Long heralded as the cloud of choice for businesses with unique data security, privacy or regulatory requirements, private cloud deployment is like an itch that won’t go away. Despite media and industry focus on the efficiency and cost savings to be won in multi-tenant environments, organizational need to leverage existing system and infrastructure investments, new agility gained through on-premise, service-focused architectural design, combined with lingering reluctance to relinquish control over data and IT assets — albeit a more perceived than real obstacle to adoption of public services — have translated into remarkable resilience for private cloud. Findings from the 2013 451 Research TheInfoPro Cloud Computing Study (below) highlight ongoing enterprise focus on this deployment model.
As the figure shows, internal private cloud was a consistent leader in the lineup of cloud-related enterprise priorities in 2012 (40% of respondents identified this as top project) and in 2013 (35%), despite significant growth in cloud provider assessment/strategy (33% in 2013), IaaS (31%) and SaaS (30%).
At the same time, a shift has been underway towards the implementation of hybrid IT environments, where cloud — public, private, on-premise and hosted — is expected to represent an increasing significant share of all IT services. A timeline on this transformation is outlined in the figure below, which details analysis from InsightaaS.
As the chart shows, business investment in IaaS and SaaS mean that by 2020, spending on cloud software and infrastructure by this group will be roughly equivalent to spending on traditional IT, an outcome that challenges IT providers to prepare for the hybrid future with a number of customer solution options. Recognizing this coming reality, virtually all major IT vendors have worked to cover the bases by building public and private offerings, even those, such as VMware, which have strength in one particular area or another. But to ensure positioning in the hybrid world, it’s critical to do more than simply offer both public services and private infrastructure: it’s important to develop solutions that address customer needs identified in the charts above — ongoing preference for private implementations and growing interest in cloud delivery.
With a new private cloud service announced last week, CenturyLink Technology Solutions (CTS) is aiming to do just that. Billed as a combination of the best of both worlds, CenturyLink Private Cloud, provides dedicated hardware and physical isolation of customer infrastructure, federating each private cloud instance within the company’s network of public cloud nodes. And by extending CenturyLink’s cloud management platform to these private cloud deployments, the company is offering customers a single interface for the creation and frictionless management of hybrid environments. As Richard Seroter, head of product management, CenturyLink Cloud, explained, "we’re launching a private cloud offering that runs our public cloud software on isolated hardware in one of our 57 data centres, located around the world in 34 cities." Federation means, he added, "that when people want to do legitimate, hybrid scenarios to connect their public cloud with their isolated private [resources], they can do that very easily from the same software stack." What customers will experience is one cloud with "the same software, the same integration, billing, login and API endpoint, whether it is a public or private cloud," Seroter stated.
CenturyLink is not new to private cloud — the Symphony Virtual Private Data Centre and Virtual Private Cloud offerings are two branded examples of the company’s virtualization capabilities in hosted private cloud. But the ‘secret sauce’ in the new solution is the former Tier 3, now CenturyLink Cloud Platform, which features innovative account management, charge backs and self-service, as well as the orchestration and automation capabilities that allow standardization for rapid scale of resources. Seroter explained: "this is not meant to be an infinitely customizable environment, it’s meant to give you a lot of capacity — it’s definitely not for smaller environments — in a relatively standardized format. So we focus more on how do we deliver you a fantastic SLA and deliver what you really need, which is elastic compute services on demand so you don’t get stuck haggling or customizing an environment that makes it hard to upgrade, or is so specialized that it’s not giving you the value that you think it is."
Scale, of course, is a relative term in the cloud discourse as even public providers have upper capacity limits. In private cloud, scale on-demand becomes an even trickier proposition as limits are a known quantity, where a change has to be made to scale the environment. To address this challenge, CenturyLink is committed to marshalling some consultative account resources to work with customers to examine the app portfolio, project workloads out over the next 12 months, identify Big Data exercises that are coming down the pipe and engage in some simulation. "We’ll plan things out," Seroter explained, "so that however long it takes to scale the environment, we make sure that we size things well in advance. In the worst case — and this is where it gets exciting — if we know it’s a temporary need and can run in the public cloud (since the customer uses the same portal experience and is federated with public resources) we can put some of the less sensitive workloads in the public cloud to offload some of the pressure on private."
While CenturyLink — or Seroter at least — considers public cloud the most efficient form of IT service delivery and the ultimate end point for most enterprises, these will likely evolve at their own pace. For customers that are now considering their cloud migration paths, one question is, why transition from traditional infrastructure to a private cloud as opposed to a public option — especially since this entails new IT investment. Interestingly, on this point Seroter noted the limitations of location — CenturyLink’s public cloud network, which is larger than that of many providers, is composed of 12 nodes, whereas the private cloud service is available in all 54 data centres. Large customers that require local presence, and can benefit from lower latency should find this multi-location network attractive.
Relative to public services, private cloud is always more costly. In Seroter’s view, this difference encourages a seriousness — a determination to leverage all available value in the private deployment, after which "there is an inflection point where private cloud becomes cost competitive, if not cheaper than public, which we have modeled out, based on customer sizing." Offloading management activities associated with on-premises infrastructure and the costs of maintaining hardware, including the elimination of upgrade projects, are other cost advantages of the hosted private cloud — or public — approach. When the private cloud is fueled by innovation in public cloud management as is the new CTS offering, there are addition benefits: "we focus on management at scale with our software stack," Seroter explained, "in contrast to some other public clouds where the focus is on giving you a hypervisor and getting you stuff, rather than on the day two care and feeding of your environment." Private cloud implementation, management and upgrade is expensive, and notoriously difficult — with the new solution, much of this is handled on behalf of clients to simplify service delivery.
CenturyLink has prided itself on the range of infrastructure offerings that it makes available to customers in colo, managed services, cloud and networking services. Choice is key to the new offering as well since customers can simultaneously opt for the benefits of both cloud models: it simplifies operation of hybrid environments by offering the management and security that advocates of private cloud require, provides the CAPEX and maintenance savings offered by cloud hosting models, along with the innovation and efficiencies that can be realized by large, public providers. And by delivering its private cloud on the same CenturyLink platform as other services, the company enables customers to dip into other CTS services — bursting to public cloud, access to the CTS host of managed services for critical applications, which are now cloud enabled, and to CenturyLink network services for cloud connection. "As we really mature this solutions space," Seroter concluded, "that choice is critical because you might want Docker containers or you might want a private cloud — and everything in between — and those are okay to ask for."