Modern private clouds are significantly better today than they were 5 -10 years ago. Yet, the perception of private clouds continues to be significantly colored by our view of what they were like when they were first introduced. For historical reasons, they are still viewed as difficult to setup and manage, needing months of effort to stand up, costly with complex licensing, requiring hard to find and retain skills, lacking in capability, and inadequate for modern workloads. The reality is that none of these perceptions are true about the modern private cloud.
A full private cloud software stack includes the following software components – software-defined compute, software-defined storage, software-defined network, infrastructure management, and cloud management with intelligent operations and automation. For example, the VMware cloud software stack consists of vSphere for software-defined compute, vSAN for storage, NSX for networking, SDDC manager for infrastructure management, and vRealize Suite for cloud operations and automation. To take another example, the Red Hat Cloud Suite consists of Red Hat Enterprise virtualization, Red Hat Ceph Storage, Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization Manager, Red Hat Open Stack Platform and Platform Controller, Red Hat CloudForms and Red Hat OpenShift. OpenStack, Apache CloudStack from the Apache Software Foundation, and IBM Cloud Private are other examples of cloud software stacks.
Here are 10 ways in which modern private clouds have evolved.
- Modern private clouds are integrated software plus hardware offerings. Initially, private clouds were almost exclusively software products. A customer would acquire the software (or the software pieces) and install it on hardware that they either had or that they bought separately. This meant that customers would need many months of effort to stand up a cloud, even using very skilled resources. Modern private clouds include a full cloud software stack, but many also include all the hardware (servers, storage and interconnects) needed to quickly stand-up a private cloud without significant effort on the part of the customer. Some examples of integrated private cloud offerings are Dell EMC VxRack SDDC, Microsoft Azure Stack, Oracle Private Cloud and Lenovo ThinkAgile CP Composable Cloud Platform powered by Cloudistics.
- Modern private clouds are application centric, not IT centric. First generation private clouds required the customer to manage infrastructure. Newer private clouds increasingly allow the customer to focus on their applications, which is what they really care about. Storage, network and compute infrastructure is made largely invisible to the customer. Modern private clouds often include the ability to live-migrate the customer’s existing apps from other infrastructure. Some of them also come with an application marketplace (like an Enterprise version of the iPhone App Store).
- Modern private clouds require minimal set up time. Unlike first generation private clouds that needed months to stand up, newer private clouds can be up and running customer applications in a few hours. This is both because they are pre-integrated offerings and also because they come with app stores and app migration tools.
- Modern private clouds do not need specialists to manage. First generation private clouds needed experts in VMware or OpenStack in addition to storage specialists (e.g EMC or NetApp), network specialists (e.g. Cisco), and so on. The most attractive private clouds of today eliminate such silos and can be entirely managed by a generalist, freeing up IT resources to focus on delivering business services.
- Modern private clouds use simple pricing and support and are cheaper than public clouds. With some modern private clouds, a single price can cover the hardware, the software, the services, as well as several years of support, eliminating the complex pricing and ELAs associated with older models of private cloud. Furthermore, it is well documented that for predictive workloads, modern private clouds are cheaper than public clouds such as Amazon AWS. Finally, they can do accurate metering and charge only for use, using a model similar to public cloud.
- Modern private clouds have gone beyond IaaS to include PaaS. First generation private clouds only supported Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Newer private clouds (e.g. Microsoft Azure Stack) are also starting to support Platform as a Service (PaaS).
- Modern private clouds support new programming paradigms such as microservices and serverless. First generation private clouds generally supported legacy apps running on VMs. Modern private clouds support containers in addition to VMs and are ready and capable of running cloud-native apps. Furthermore, though relatively new, the number of serverless frameworks available for use in private clouds is exploding, with Apache OpenWhisk, Fission, Nuclio, and IronFunctions all achieving varying degrees of traction.
- Modern private clouds include hybrid capabilities. Modern private clouds are beginning to accommodate the reality that some workloads will be better in a public cloud (for example dynamic workloads) and others will be better on-premise. Increasingly, newer private clouds support or plan to support federated orchestration and management of workloads across private and public clouds, all from a single, easy to use, portal. Microsoft Azure Stack is an example of a hybrid cloud.
- Modern private clouds are platforms with APIs. Most modern private clouds support an open and extensible API. This allows its capabilities to be extended, allows personalization by customer, and allows it to be easily integrated with other systems. Many of them are also DevOps enabled – allowing customers to build, deliver and run software at the speed of their business.
- Modern private clouds allow non-disruptive upgrade. First generation private clouds required many months of effort to stand up and, by then, its capabilities were often outdated. Continually keeping the private cloud current, given that its various component pieces were being enhanced at different rates, was a serious issue. The best modern private clouds, such as Lenovo ThinkAgile CP, can use non-disruptive push upgrades to enhance functionality, apply the latest security patches, or improve system performance, with no customer effort needed. Furthermore, in some cases, the modern cloud software stack is just one integrated piece of software, and the problem of individual component pieces of the software being updated at different rates is not an issue.
To summarize, modern private clouds have evolved rapidly in recent years. The best modern private clouds are extremely easy to use, very cost effective, often come in appliance form, reduce or eliminate the need for the customer to manage infrastructure, and support capabilities such as PaaS and serverless that were first associated with public clouds.
It is not your father’s Private Cloud anymore!
Jai Menon Chief Scientist Cloudistics, IBM Fellow and CTO Emeritus