Cliff Evans, Private Cloud Lead at Microsoft UK, attended a recent CIO roundtable to discuss the role that private cloud can play in large companies and the opportunities and challenges it presents for IT leaders.

Everyone talks about the cloud but, really, there are several types of cloud. Most people are familiar with public cloud technology like Windows Azure or Microsoft Office 365; it runs on the vendor’s hardware and you access it over the internet.

But large companies are also increasingly adopting private cloud technology. This is where in-house systems host applications and services which are delivered to the rest of the business in a cloud-like way.

Organisations are adopting public cloud services and, at the same time, moving towards private cloud services using their existing data centres. This kind of hybrid IT means that IT decision-makers have more choices and more opportunities than ever before.

This was the subject of a recent CIO roundtable. I joined a group of IT leaders from pharmaceutical companies, the energy sector, telecommunications, IT and engineering to discuss the issue. Several themes emerged:

  • Security, legislation and compliance. While everyone accepted that reputable companies like Microsoft offered security that was at least as good their own, there was still some concern about the risk of cyber attacks on a cloud provider and the need to demonstrate compliance with applicable laws and regulations. This may encourage companies to move to a private cloud model in order to get the best of both worlds.

  • Evolution of in-house infrastructure. For companies to get the full advantages of private cloud, they need to evolve their IT operations. This means delivering compute, storage and services in an on-demand, measurable, granular way with increasing levels of virtualisation, automation, self-service and cost attribution. Clearly, the journey to private cloud is a step-by-step process not a one-off event.
  • Chargeback and showback. One particular aspect of public clouds appealed: the clear connection between the services delivered and the cost. For example, with Azure companies pay for compute and storage on a very granular level and with Office 365, they pay per user. Internally, private clouds could offer a similar ability to allocate costs to different users or divisions but most companies are only taking the first steps towards this kind of capability and companies are not used to paying for in-house IT in this way.

  • Bandwidth capacity. Attendees shared another concern: would their in-house networking bandwidth cope with a cloud model and, more importantly, would the public internet infrastructure cope as more and more companies switched over to a cloud model. A related concern was the fact that some parts of the country had poor internet connectivity, hampering remote connectivity in rural areas.

Overall, I found it very encouraging that there's such a strong belief in the notion of the private cloud. It's very real. It's not a conceptual thing. At the same time, most of the attendees were also using or evaluating public cloud services and the future for all of them is likely to be a hybrid mix of public and private cloud services. This is the new reality and it’s enabling them to be agents of change and the creators of new opportunities for their employers.

By Cliff Evans, Private Cloud Lead at Microsoft UK