Public or private cloud - that is not the question

Public cloud offerings from players like Amazon and Google are advancing at such a pace that they should be the obvious forward-looking choice for even the most skeptical observer sheltered deep inside the enterprise IT bunker. If so, then why do...


Public cloud offerings from players like Amazon and Google are advancing at such a pace that they should be the obvious forward-looking choice for even the most skeptical observer sheltered deep inside the enterprise IT bunker. If so, then why do we see organisations expanding investments in private cloud solutions?

Let’s try breaking the private cloud mythology down a bit, and maybe you will find your own company represented. Finally, let’s take a look at how Platform as a Service (PaaS) fits in the equation, and how PaaS gets you further toward your business goals without boxing you into a fully public or private cloud solution.

Myth #1 - But, But... I’m Special!
Yes, yes you are. No question. Every enterprise software company understands that this valid customer viewpoint must be at the core of their product choices if they’re going to play in the enterprise. There is a persistent mythology in a lot of companies - fueled by the vendors - that building a private cloud is going to be better at addressing the special needs of the enterprise. Public cloud, with its lack of standards today, must somehow be a less flexible, more dangerous path. Addressing enterprise “specialness” translates in product terms to two primary things:

  1. Designing a solution that adds value to existing enterprise investments without requiring an expensive and intrusive adoption cycle;
  2. Delivering an extensible product that lets customers meet their special needs without customization evolving into an IT tar pit.

These things have nothing to do with public vs. private clouds as long as secure, performant connectivity is available between your existing investments and the public cloud. This is a problem that Amazon and others have spent a lot of time solving for you. You will probably spend several orders of magnitude less time connecting public cloud investments to your existing infrastructure than you’ll spend getting a private cloud running properly. And that time can be a lot better spent on addressing your special needs using the extensibility and capabilities of new solutions already available on public clouds.

Myth #2 - Your Existing Skills Apply Better in Private Cloud
You know how to manage infrastructure and keep apps running. It’s your core competence. You are naturally drawn towards a solution that makes use of and magnifies those skills. Private cloud proponents want you to believe that a new layer of software is going to do just that. That software is, by definition, designed to mask the complexity an IT Ops professional wrestles with every day. If successful, it can certainly make your life easier.

Like any framework, though, when it fails, you get to deal with a new layer of complex software that is managing complexity you used to have your head and hands wrapped around. You need an entirely new set of skills. Sometimes these skills cross into the programming languages and tools that developers are more comfortable with, even into the nether realms of distributed systems design. You do want to evolve your skills - to apply to areas like continuous delivery. Making proper use of a service provider who has been delivering hosted infrastructure and application services for years, at scale, will help you do that.

Myth #3 - Private Cloud Speeds Business Transformation
The key transformation you have to make to take advantage of the cloud is to become a service delivery organisation. Buying into the myth that a technology tool like private cloud can transform your organisation is an easy trap to fall into. Did adopting project management software solve your company’s problem with delivering on time? Of course not. Solutions for delivering projects on time do not come from technology.

The problem is inherently organisational, but tools can help support an organisational transformation. As we already discussed in Myth #2, though, stepping up to private cloud involves a deep investment in new technology. Instead of focusing on service delivery capabilities specific to your business - like how to deliver quality software continuously - you are going to have to master new software while transforming to a service delivery organisation. Implementing a private cloud is slowing you down from achieving the transformation that is most critical.

Myth #4 - Public or Private, Choose One
The choice between a public and private cloud path often feels like a binary one to companies. It doesn’t have to be. As with any software system, selecting the right interface is critical to solving problems today while opening up future options. Fortunately, enterprise investment in Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) has laid the groundwork to evolve systems in ways that take advantage of public cloud strengths - massive elasticity, on-demand resources, service at scale. One of the most natural and cost-effective fits for public cloud systems is to move development, continuous integration and testing to the public cloud.

As this investment evolves to handle continuous delivery, secure connectivity to on-premise systems for staging and performance testing becomes the logical next step. New projects, such as ones driven by mobile opportunities, can be initiated in the public cloud, in the same way companies used SOA to escape from the lock-in to existing systems of record and enable faster change. If you’re still convinced private cloud is for you, or certain components must remain on-premise, you can make late-binding choices about the proper delivery model while enjoying benefits in the near term.

Where PaaS Fits In
PaaS changes your level of engagement when you deliver software - PaaS lets you engage in terms of applications and services, while a lot of cloud - IaaS - is really about automating the way you engage with infrastructure. Private PaaS is the yin to private ‘IaaS’ yan, offering the promise of lifting the level of engagement above infrastructure, all on-premise. Even if public cloud seems nowhere in your future, PaaS deserves your full attention.

As IaaS makes it easier to access computing resources where and when you need them, PaaS helps your development and ops teams take advantage of those resources to deliver new business, new capabilities, new partner integrations, and new service. By lifting the level of abstraction, PaaS helps mask the underlying choices between public and private infrastructure in ways that focus more on delivery and less on implementation details.

Continuous delivery should be your goal, and to do that, you must raise the level of engagement beyond the infrastructure that’s made you comfortable for so long but is now wrapped around your IT ankles like an anchor. PaaS is the path to making that happen.

Posted by By Steve Harris, Senior Vice President of Products, CloudBees

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