Movements in the Private Cloud

The promises of public cloud computing - pay as you go, infinite scale and outsourced administration - are compelling. However, for most enterprises, security, geography and risk mitigation concerns make private cloud platforms more desirable. Enterprise customers like the idea of on-demand provisioning, but are often unwilling to take the performance, security and risk drawbacks of moving applications to remote hardware that is not under their direct control.

A private cloud goes beyond simply offering virtualized servers using VMware or another virtualization platform. It typically requires a framework that manages resource allocation, storage, security, multi-tenancy, chargeback, and other characteristics of the public cloud.   

A number of vendors have created viable private cloud platforms.  The platform offered by 3Tera - acquired by CA earlier this year - allows enterprises to create a grid environment in which complete application stacks can be rapidly configured and provisioned. The open source Eucalyptus platform provides a software stack that allows the user to create an Amazon-compatible cloud computing environment on local hardware. 

Microsoft recently made a dramatic entrance into the private cloud arena when it announced the Windows Azure Platform Appliance at its Worldwide Partner Conference in July.  The appliance will incorporate hundreds, or even thousands, of servers - perhaps delivered in a shipping container - controlled by the Microsoft Azure software stack.  Purchasers can plug the appliance into their network and almost immediately offer Microsoft Azure cloud services to enterprise users from behind their firewall. 

The Azure appliance will be implemented by third-party hardware partners that currently include Dell, Fujitsu and HP, and eBay has announced it will at least trial the appliance.

The appeal of an Azure appliance for rapidly establishing a private Microsoft-centric cloud is clear. The built-in fabric management of Microsoft Azure should allow rapid provisioning and scaling of applications, as well as the possibility of migrating the applications to the public Azure cloud, or "cloud bursting," which adds resources from the public cloud during peak load periods.

While Azure offers some support for non-Microsoft technologies such as PHP and MySQL, applications that depend on these technologies are unlikely to be completely comfortable in the Azure appliance. These applications would prefer a non-Azure cloud appliance or private cloud platform.  Such a platform would ideally be based on an open standard, so that applications written for the private cloud could run in a public equivalent or be portable across implementations.

Eucalyptus and similar frameworks have been proposed as the foundation for this open cloud platform, but the recently announced OpenStack alliance appears to offer the most immediately promising solution.

OpenStack is primarily produced by Rackspace, in collaboration with NASA, and combines elements of their internal infrastructure in a form that would allow sophisticated users to create their own private clouds. It also could be used by hardware vendors to create a private cloud appliance with capabilities similar to the Azure appliance.  A variety of software and hardware vendors including Intel, Dell, Rightscale and Riptano have announced support for OpenStack, though, in many cases, the exact nature of their participation remains unclear.

Like Amazon AWS and other cloud platforms, OpenStack allows for elastic CPU and storage services, which can be combined to support a wide variety of application software stacks.  However, unlike Azure, it does not require or encourage that applications be written in a specific language or framework, and OpenStack is clearly going to be very friendly to open source technologies. Rackspace contributes heavily to the Drizzle fork of MySQL, as well as the Cassandra NoSQL database. These and other related technologies probably will feel very much at home in the OpenStack framework.