|By Shashi Mysore||
|June 17, 2014 12:00 PM EDT||
The private cloud: What it is (and isn't)
The private cloud is misunderstood. At this stage, vendors can be forgiven for not having a firm idea of what the private cloud is and how it can uniquely improve their processes. Too many service providers have branded legacy technologies as "cloud-based," warping buyers' expectations about what a private cloud actually is and should do. In some cases, what developers and testers get with these cloud-washed solutions are nothing more than heavily virtualized environments that offer little or none of the scalability, automation, self-service, and on-demand provisioning associated with cloud computing at-large.
As a result, organizations may think of the private cloud as simply a slight update to their internal IT systems, a fresh coat of paint on the same aging infrastructure that they have been looking to leave behind as new dynamic applications become more central to their businesses. They want a cloud platform that can enable more agile software lifecycles, with streamlined testing and abundant resources for developers, but these misconceptions may lead them to conclude that the public cloud is the only way to achieve these goals and facilitate quicker time-to-market, as well as higher programmer productivity.
The truth is that using a private cloud not only provides a productive dev/test environment, but also adds tangible advantages over running all workloads on public infrastructure. For starters, the unpredictable opex of using public cloud services can be replaced with fixed capex, mostly for high-end servers and appliances that provide the dedicated power for running tasks consistently. Accordingly, dev/test teams benefit from working in a single-tenant environment in which resources are rapidly and reliably provisioned and often come from appliances with superior specifications to public Infrastructure-as-a-Service machines.
Moreover, the private cloud boosts particular IT workflows, all while shielding these operations behind the company firewall. It provides high levels of security and control that make it ideal for safely developing and testing applications. Naturally, dev/test has been instrumental in shaping the private cloud's amenities for automation and self-service, along with the evolution of commercial solutions that leverage open source software to give teams maximum flexibility in configuring and customizing processes.
Some industry executives and observers have disputed the entire notion of the private cloud, arguing that it either has no agreed-upon definition or is already obsolete, but in reality its structures are readily discernible in data centers and on-premises systems that depend on it for these central IT, dev/test and quality assurance operations. These workflows all offer low-risk/high-reward opportunities for synthesizing the productive gains of cloud computing with dedicated hardware to obtain the best of both worlds.
While the private cloud has sometimes been cited for lacking the fundamental traits of cloud computing in general - on-demand service, scalability, self-provisioning and measurement - this argument only applies to virtualized environments that have been wrongly labeled. These depictions should not obscure the fact that private clouds are real, vital parts of IT infrastructure.
Why Do Testing and Development in a Private Cloud?
If development, and deployment of software, is a strategic everyday activity, then in most cases private clouds make sense. There is a common perception that controlling your IT destiny is complicated and expensive. But today, with highly evolved hardware and highly automated cloud platforms, operation of your own infrastructure is becoming easier and less expensive by the day.
Development and testing is a natural fit for cloud environments because superior access to resources leads to shorter wait times during critical processes (no more never-ending provisioning) and lower costs per unit tested. While these gains are theoretically attainable through any cloud platform, the private cloud provides distinctive advantages.
Start with infrastructure. Traditional testing environments are complicated to use and costly to maintain, taking up excessive space and consuming considerable power despite sitting idle for long periods of time. Firing up testing equipment every few months often leads to difficulty and frustration as teams try to ensure the consistency of all environments. Debugging times lengthen and application delivery is delayed.
Using a private cloud simplifies matters on both the hardware and software fronts. Testing resources can be set up and decommissioned as needed, obviating the need to keep instances running indefinitely on the public cloud. Private cloud virtualization enables compute, storage and networking to be scaled in accordance with application demands and a self-service Web portal can make this process easier. Some private cloud implementations connect to public infrastructure as needed, usually to provide additional automation, scalability or spillover, a phenomenon known as cloud bursting.
Still, would-be adopters may recoil at the perceived high cost of the private cloud, which is sometimes misleadingly set in stark contrast to the pay-as-you-go efficiency of the public cloud. In truth, improvements in hardware and public APIs have made the private cloud more affordable and reliable than ever before. It is no longer a cousin to the expensive, difficult-to-maintain systems that organizations once abandoned for the public cloud; rather, it is an increasingly vital component of modern IT, providing the security, control and performance needed for particular tasks, while also interacting with public platforms to open up a fuller range of services for developers and testers.
Using a Private Cloud Doesn't Mean Never Using the Public Cloud
The very term "private cloud" can be confusing, since it groups together a diverse range of infrastructure and software under one umbrella and sets them in opposition to remotely hosted services. This is a false dichotomy. Not all private clouds are equally capable, nor do they all share compatibility with public clouds as part of hybrid deployments, although the latter trait is becoming more common.
Accordingly, it makes sense to look at the private cloud on a case-by-case basis and assess them as tools and platforms for dev/test. Many of them can easily coexist with both legacy technologies and public cloud platforms to create an ideal environment for software development and deployment.
Public cloud providers have certainly taken note, with several of them modifying their services so that enterprise customers can, for example, feed information into big data tools from on-premises databases or other platforms. These moves speak to the ongoing demand for private clouds that not only have the most apparent amenities - security, dedicated hardware - but also offer highly efficient ways to handle workloads in different way depending on their requirements and on how they evolve.
More specifically, the private cloud is one way to reduce costs and still maintain advanced continuous integration. With the right combination of software and hardware, a private deployment enables excellent handling of servers and automation, as well as the use of plugins that can launch worker nodes on a public cloud for extra capacity. While organizations vary by the number of connections they make between in-house systems and the public cloud, the power of the private cloud is that it is flexible enough to address a wide range of use cases by applying cloud computing principles to key processes.
As such, the private cloud can be an important part of a hybrid deployment, with capabilities that support certain workflows in ways that the public cloud cannot. Resources can be provisioned quickly, leading to faster time to market. Dev/test can be run at low cost on the private cloud, with the workload shifted unchanged to a public cloud for production. Far from being an expensive relic or the antithesis of convenient self-service cloud computing, the private cloud, as well as the hybrid setups it may be part of, is a powerful platform for producing, testing and deploying software, and one that is often equipped with public APIs for additional versatility.
Startups and Service Providers Are Among Many Organizations with Private Clouds
How does the private cloud look in action? Organizations across many verticals have set up private clouds to make software deployment easy and economical. Private cloud is most readily associated with handling sensitive data for heavily regulated industries such as finance and healthcare, but its use cases are actually varied and particularly relevant for programmers.
It is common for startups to go with the public cloud to get what seems like the point-and-click convenience of unlimited resources. After a while, however, many of these companies realize that they can obtain better speeds on their own dedicated hardware, with the added benefits of better privacy and security compared to public cloud. Despite its rapid evolution, the public cloud is still very opaque, and users may get into situations in which they are overly reliant on average machines with specifications that cannot be adjusted. A private or hybrid cloud is a great way to get the infrastructure that the organization needs in order to reliably run workloads and get the most out of their investments.
While cost and security typically dominate any conversation about the private cloud, organizations should realize that it actually confers many more nuanced benefits, particularly for developers. Savings and data protection are critical, but a productive, transparent and highly configurable dev/test environment sets companies that use the private cloud up for long-term success in an increasingly complex cloud landscape.
Our CTO, Anders Wallgren, recently sat down to take part in the “B2B Nation: IT” podcast — the series dedicated to serving the IT professional community with expert opinions and advice on the world of information technology. Listen to the great conversation, where Anders shares his thoughts on DevOps lessons from large enterprises, the growth of microservices and containers, and more.
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