As I look forward into 2013 and beyond, I would recommend that your business evaluate whether it’s time to create a private cloud.  What is a private cloud?  NIST Special Publication 800-145 defines a private cloud as:

Private cloud. The cloud infrastructure is provisioned for exclusive use by a single organization comprising multiple consumers (e.g., business units). It may be owned, managed, and operated by the organization, a third party, or some combination of them, and it may exist on or off premises.

 Note the key requirement in the above definition that the cloud infrastructure is for exclusive use by a single organization.

Why is a private cloud important at all?  After all, if the major technology companies are spending billions of dollars on building public cloud infrastructures, why should anyone care about the private cloud?  I think there are a couple of good reasons for why private clouds are important.

  1. Better control of the stored information – many businesses have security and privacy policies that prohibit the use of the public cloud as a platform for their businesses.   I can’t think of a better example of this than the recent decision by the Los Angeles Police Department to not use Google cloud based email system because of security concerns.   As a result, they continued to use their existing Microsoft Exchange environment.  This isn’t a Google only issue right now – other cloud platforms have similar issues.  Another security related example is the need for multiple factor authentication.  For highly secure data, a username and password is not sufficient.   The user must provide another factor (i.e. PIN, random key) to the system before they are authenticated.
  2. The need to leverage existing assets in the data center more effectively – I have personally heard Public Sector CIO’s push back on the public cloud because they have already spent millions of dollars on data centers and it is simply not feasible to abandon those assets right now.  However, there is also significant pressure to use those assets in a more cost effective way.  Moving from physical to virtual was the first step.  Moving from virtual to private cloud will yield even more efficiencies.
  3. The improved maturity of the tools needed to create a private cloud – this is the secret sauce for creating the private cloud.   Companies like Microsoft have focused the bulk of their resources on the development of their public cloud offering.  There are very good competitive reasons for this but, as a consequence, the tool support for the private cloud feels much less mature.  This situation appears to be changing for the better with Microsoft’s release Windows Server 2012 and the System Center 2012 suite of applications.  These tools should be a big help at making the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) service model a reality in your business.

Is it time to consider creating a private cloud for your business?  I want to emphasize that a private cloud is much more than just a bunch of virtualized servers.  Instead, it is the natural evolution of the data center from physical to virtual to cloud, both private and public, providing significantly better responsiveness to your customers.  A private cloud is a good fit your business if:

–        You have domain specific security requirements that cannot be accommodated in the public cloud.  A good example of this is something like the CJIS Security Policy used by law enforcement organizations.

–        You have significant, existing data centers that could be better utilized.  This may sound like I am recycling the case for virtualization but the private cloud takes this a step further.

–        You have large teams of developers, testers and support personnel.  A private cloud helps these folks be more efficient because they can stand up and tear down environments quickly and easily without bothering the IT Department.

If you are one of the above categories, I would suggest looking at whether creating a private cloud makes sense for your organization.  I would point you at the System Center 2012 suite of applications as a great place to get started.   At a minimum, this will give you an idea of how Microsoft has implemented support for the private cloud in their applications.