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When is a Private Cloud not a Private Cloud?

Posted by Jason Bloomberg on Dec 26, 2013

The whole idea of a Private Cloud is that it’s supposed to be, well, private. As in, nobody else’s business. You want a Private Cloud? Own your own data center. Your own equipment. Your own network. Your own software. Your own people managing the Cloud environment. Everything, from soup to nuts, under your ownership and control.

Of course, based upon this strict definition of Private Cloud, very few organizations indeed actually want such a headache on their hands, leading to a wide range of private-like variations in the market. In particular, Hosted Private Cloud: hire a third-party hosting provider to run the data center, so you’re offloading all of the data center infrastructure, including power, cooling, connectivity, physical security, etc. But who owns and manages the gear? Well, that could go either way. But to be in some sense a Private Cloud, you, the customer, must still configure and manage the Cloud, and it’s unquestionably on your private network and in a data center that is not part of any Public Cloud.

To add to this confusion, many service providers offer Virtual Private Clouds (VPCs), which are physically a part of some Public Cloud somewhere, but they’re on your private network and you connect to them using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection of some sort. But there’s no confusing VPCs with a real Private Cloud, since after all, it’s in a Public Cloud somewhere. And if you don’t like the public restroom ambiance of the multitenant Public Cloud, you can always get a single tenant VPC, but of course, you’ll pay more for the luxury of your private bathroom experience. But even single tenant VPCs aren’t true Private Clouds, since they’re physically in a Public Cloud environment.



Muddying the waters even further are offerings like IBM SoftLayer’s Private Clouds. Fully automated provisioning of a Private Cloud in only a couple of hours! What more could you ask for from a Private Cloud? Well, maybe, it would be nice if such a Private Cloud were actually, ahem, private. But these Clouds are in the SoftLayer Public Cloud, running on SoftLayer’s equipment, and managed by SoftLayer personnel. So, what really makes them private?

One way to find out: let’s ask SoftLayer. Fortunately, they have a chat service that connects you directly to their sales reps. Here’s the transcript of a conversation I had with a SoftLayer rep this morning, edited a bit for clarity.

SoftLayer Rep: Hello, thank you for contacting SoftLayer. How can I help you today?

Jason Bloomberg: Hi! Happy Holidays. How do I install a SoftLayer Private Cloud in my own data center?

SoftLayer Rep: In your own datacenter?

Jason: right, it’s Private, correct? I want it in my own data center.

SoftLayer Rep: you wouldn’t, you would have the server with us or the cloud within our datacenter

Jason: isn’t that a Public Cloud then?

SoftLayer Rep: It’s private as in within our datacenter but isolated from other users

SoftLayer Rep: its single tenant and not multi

Jason: So, it’s a single tenant Public Cloud environment?

SoftLayer Rep: no

Jason: OK, what makes the private private?

SoftLayer Rep: Private is defined by being a single tenant

Jason: ok, so it’s a single tenant Public Cloud environment then?

SoftLayer Rep: no it is not

Jason: so, you’re defining ‘private’ as single tenant, but it’s still in the same data centers as the public cloud equipment?

SoftLayer Rep: in a single tenant no one else is using the resources but you

Jason: no one else sharing the network connectivity to the Internet?

SoftLayer Rep: Correct – your uplink is dedicated to you as well is your RAM, Storage etc.

Jason: so, the SoftLayer Private Cloud comes with a dedicated physical network connection to the Internet, one that no other customer shares?

SoftLayer Rep: but yes, it’s essentially have your own dedicated server and you carving up your own cloud within that box

Jason: your Web site doesn’t say anything about a dedicated network connection, so I’d like confirmation of that

SoftLayer Rep: https://www.softlayer.com/Sales/orderPrivateHostedCloudConfiguration/1/152/1575,21142

Jason: OK, I can configure bandwidth and public and private network speeds, but it still appears to be a shared network connection, right?

SoftLayer Rep: You are only sharing it [with] yourself

Jason: you don’t have someone run a new cable every time someone purchases a new Private Cloud, or do you?

And at that point, the rep became unresponsive. The answer, naturally, is that of course they don’t run a new cable for every “Private” Cloud. Instead, they offer dedicated bandwidth on a shared network connection. He couldn’t very well give this response, however, because it makes their “Private” Cloud look that much more like a single-tenant VPC. Since after all, that’s what it is.


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