Despite some early difficulties configuring and deploying private clouds, the enterprise is still gung ho for them as a way to have a little piece of the cloud close to home for the most critical data.
But the knock on private clouds is undeniable: Unless you are willing to set up a vast array of modular infrastructure, private resources simply do not scale as well as public ones. And if a cloud can’t scale, is it really of much use?
To the first point, a private cloud may not offer “unlimited scalability” the way AWS does, but there are still plenty of ways that scalability can be architected into local resources to provide a decently large data environment. Infoblox is current working on private cloud scalability from the networking side, offering the new Cloud Network Automation stack for its NIOS 7.0 operating system. The idea is to provide a single management console for VMware, Microsoft, OpenStack and other platforms as they make the transition from pilot programs to full, multiplatform production environments. The system relies on an advanced GUI and a scalable virtual appliance architecture that handles the management of IP addresses and DNS/DHCP services, all backed by specialized adapters that enable consistent operation across multi-vendor platforms.
No one expects private clouds to scale as well as public services, but that’s not the point, says Bill Hilf, VP of product management for HP’s Helion cloud portfolio. Few organizations are suddenly going to convert to webscale just because the cloud is here, so the private cloud should be viewed more as a solution for existing workloads, with extreme scale incorporated as a hybrid function if and when it becomes necessary. Most surveys indicate that security, reliability and availability top scalability on the list of cloud priorities among enterprise executives, so Hilf says HP is aiming to provide the industry with what it wants, which is support for server refreshes and other mundane tasks.
This isn’t to say the private cloud needs to forget about scale entirely. In fact, word is starting to surface that the leading open cloud environment, OpenStack, is having trouble in the scalability department and the consortium that backs it is working feverishly to improve its numbers. According to Adobe’s Matt Asay, pure OpenStack deployments are having trouble getting past 30 nodes, leading many early adopters to turn to proprietary add-ons like Juniper’s Contrail networking platform. Avoiding vendor lock-in is a crucial factor in selecting an open source solution like OpenStack, but Asay says it is better to dial-up the proper level of lock-in to gain both operational flexibility and a more integrated, scalable private cloud.
But hold on, there could be a new card on the table that brings additional scalability to the private cloud. Containers are seen as a clever way to standardize, configure and ship applications, says Mesosphere’s Matt Trifiro, but they are also pushing scale with solutions like the Docker Swarm module that enable seamless management of container clusters. When tied to the Mesosphere DCOS, operators can manage Swarm workloads on the same cluster as other workloads, even Big Data jobs running on Spark and Hadoop. This drives up resource utilization to allow additional containers to be deployed as needed to support large-scale production and elastic computing environments.
Despite the initial difficulties, and the chorus of naysayers chiming in about the fatal flaw of the private cloud concept, it is way too early to pull the plug on localized cloud resources. The rationales for public and private clouds are still wildly divergent, and even the cost ratios of the respective approaches have not been fully vetted.
So if your own cloud does not scale to Amazon or Facebook levels just yet, there is no cause for alarm. It should still provide better support for emerging applications than the static, silo-based infrastructure it replaces.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.