Internal vs. External Clouds: How About Both?

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How to Choose the Right Cloud

A closer look at the three types of cloud computing private, public, and hybrid.

Should the enterprise adopt public clouds as promoted by Salesforce and other SaaS/IaaS promoters, or are internal/private clouds the way to go?

The fact that so many people are still asking either/or questions like that marks how little understanding there is of cloud technology and its paradigm-shifting capabilities. The simple beauty of this new way of doing things is that all options are on the table at once, so there is no reason why anyone has to be locked into a particular environment any longer. Need storage? It's available on-demand from outside. Too risky for critical data? An in-house setup can be had with little difficulty.

Will there be compatibility issues? Sure, as we pointed out earlier this year, application portability is likely to be a major issue, but the mere fact that people recognize it as such now means that there will likely be some very robust solutions by the time most of us are ready to start seriously using the cloud.

The more I learn about it, the more convinced I am that most enterprises (the smart ones anyway) will use internal, external and hybrid clouds in conjunction with each other, just as they use amalgams of different storage media and application architectures to get the job done today. Indeed, as Elizabeth Montalbano points out in this article, some of the top thinkers are predicting that many enterprises will cut their teeth on internal clouds and then expand to public ones as their experience levels rise.

When it comes to comparing internal vs. external cloud infrastructures, however, a good place to start would be with Amazon's new MapReduce service, according to CIsco's James Urquhart. The service aims to make it easier to manage jobs on the Apache Hadoop distributed application framework. At the same time, a startup called Cloudera has launched a commercial distribution of Hadoop that can be run internally. Urquhart wonders whether the security concerns -- justified or not -- of the Amazon service will outweigh the need for Cloudera to run on expensive hardware, or vice versa. My guess, though, is neither -- it's more likely that enterprises will run Cloudera internally for mission-critical apps and supplement it with Amazon for less important ones.

More and more cloud vendors are starting to hedge their bets as well. Longjump, a leading platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provider recently launched a licensed version of its Business Applications Platform that can be applied either for internal use or as a multi-tenant SaaS offering. The idea is to let customers adopt their service model of choice without restricting them to vendor- or host-drive policies, updates or lock-in.

The key attribute to cloud computing is flexibility. It provides that ability to shift data, applications and resources on a global scale to suit the needs of the moment. To be most effective, however, enterprises will need to keep all their options on the table, whether they are their own cloud or someone else's.