The private cloud is for suckers

Managers embrace private cloud solutions such as OpenStack because they keep IT in control, but are they simply old men shaking their fists at the public cloud?

The private cloud is for suckers

OpenStack has a lot going for it, with an enthusiastic community and lots of vendor cash standing as its two biggest selling points. Unless you count, as RedMonk analyst Stephen O'Grady does, IT's intransigent insistence on "protecting what they believe is their livelihood -- the private infrastructure -- at all costs."

O'Grady is probably right. Control freaks are gonna control, after all. But what a damning indictment of the private cloud and its open source poster child, OpenStack.

No amount of OpenStack adoption will be enough to stem the public cloud tide. While O'Grady is right to assert private cloud will remain "a thing," the public cloud will continue to grow by leaps and bounds as mission-critical deployments increase and fears dwindle.

My best friend, inertia

O'Grady doesn't like to get religious about cloud. In his view, "Private infrastructure will be a fact of life for the foreseeable future," but not because "a rational, dispassionate evaluation of the variables" commands it be such.

No, the private cloud -- and OpenStack, in particular -- has staying power because of a different kind of "rational, dispassionate evaluation." Namely, the evaluation of what it will take to keep one's job:

The market evidence available to date is that in spite of substantial and frankly unprecedented growth for cloud services, private infrastructure is a preferred strategy for many organizations that on paper would appear to be perfect fits for public alternatives. Whether these choices are rational or correct in an academic sense is ... beside the point....
There are legions of IT staffers who will be protecting what they believe is their livelihood -- the private infrastructure -- at all costs. Unless technical leadership is willing to wage total war on its own infrastructure, then, private infrastructure will continue to be a thing.

These IT staffers, in other words, aren't interested in doing what may be right for their company. Instead they're focused on what's right for them. 

Fighting cloud gravity

After all, according to a recent Oxford Economics and SAP study, 55 percent of enterprises are betting that cloud will enable them to launch new business models within three years, with 58 percent expecting it to drive top-line revenue growth:

cloud computing impact Oxford Economics and SAP

Some of the goals listed above are possible with private cloud options like OpenStack, of course. But the flexibility to experiment with new business models, new big data questions, and more is the hallmark of public cloud. The minute you buy and set up hardware, you've essentially limited your options.

It's also unclear how a rebranding of "my data center" to "my private cloud" meaningfully moves the needle toward enabling new products and services, which 61 percent of enterprises aspire to achieve with cloud:

Cloud computing advantage Oxford Economics and SAP

O'Grady argues that for OpenStack to fulfill even the most basic of its proponents' dreams, it's going to need to deliver "infrastructure [that is] competitive with base level features of public clouds." He's right, but he doesn't go far enough.

After all, the public-vs.-private-cloud debate is less a matter of functional hardware parity and more a matter of abstracting away the very idea of hardware (and software) ownership, yielding an elasticity and flexibility of development that is simply impossible with OpenStack or any private cloud.

Feeding your developers

Not that you have to believe me -- instead, ask your developers. They're already running critical apps in the cloud.

Oh, sure, you may not like it, but no one is asking you. According to a recent Brocade survey, 83 percent of enterprises can point to unauthorized cloud adoption (which necessarily means public cloud adoption). Developers are running in the cloud, perhaps precisely because of IT's efforts to constrain their options.

Today, according to an Evans Data survey, there are nearly 5 million developers using the cloud as a development platform, a number projected to top 14.2 million within the next 12 months. Indeed, only 4.8 million developers have no plans to embrace the cloud at all -- presumably because they'll be unemployed.

But for those still employed, they're going to run enterprise apps in the public cloud. They simply are. In fact, by Gartner's estimate, public cloud VMs grew 20-fold last year, compared to a more sedate three-fold growth for private cloud VMs. Clearly, developers are finding ways around IT friction, no matter how much IT wants to control the cloud.

For the private cloud Luddites out there, not to worry, Amazon and other major public cloud providers are happy to help IT catch up, as Gartner analyst Lydia Leong tells Network World:

Operations organizations look at cloud and say, "I can't control it, so I don't trust it." But security from a major provider like Amazon or Azure is pretty good now, and it has become more transparent. Providers are asking, "What do you need to see?" So when the IT manager asks, 'How do you do these things,' they can show them.

In sum, even as OpenStack labors toward a definition of what it wants to be when it grows up, thereby hampering adoption, the public cloud keeps sprinting forward. For those in IT who embrace OpenStack as a way to save their jobs, here's a better option: Learn how to use the public cloud to drive new business opportunities and increase development agility.

Your business will thank you for it.

Copyright © 2015 IDG Communications, Inc.

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