Readers of this blog know that I like to imagine the world through the eyes of my young son. I’m struck by his constant drive to push himself to his next edge of independence. I also know his appetite for danger goes only so far. He understands some of the safety boundaries we have set to protect him from the chaos and to help him thrive. Home is a safe environment in which we prepare him for the outside world, public places like school where he interacts with other students, sharing resources with others.
His effort to find the right balance of exploration and safety resonates with what we mean by “private cloud” and preparing clients for a hybrid cloud environment: private plus public, as in figure #1 below:
Hybrid cloud can provide ultimate flexibility by allowing organizations to place data and associated workloads where it best makes sense – for optimal business outcomes which I discuss in more detail later in the blog.
Private Cloud Defined
In the simplest terms, private cloud (sometimes also called internal cloud, dedicated cloud or corporate cloud) provide all the benefits of cloud provisioning, management capabilities along side the scalability, agility, and the developer-driven services available from cloud vendors — but behind the firewall. Figure #2 below offers some details about the differences.
Public and private clouds are both destinations for the execution of business workloads. More and more, we see organizations eager to take a hybrid approach which allows those workloads to seamlessly execute “together” across public and private cloud allowing those customers ultimate flexibility based on (but not limited to) :
- The volumes and types of data
- Sensitivity of the data
- Performance and service levels required
- Security requirements
- Business criticality
- Data regulation and governance
- Types of systems, processes, and applications
How you put the pieces together depends on the needs of your business. There are many economic and service level factors to consider. A private cloud is often the responsibility of the organization running it. Besides the factors mentioned above, the responsibilities can include: hardware, software, support, maintenance, service-level agreements with the business and all the necessary human and technical resources associated with it. With a public cloud many of these economic and service level responsibilities can often be devolved to a third party – allowing the organization using the public cloud to focus on its core business processes and needs.
That said, some enterprise customers are seeing that many of the benefits typically associated with the public cloud — lower cost, speed of provisioning, reduced management — are increasingly available on private cloud configurations that also allow data to be governed securely, smoothly, and transparently.
Life Behind the Firewall
What we mean by “behind the firewall” depends on individual clients and their needs. It might mean that the data is maintained completely within a client’s own protected data center by the client themselves. Or, that the data and apps live on fully dedicated bare-metal servers off-site, supported by a cloud vendor like IBM managing hardware, maintenance, connectivity, redundancy, and security on the client’s behalf, all of which help that client drastically reduce capital expenses for the servers, in-house IT staff and the burdens of obtaining and updating software.
Avoiding expenses and hassle is just the beginning of what’s possible, but let’s first consider why maintaining a private cloud while exploring public cloud options is the right fit for so many of them. Broadly, private cloud configurations can address two particular needs:
- The need to create a highly secure and reliable home for sensitive data, to perform advanced analytics, and to maintain data sovereignty — while allowing that data to be in conversation with data and analytics that are accumulating in the public cloud. In this sense, private cloud is one end of a private/public cloud hybrid configuration in which data is accessed, moved, and managed using secure, service-layer APIs.
- The need to modernize systems and processes — even behind the firewall. Organizations who see the benefits of maintaining a private cloud nevertheless demand the clear advantages of public cloud I mentioned before: elastic scalability, agility, consumability of API-driven services, easier management, and rapid provisioning, to name just a few. The key concepts here are:
Virtualization — The use of virtual operating systems and highly elastic virtual processing power.
Federation — The ability to take several different physical entities and represent them as a single logical entity.
Data Fabric — A software-defined approach for connecting disparate storage and management resources across private and public cloud. The approach enables multiple components to interoperate through a set of common, standardized services and APIs regardless of physical location, type of data, or type of service. As mentioned above, clear data governance is particularly crucial in hybrid environments — and even more so when country-specific compliance rules require different data policies across geographies.
As my colleague wrote:
“Private Cloud is about delivering an elastic data fabric behind the client’s firewall. From a user perspective, the experience goes from “Provision me a database to do xyz” to “Here is my data and analytical needs, please help.” There is no need for dedicated repositories for a specific application and user needs are met automatically, with limited human intervention.”
Path to Cloud Benefits
Regardless of their focus, organizations are hungry for simplicity, transparency, and the ability to move toward cloud without starting from scratch. They know that their future success lives at the edges of wide networks, at the points of direct contact with customers and the outside world. Mobile phones, IoT sensors, and other connected devices are the new lifelines to current and potential customers, who passively or actively exchange volumes of data with servers. That data runs the gamut in terms of privacy and sensitivity: from the temperature of the toaster to credit card information, from glucose levels to the current whereabouts of my son’s backpack. All that activity at the outer edges of the network has shifted a portion of the business into the cloud even for traditionally cloud-wary sectors like finance, government, and healthcare. For those organizations, a private cloud offers an environment for core-mission, transactional workloads even as the public cloud allows them to explore CPU-intensive or streaming applications that are (for now) less central to the business. Not surprisingly, these sectors are exploring tunable hybrid cloud infrastructures. Figure #3 above offers some perspective.
Alongside the need to stay connected to customers, pressure to come to the cloud is also intense in terms of cost savings, easier management / provisioning, and — perhaps ironically — security. Security threats evolve so rapidly and attacks come from so many directions that internal security teams can struggle to keep up. And since some of the most severe cyber-attacks can come from within a company’s own ranks rather than from exterior bots or hackers, the internal teams are finding that the security of the cloud providers can be advantageous in terms of speed, currency, and completeness. As Cameron McKenzie points out, “Enterprises are starting to seriously consider the cloud as a viable option because they’ve realized that security is a battle they can’t win on their own.”
Advantages of IBM Private Cloud
Right now, IBM Private Cloud can help provide the best of the public and private cloud worlds. In fact, a recent InformationWeek post about private cloud states that “IBM is the market leader.” Our deep, in-house knowledge can help organizations breathe easy in terms of performance, cost, security, and white-glove attention and support. We start with the assumption that those organizations need to leverage the systems and processes they have in place by cloud-enabling their investments — rather than starting from square one.
Think of the IBM Private Cloud as a stack. You still need that physical infrastructure that offers high availability, scalability, performance — a strong data and analytics foundation to ingest, prepare, wrangle, discover and transform data into trusted assets. On top of that you need the ability to manage existing investments in applications and solutions as well as creating new services and apps that are cloud-enabled and can be rapidly provisioned – everything from management of the infrastructure to a collaborative development environment. Oh, and the need for security and governance of the data, transactions and applications over their lifecycles doesn’t go away. All these layers in the stack (regardless of whether an organization buys into all of them) can be provided by IBM today – and many of them were well established and available before the mainstream adoption of cloud.
Customer environments without exception are multi-vendor, consisting of an array of heterogeneous platforms. That’s why the private cloud platform is designed to co-exist and integrate with many different technology infrastructures. The goal is to bring cognitive analytics capabilities to wherever the data is with flexibility in mind – such as delivering offerings in multiple form factors to help meet the diverse needs of our clients on their cloud and cognitive journeys. A great example is the use of Docker images that make it possible to run our analytics and other offerings across many different infrastructures leveraging the attributes of private cloud.
Innovation and Investment for Client Success
We’re innovating and investing on clients’ behalf to help bring them not only the expected benefits of the private and public cloud, but with the robust internal partnerships with IBM Power and IBM z Systems, business partners like the ones described above, and access to market-leading data management solutions, world class descriptive, predictive and analytics solutions – all in a cloud-enabled integrated, secure and governed environment. All this comes together within the private cloud data platform with tried and tested infrastructure, governance, security, data fabric capabilities and cognitive computing services – with the flexibility to provision data and policies across private and public cloud environments. This is an optimal hybrid model.
In subsequent posts, we’ll look at private cloud strategies related to data repositories, analytics, content management, and integration/governance issues — and how these strategies braid together.
In the meantime, I encourage you to click the IBM private cloud page – a great place to explore and try some of the capabilities that exist today, and get a preview of what’s coming soon.
Dinesh Nirmal – Vice President, IBM Analytics Development
Follow me on Twitter: @dineshknirmal