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Public Cloud Computing: Enabling the Elastic Enterprise

The private cloud enables elastic computing but the public cloud enables the elastic enterprise

Sometimes the results of a Google search can be most enlightening for what they don't show. 

For instance, I was wondering about the differences between private and public cloud computing in terms the strategic business benefits of each, so I did a Google search that looked like this:

As you can see, that search only returned 24 results, and ten of those were duplicates!   Not only is 14 a surprisingly tiny number, but about half of those were cases where the two phrases happened to occur on the same page with no semantic relationship between them, and the remainder all expressed the same view: "Private cloud computing provides no strategic business benefits".

Is that true?  I think it depends on how one defines "private" and "public".  In my view, cloud computing infrastructure and applications operated within an organization's private network and only made available to its employees, agents and contractors is a private cloud.  Conversely, cloud infrastructure and apps made available through the Internet to an organization's operatives and potentially also shared with its partners and customers is a public cloud.

Given those definitions, both private and public clouds certainly offer a variety of significant common operational and tactical benefits, including lower cost, faster deployment, and improved scalability.  And, the private cloud is often validly sold against the public one on the basis of its often superior control, security and flexibility.

But, what can a private cloud do to directly enhance a business's ability to enter a new market, kill a competitor, or deliver a superior product?  I would have to say, "bupkis".  Private cloud computing makes IT more elastic but it doesn't change how the business functions internally or how it interacts with customers and partners externally.

The public cloud is quite different in this regard.  It is a shared, Internet-based IT context that can make the business itself more elastic by enhancing the richness, flexibility and efficiency of its interaction with customers and partners at all three levels of the cloud - Software, Platform, and Infrastructure.

By using public cloud capabilities like the ones above, companies can, for example,

  • Leverage customer experience for marketing, sales and support
  • Provide inventory and order tracking to their customers and suppliers
  • Jointly pursue larger business opportunities than they could individually
  • Build virtual product and services businesses by combining specialties

The specific capabilities of the public cloud plus its utility-style economic model, public context, third party management, and technology transparency all combine and work together to enable unprecedented business creativity and agility.  Private clouds simply can't do that.

If you are currently looking into how you might use public cloud computing in your business, then you probably already know that there are many, many different vendors and different kinds of offerings in this space.  Some cover very small parts of the spectrum while other aim to cover most or all of it.

For example, Amazon's EC2 is IaaS, offering virtual servers with some system software, while Microsoft Azure offers similar IaaS features, but also adds PaaS features for developing, deploying and managing applications.  Longjump is a pure-play Paas offering, while Google combines its App Engine PaaS with its Google Apps productivity SaaS and Salesforce.com does something similar with its Force.com PaaS layer and its extensible SaaS CRM apps.  And finally, there are many things like Lotus Live, pure cloud-based SaaS apps.

Across the spectrum of different kinds of public cloud software, though, there are several common factors that all prospective buyers should consider carefully before making a commitment:

Security and Compliance

Public cloud environments, like public web sites, can be quite vulnerable to a variety of security threats, including DDoS attacks and various kinds of malware infections.  But, the risk can be compounded by the complexity and scale of some of these services and exacerbated by insufficient security monitoring and response automation.  Also, there are a growing number of regulations governing the security and physical location of sensitive data for which the distributed nature and immaturity of public cloud computing can make compliance a challenge.  Grill prospective vendors on their security and regulatory compliance capabilities.

Assured Service Level

If you use managed hosting, colocation or other types conventional computing and networking services, you know what an SLA is.  A Service Level Agreement is a contract wherein a vendor specifies committed levels of availability, throughput, management oversight, etc. and the remedies and penalties that will apply when those levels are not met.  Many public cloud service providers are not yet offering rigorous and detailed SLAs to their subscribers, and with no SLA, you could end up SOL.

Multi-Party Capabilities

Many public cloud services closely mimic conventional IT and private cloud functionality that assumes a server, database, network address space, application runtime or other element of the service will only be used by a single organization.  Of, if it is to be shared by more than one organization, that will be done at the edges through things like traditional web services.  If you aim to use SaaS groupware for, say, joint R&D, or you intend to build a supply chain database application to be shared by your suppliers and customers, make sure that the services you are considering can accommodate multiple parties in a correct manner, without the need for specialized glue code or exceptional architecture.   Good examples of this being done properly include the "Salesforce to Salesforce" feature of Force.com, which enables different tenants to easily integrate their applications through a straightforward publish-and-subscribe interface, or the rigorous multi-party "deal room" document sharing features of Watchdox.

It is still early days for the public cloud, but its importance cannot be overstated.  It provides a unique pathway to new ways of doing business that transcend the century-old models currently in use and promises to make private computing, like site-based power generators and PBXs, largely a thing of the past, supplanted by ubiquitous, efficient, and affordable utility services that deliver the same advantages to businesses of all sizes around the world.

More Stories By Tim Negris

Tim Negris is SVP, Marketing & Sales at Yottamine Analytics, a pioneering Big Data machine learning software company. He occasionally authors software industry news analysis and insights on Ulitzer.com, is a 25-year technology industry veteran with expertise in software development, database, networking, social media, cloud computing, mobile apps, analytics, and other enabling technologies.

He is recognized for ability to rapidly translate complex technical information and concepts into compelling, actionable knowledge. He is also widely credited with coining the term and co-developing the concept of the “Thin Client” computing model while working for Larry Ellison in the early days of Oracle.

Tim has also held a variety of executive and consulting roles in a numerous start-ups, and several established companies, including Sybase, Oracle, HP, Dell, and IBM. He is a frequent contributor to a number of publications and sites, focusing on technologies and their applications, and has written a number of advanced software applications for social media, video streaming, and music education.

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