To Date, Private Cloud Options Are Limited

Written by Zeeshan Naseh

Private Cloud OptionsAs we explored in our previous blog entry, there are a number of reasons a public clouds might not be the best fit for enterprise computing, from a lack of control over data to concerns over security.

That leads many companies to explore private clouds when they want to virtualize machines – the term given to the practice of using software programs to emulate the functionality of hardware systems.

Private clouds eliminate fears over security and allow companies to provision virtual servers as they are needed. They also allow a dramatic reduction in the space and energy required for enterprise computing – all without losing IT control.

There are multiple options for companies looking to set up their own clouds. Each has its own set of limitations that must be considered.

Open Source Options Include OpenStack, CloudStack

One option is a platform called OpenStack. It was launched in July 2010 in a collaboration between the web hosting company Rackspace and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). Among other things, OpenStack is a cloud operating system, meaning it manages the operation, execution and work of virtual machines.

Now managed by a separate, nonprofit foundation, OpenStack software is “open source,” meaning the source code is available free for users to employ, change and distribute.

The idea behind OpenStack is to let cloud customers avoid getting locked in to one platform vendor and, by extension, being a virtual prisoner to possible price hikes and architecture inflexibility.

At the same time, OpenStack has by some accounts been slow to develop, possibly because its pool of contributing companies has numbered nearly 200, many with differing technical needs. It’s the too-many-cooks-in-the-kitchen syndrome. One critic has said OpenStack can never be stable enough because it must meet the requirements of so many companies.

That, combined with concerns about the ability of the software to handle increasingly bigger jobs, prompted one of the founding member companies of OpenStack, the software maker Citrix, to bolt the movement last year and pour resources into its own cloud-operating system, CloudStack.

CloudStack is viewed in some quarters as being better at handling large-scale growth than OpenStack, and with centralized management to boot. It thus may be better for large businesses and other enterprises to use. CloudStack also has Amazon Web Services support, along with an online community that can provide free advice on technical issues.

The Downside of CloudStack

But with CloudStack, like the other major cloud operating systems, there are tradeoffs as well. While it’s free, it also has a smaller group of users, and thus may not support as many servers as other platforms.

There is yet another open-source platform, called Eucalyptus. It comes in a free version and a paid version, the latter having more features and capabilities. Like CloudStack, Eucalyptus’ online community not only contributes to its development, but also is willing to help fellow users in times of technical need.

Eucalyptus has largely hitched its technological wagon to Amazon Web Services, meaning it doesn’t provide much support for Amazon rivals. And, as with any open source platform, Eucalyptus users need to have strong backgrounds in the cloud, along with the ability to maintain their own systems.

Proprietary Platforms Bring Lock-In Fears

That brings us to the legacy providers. Platforms such as VMware vCloud and Amazon EC2 may be reliable, comfortable purchases. They’ll also cost you a lot more, and they’ll come with a few peccadillos. In the case of VMware’s vCloud, there’s the lack of interoperability and integration. With Amazon’s EC2, you’ll get compliance concerns.

Since VMware is well established, it has a big user community and its share of fans.

On the other hand, VMware, like other proprietary cloud platforms, presents the issue of “vendor lock-in,” meaning that a business can become beholden to the supplier because of the time, expense and hassle involved in changing vendors and technical systems.

VMware, in particular, has received heat about this. As long ago as 2009, when the term “cloud” was relatively new, VMware was getting brickbats in the trade press  about its practice of requiring customers and their cloud vendors to both use its vSphere virtualization technology to shuffle workloads between data centers.

As Gartner has noted, mature organizations today are looking to both reduce their costs and mitigate vendor lock-in. At the same time, Gartner says, “No vendor provides a complete … solution.”

Just over the horizon, however, analysts have spotted an emerging innovative category they’ve labeled the Cloud Management Platform that can provide private clouds via an on-demand, self-service interface in just seconds. And, no vendor lock-in.

In our next blog, we’ll take a closer look at why open source is by far your best option for setting up your cloud.