I have been reading a number of articles lately about the CIA awarding a $600M contract to Amazon to build them their own private cloud.  It’s interesting to read everyone’s reactions to Amazon’s supposed “about-face” related to public vs private clouds.  In the past, they have said that there is really no such thing as a private cloud.  I have also said this numerous times but have been beaten down by the massive marketing efforts of those selling traditional infrastructure and trying to capitalize on the term “cloud” by calling their solutions “private clouds”.

So, with all that being said, there are some interesting observations from where I sit:
1)      The CIA isn’t saying that it trusts Amazon’s cloud.  It trusts Amazon’s private implementation that is dedicated to the CIA.
2)      It’s more of a private CLOUD than a PRIVATE “cloud”.
3)      It takes a significant amount of scale to warrant your own private CLOUD.

All of this got me to thinking again – is there really such a thing as a private cloud?

First – if you follow Industry Advisors like Gartner or standards organizations such as NIST, you know that cloud has a few key characteristics:
1)      Services based / Self-Service
2)      Internet technologies / Broad Network Access
3)      Shared Resources
4)      Scalable / Elastic
5)      Metered / Measured (and charged accordingly)

Is Amazon’s CIA project really a Private Cloud?  Based on Gartner and NIST – it’s not as there are no shared resources.  I’m not privy to the contract but I would also argue that it’s likely not charged based on usage – my guess is that there is a floor that they cannot go below so as to mitigate Amazon’s risk overall.  So if a $600M contract from the CIA is not Private Cloud – then what is?

I still go back to the Hybrid usage model which seems to be prevalent for a lot of companies, especially larger ones.  Keep in mind it is supposedly the larger ones where PRIVATE “Cloud” makes sense.  I am seeing more and more companies leverage Public Cloud as their “contingent infrastructure model” in much the same way they have traditionally handled the labor market in times of uncertainty.  They use trusted providers to spin up projects quickly and refine the requirements before adjusting internal infrastructure and operational capacity to move certain workloads back in-house for the long-term.  Companies that can do this well will be successful in keeping IT costs low while still providing the agility required by the business users.

Many traditional co-location and web hosting companies calling themselves Cloud Providers offer pay as you “grow” services.  Very few I find really offer pay as you “go” services (i.e. you can scale down as completely and easily as you can scale up).  Most things I’ve seen called Private Clouds are glorified virtualized environments or lack true elasticity when it comes to removing costs for resources no longer needed.  If it’s not shared and your costs can’t scale down completely, then it’s not Cloud.  Private, Hybrid, Public – it doesn’t matter.  Plus many/most of the environments I hear referred to as Private Clouds have no basis of Self-Service – which in my mind is going to become one of the key differentiators for how people define Cloud Services.

Cloud is what you want it to be.  Every customer has different needs and different definitions of what it is/should be.  At the end of the day, does it deliver the business value you need?  Then we can determine what to call it.


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