It's no big surprise that people are still asking, "What is the cloud?" A concept this broad and with so many ramifications for all manner of enterprise architecture cannot possibly confine itself to any easy definition.
Simple explanations are also elusive when you drill down into the cloud analogy. For instance, the trade press is filled with stories of private clouds even though there is still widespread opinion that such a thing is just an oxymoron. And that means your decision to invest in any of the private cloud offerings hitting the channel will rest very much on how you view the cloud and cloud services as part of overall enterprise infrastructure.
If, as argued by tech analyst Roger Strukhoff, the cloud is defined by its ability to scale to immeasurable levels to meet any and all demand, then the private cloud will do you no good. As long as you continue to rely on internal infrastructure for services, you are limited by your own hardware limitations. You may have a very advanced data center, but you don't have a cloud, private or otherwise.
Nonetheless, the private cloud still has a role to play in the transition to fluid data environments, says IDG's Eric Knorr. It might not be "infinitely scalable" as the public cloud, but it does provide the ability to mirror cloud environments within the safety of your own infrastructure. And this will provide valuable experience when it comes to tailoring your enterprise to a broader virtual/cloud ecosystem. Either way, you'll have the ability to mix and match hardware, software and data in ways that simply cannot be matched in the traditional static infrastructure.
And who says that a private cloud has to be limited to your own internal systems? Many organizations provide cloud services from external data centers while still keeping it locked behind the client's firewall. A case in point is the recent joint offering from Cisco, EMC, VMware and Orange Business Services, which provides both IaaS and SaaS services from either internal or external environments. In this way, you gain the scalability advantages and the system is no more beyond your control than a traditional off-site.
Still, there are some things a private cloud must have to be truly effective, according to tech blogger Crystal Bedell. Things like broad standardization and consolidated systems management are necessary for systems interaction, while service level management and application lifecycle automation will ensure that resources are consumed in the most efficient manner.
The fact is, disputes over the definition of any given technology tend to distract us from the real issue at hand: Is the technology viable, and does it provide for a more effective enterprise? If those two requirements are met by a technology that a vendor that has dubbed its latest offering a "private cloud," then there's no reason to get hung up over semantics.