Buy Your Underwear, Rent Your Tuxedo: A Case for the Private Cloud

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I don’t know about you, but I buy my underwear and I rent my tuxedos.

That might sound like a strange way to start an article about private clouds, but hear me out.

Private Means Something

Private bits belong in private places. There are many good reasons to own your underwear, and I’ll let you use your imagination to fill those in, if you’d like.

Security is near the top of the list of concerns about the cloud. Many an IT department takes a sidelong glance at the public cloud and says, “Well, I’d have to give up my security perimeter. I’d have to give up my identity management. I’d have to switch up my DNS to accommodate systems that are spread out all over the place.” Framed that way, the “cost” of cloud is just too steep for a lot of organizations. If these are the kinds of concerns you’re hearing, read on.

It’s important to realize that you can take a small bite of cloud.

You can start with private cloud environments, and keep your border firewalls, stateful packet inspection and other intrusion-prevention systems all in place, while also allowing developers flexibility about how they consume and provision resources.

Not all private cloud providers support keeping your existing identity management systems intact, but Piston does (disclosure: I’m the co-founder and CEO), and so does VMware. This lets you tie your controls over new roles and groups into your existing systems.

On so many levels, a private cloud is an easy place to start.

What I Mean by Cloud

When people say “cloud,” they usually mean three things at once.

Cloud is not outsourcing. Some people hear cloud and think, “OpEx, not CapEx. Somebody else’s data center, somebody else’s problem.” There’s another term for this: Leasing. Cloud doesn’t mean leasing.

Cloud is not managed service, where somebody else operates everything but the applications. We’ve had managed-service providers for years. Cloud doesn’t mean managed-service providers.

Business decisions about who owns the hardware, where the hardware is and who operates it, are not tightly coupled to the idea of “cloud.”

The purpose of the cloud is to vastly speed up the way you consume IT. The way you do that is through self-service APIs. If your developers have run off to Amazon Web Services, credit card in hand, they did it because they could get resources provisioned faster than you can provide them internally.

That’s the cloud they’re after, and that’s the cloud you can offer them.

It’s All About Speed

The transformation that’s happening in business is about speeding up IT delivery. First, developers shifted how they managed projects, from waterfall-based approaches with two-year release cycles to Agile and Extreme Programming (XP) with two-week release cycles. Delivering something of value every two weeks required continuous integration and ruthless configuration management.

Moving this fast led developers to realize that they needed to change their relationship with operations, so DevOps became a movement to speed up getting applications into production. Now developers are getting into continuous deployment, and you’re hearing about everything-as-a-service, the software-defined data center, where the DevOps philosophy has permeated the whole infrastructure stack, not just the application on top.

Going fast delivers business value. Private cloud allows developers to go faster and faster. It’s the supporting technology for continuous deployment, for DevOps, for continuous integration and for Agile. Don’t create a private cloud just because it’s cool. The rationale is to continue to deliver business value through applications and through IT delivery that is faster and faster, and more and more responsive.

Smart Software, Dumb Hardware

The real savings come from using smart software, like OpenStack, on commodity hardware. A lot of vendors will try to sell you the peanut-butter approach to the cloud, where they spread something over all your existing expensive silos of storage, network and compute, and try to turn them into a private cloud. Believe me: It’s not cheap, and it’s not fast. Even if you don’t care about cheap, you have to care about fast, because that’s the whole point.

What the Public Clouds Get That Private Clouds Don’t

One of the core reasons to use private cloud is to protect your most private data. But there is one thing that the public cloud offers that the private cloud can’t: Unlimited scalability.

There is a use for the public cloud. There’s a use for tuxedos. In the case of the public cloud, it’s a sudden need for 10,000 more CPU cores than you own (or would want to own). In the case of tuxedos, it’s a black-tie event.

Those are both special occasions. It’s good to know where you can get more capacity quickly when you need it. And it’s good to know where to rent a tuxedo.

But for the day to day, there’s nothing like having clean underwear in your drawer at all times.

Before co-founding Piston Cloud Computing, Joshua McKenty was the technical architect of NASA’s Nebula Cloud Computing Platform and the OpenStack compute components. A board member of the OpenStack Foundation, he has more than two decades of experience in entrepreneurship, management and software engineering and architecture.

(Image of Joshua McKenty courtesy of

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