly used by those with vested interests in existing computing paradigms.

In my view, the use of private clouds is not cloud computing, since key attributes of cloud computing include the use of computing resources that reside outside of the enterprise and that are delivered to multiple customers (multi-tenancy) by a third party (cloud services provider). Private clouds deliver IT resources from within the corporate firewall and to one customer. To me, the term private cloud is a misleading way of describing hosted services. In fact, it is an oxymoron. It is a term that is used by providers of hosted services to hold onto lucrative contracts and prevent the loss of customers to companies that provide public cloud services.

Companies that offer services from the public cloud such as are undermining traditional on-premise business models. The business case for sourcing resources from public clouds will soon be indisputable. In the next few years, business units and IT managers will need to provide business cases for not using public clouds and for keeping resources on-premise.

Services that share the attributes of public cloud computing, have, of course been with us for many years. For example, the application service provider (ASP) model of computing was expected to deliver services from the Internet to multiple clients. The ASP model did not mature for a variety of reasons.

However, the planets are now aligned for an explosion of public cloud activity. Today's virtualization technology, application acceleration technology, the widespread use of OpenSource and faster average broadband speeds are enabling the rapid adoption of public cloud-based services.

In many ways, the use of public cloud services is creeping up on us by stealth. Although the use of platforms, infrastructure and/or applications delivered from public clouds may seem to be comparatively immature, most people are using public cloud services. Each time we use Google's search engine or a social networking tool such as Facebook or LinkedIn, we are using public cloud services.

From an enterprise perspective, payroll processing services offered by companies such as ADP (Automatic Data Processing Inc.), are also a form of cloud computing. Now, if companies can send the personal details of their employees, their salary details, their tax details and their identification details to a data center that is operated by a third party such as ADP, are privacy and security concerns legitimate reasons for not wishing to use public cloud services?

I believe that a mix of groupthink and blind conservatism is at play in many cases when objections to the use of cloud services are raised. These objections tend to be centered around security and privacy. It is argued that private clouds address these concerns. In my view, private clouds simply reinforce the conservatism of many in business today by giving them an excuse not to use the public cloud.

In a few years time, those that simply revamp their existing data centers to provide private-cloud services and those that refuse to use cloud services for security and privacy reasons, will give the impression that they simply cannot grasp their very straightforward and obvious business benefits of using public-cloud services.

Andrew Milroy is the ICT director for Australia and New Zealand for Frost & Sullivan