Is that the kind of cloud that hangs over people when they’re in a bad mood?
Well, if technology vendors are to be believed, private cloud should actually put you in a good mood. It’s one of the IT industry buzzwords doing the rounds at the moment that might actually have something to it.

So what is it then?
There seem to be a number of definitions but essentially a private cloud is a computing environment that takes advantage of virtualisation, automation and service-oriented architecture (SOA) to create a flexible and scalable pool of shared computing resources.

But unlike public cloud computing, the data and the processes that take place in private cloud environments are located separately from those of other businesses, whether in a third-party datacentre or in an organisation’s inhouse infrastructure.

Isn’t that just modernising your datacentre?
Not entirely. Virtualisation, automation and SOA make datacentres more flexible but it’s the way in which these resources are used that distinguishes private and public cloud technology from traditional datacentre set-ups.

Some analysts believe infrastructure only qualifies as private cloud if it’s combined with standardised services and shared delivery of resources.

Private clouds are also likely to encompass a shift from annual budgeting to more dynamic investment, focusing on resources used rather than what is predicted to be used.

Private clouds offer many of the benefits of public cloud computing but give organisations more control over their data and IT services

Private clouds offer many of the benefits of public cloud computing but give organisations more control over data and IT services
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

So why go down the private cloud route?
Private clouds within organisations give businesses more control over their data and resources so they can manage the infrastructure themselves while still taking advantage of the benefits of cloud computing.

Greater flexibility and scalability of computing resources will allow IT departments to respond to the needs of users much more quickly due to the use of virtualisation and automation.

Operating efficiency can also improve as only the resources that are needed will be used at any one time, so there won’t be redundant capacity to drain power unnecessarily. Rather than keeping resources constantly operating in case extra capacity is needed, they can quickly become available to meet demand.

This style of private cloud also means…

…businesses don’t have to pay a service provider to access the infrastructure. They simply pay for the technology and services to help them create the private cloud, and maintenance costs after that.

What about private clouds in third-party datacentres?
Private clouds hosted by third parties offer the benefit of reducing the amount of resources businesses need to devote to managing their infrastructure.

Another business concern addressed by hosted private clouds relates to security and the location of data. Public cloud often uses a multi-tenancy approach in which numerous organisations have their data stored and processed side by side in the same datacentre and sometimes on the same physical servers.

Some businesses, particularly those operating in heavily regulated industries, aren’t comfortable with the idea of their data being held in such close proximity to that of other organisations and not being able to know where it is at any one time.

Hosted private cloud services keep data separated from other organisations, providing dedicated hardware and services to the customer, while reducing the albeit minimal risk of data getting into the wrong hands.

So what’s involved in moving to a private cloud?
Businesses need to start by working out which applications would benefit from being delivered by a private cloud.

For example, applications that are subject to sharp increases in demand, such as an e-commerce system, would benefit from the instant scalability that a private cloud infrastructure would provide.

Bespoke applications that differentiate businesses would be more suitable for running inhouse, while more generic applications could be better located in public cloud environments.

Once the applications have been selected, businesses need to standardise hardware and software stacks so the technology is well integrated to enable the pooling of resources to be efficient and cost-effective.

Management of the private cloud and the formulation of suitable user policies are the final – and potentially most important – steps for organisations to take if they’re going to get as much out of their private cloud environment as possible.

Which tech vendors are helping businesses create private clouds?
Most of the big vendors – CA, EMC, Fujitsu, HP, IBM, Logicalis and Microsoft – provide services to customers to help them…

…move from the traditional datacentre to private clouds in their own organisations.

Microsoft, for example, has its Hyper-V Cloud initiative to help businesses speed up the deployment of private cloud by offering tools to assist the process and providing guides to integrating its own technology with those of partners such as IBM.

Microsoft also has the Windows Azure Platform Appliance, which allows businesses to use the cloud in their own datacentre or one belonging to a service provider to develop applications, store data and run processes.

Amazon Web Services, which is one of the biggest names in providing public infrastructure as a service, offers a slightly different take on private cloud whereby businesses can extend their internal network to encompass elements of Amazon’s external infrastructure that have been fenced off from the public cloud services.

Implementing private clouds won't be without challenges as businesses will face cultural obstacles to adoption

Implementing private clouds won’t be without challenges as businesses will face cultural obstacles to adoption
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Meanwhile, hosting company Rackspace recently opened its first datacentre in the UK dedicated to cloud services on which it provides both public and private cloud capability.

Is this all talk though? Can you give any examples of businesses moving to private clouds?
The UK government is looking into cloud computing with its G-Cloud project, which will essentially be a huge private cloud for public sector organisations with the aim of cutting hundreds of millions of pounds from state IT spending.

Meanwhile, the Co-operative Group is working on a capacity grid in which computing resources are pooled and different businesses in the group use the resources, depending on demand and importance of business case.

What are the issues to look out for when creating a private cloud?
When moving services to hosted private clouds, businesses need to pay attention to service-level agreements (SLAs), which are often less strict than those for standard hosted services. Businesses need to know about the reliability of the services they’re buying before signing up and they must ensure vendors provide suitably thorough SLAs.

Another area to be careful of is…

…vendor lock-in. Businesses need to know how they can move data and applications into and out of their hosted private clouds and whether the migration tools that convert applications to work in cloud environments don’t stop the apps being used elsewhere.

As always, security is an issue that needs to be considered when creating private clouds, as the management of data that is held and processed in a different kind of computing environment could create holes in security that may not have existed before.

What other challenges are there?
The main business challenges to private cloud adoption are cultural because the implementation of standardised and shared services means different parts of the business will need to adjust to having less customised technology.

With hosted private clouds, the finance department will also need to adjust to new ways of paying for technology as subscription and chargeback models are generally the preferred option of cloud vendors.

This change means businesses will need to work out the IT resources they use to ensure they have the services they need and know what costs are likely to be accrued as a result of using the services.

It must be straightforward once the business has got used to the idea…
Well, not entirely. Once a private cloud is up and running, deciding which parts of the business get priority when competing for computing resources could become a major problem.

So when implementing private cloud technology, businesses need to be clear about the business cases that will be prioritised when there is competition for the flexible resources and manage these priorities effectively.

So will everyone be running private clouds by 2012?
Unlikely. The creation of private clouds could take several years to complete, so the approach won’t become widely used for a while.

Analysts at Gartner believe organisations will invest in private cloud services to a greater extent than public cloud in the next couple of years and use the technology as a stepping stone to the public cloud.

However, analysts predict that a hybrid model in which private and public cloud and more traditional technology are all used will become the norm in the long term, as organisations work out the best way to deliver their various technology services.

So it’s not going to be just about the private cloud then?
No, but private cloud is going to be a major factor in how IT organisations develop over the next decade.