Private Cloud is probably the most over used and least understood term in IT at the moment. Gartner’s definition of private cloud is “A style of computing where scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service to customers using Internet technologies.” What does that look like for the IT Professional in the Microsoft world?

“A style of computing..” does that mean we dress up for work? No it means that the IT Professional behaves like a cloud provider by offering services to the business not dissimilar to the service level agreements that operate between larger businesses and the IT provider they outsource to.  The scalable and elastic capabilities is sort of their now depending on your precise definition of what this means.  The underpinning of this is virtualisation, which for most people translates to server virtualisation and using this technology we can spin up more of each type of infrastructure as demand dictates.  There are other types of virtualisation like desktop virtualisation that also provide this capability; think of a company taking on 10 new staff , they could be setup with their own environment in a matter of minutes if the business had  a PC or thin client equipped hot desk area.  Of course even the magic of software isn’t going to conjure up  hardware for these people, what I am saying is that the process to get them going can be fast and largely automatic.

So isn’t  that just the same as an optimised infrastructure? Essentially yes but what I also see is the breaking up of the traditional IT department and placing IT professionals closer to the business.  This new kind of IT professional (or private cloud specialist) will have a broader infrastructure knowledge and will also have a deeper understanding of the business she/he will be providing services for.  This can only happen if the infrastructure is easy to manage and self healing where possible. 

The key software in this shift will be management tools, rather than the virtualisation platforms themselves.  For the Microsoft stack this means System Center and depending on what size your business is will dictate which parts of that product line you use:

  • For small business you might run small business server and manage your clients with the new InTune product (our new evangelist Simon May has more on this).
  • For businesses running up to 50 server and 500 clients there is System Center Essentials (SCE) 2010.  This combines the key features in the separate System Center products used by larger businesses into one simple interface including virtual machine management, system health, and update management.
  • For larger businesses there are individual System Center products to manage the infrastructure.

So how does this relate to the public cloud?  I would argue that some components of most business will still need to run on premise for a number of reasons:

  • The UK is ranked 33rd in the world for broadband speed for download and 66th for upload.
  • Compliance procedures in many businesses (both the customers and some of the providers) will need to be tightened before all data can be stored in the cloud
  • some applications like voice in unified communications and business intelligence aren’t really cloud ready yet.
  • federation of identity isn’t there for all applications, making it harder to integrate systems
  • It’s seen as risky as it’s so new
  • the move from capex to opex might seem attractive but what stops the cloud providers from putting up the costs at will (much as a landlord might)
  • Cloud SLA’s need to recognise the true cost of business downtime

and having a consistent approach to IT whether on premise or not will provide a business with the flexibility it needs. 

Public clouds are a lot like tornados, and if you see one that is not moving to the left or right it means it is coming towards you! So my plan over the coming year is ensure you are prepared as possible for this disruptive technology as it is very likely to be hitting your business in some shape or form if not this year then next.

..added 17 Aug 2011

Since I wrote this post last year The Microsoft Virtual Academy has been
launched which provides solid introductory training  on both public and private
cloud.  I have done all of the private courses myself:

and I can vouch for them being a good use of your time in getting you up to
speed, and giving you a solid foundation for getting certified for the two
Microsoft certifications relevant to the private cloud:

70-659:
TS: Windows Server 2008 R2, Server Virtualization (Hyper-V+VMM)
70-400:
TS: Microsoft System Center Operations Manager 2007, Configuring