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What is private cloud? That depends on who's defining it

Does your organization have a private cloud? Are you sure?

The definition of private cloud is a fraught issue. John Burke, an analyst at Nemertes Research, said a survey a year and a half ago asked whether organizations had deployed one.

“Nearly 60% of the folks that we spoke to were happy to say that they had a private cloud,” Burke said. “But when you started to pick it apart and get to what the actual functional aspect of it was, you’d wind up with maybe 10% to 15% having an actual cloud of any sort internally.”

John Burke

What is private cloud? According to National Institute of Standards and Technology, a private cloud is “provisioned for exclusive use by a single organization comprising multiple consumers (e.g., business units). It may be owned, managed and operated by the organization, a third party or some combination of them, and it may exist on or off premises.”

There are two main types of private cloud. One is what’s called hosted private cloud: An organization rents exclusive infrastructure space in a provider’s data center and the managing and maintenance is done by the provider. The other is internal private cloud, which an organization builds in its own data center and manages it itself.

Private clouds also must have characteristics NIST calls essential to be called cloud — they need to have elasticity, for example, so resources can be scaled up or down to meet demand. They also need to be available on-demand without having to contact the service provider — what is called self-service — and resources need to be measured, like electricity or other utilities are, so users know exactly what they have used.

In the Nemertes study, Burke said most respondents had a “well-virtualized data center” in which they can spin up new computing environments quickly but which required some manual network task — so not meeting the self-service requirement. These so-called private clouds lacked other cloud features, like metering capabilities such as chargeback and showback.

Naveen Chhabra

Naveen Chhabra, an analyst at Forrester Research, said there are various reasons CIOs and other IT leaders might say that noncloud environments are cloud, including internal politics or fear that competitors might be ahead on the latest technology.

“Who would want to say that ‘I do not have a cloud,’ right?” Chhabra said.

Let us know what you think of this post; email Jason Sparapani, features writer, or find him on Twitter @jmsparapani.