The case for “stepping stone” private clouds


Public cloud providers surprised a great deal of people when they came out with proprietary private clouds. (That’s where actual hardware and software support a subset of public cloud services.) I’m pretty sure they don’t like me to call them that, but that’s really what they are: public cloud analogs that run on premises. They allow enterprises to use them as a stepping stone to the public cloud, but they are more about marketing than technology.

Pretty much all the providers offer these cloud services—I mean “cloud” hardware and software that sits in somebody’s data center. Why are the public cloud providers selling these in the first place?

I suspect that cloud providers had many meetings with enterprises IT leaders who wanted to move to the public cloud but expressed a concern about moving there directly. I’m sure security was brought up, perhaps performance, but nothing that was a real problem. They liked cloud but they liked their data in their data center, too.

They had, and still have, a few choices:

First, move to a private cloud platform and then to a public cloud provider. This is an option today; however, you would have to refactor an application twice. Initially you move to a private cloud, typically based on open source technology, with the code optimized for that private cloud. Then, you move to the public cloud final destination and another round of expensive refactoring.

A second option is to move to these new proprietary private clouds that are more like peripherals to public clouds, with compatible native APIs that run on premises, as well as in the public cloud mother ship. In other words, port once and refactor once to the stepping-stone cloud on premises. Then, moving to the public cloud version will only take minutes and won’t require more refactoring.

I suspect that these stepping-stone private clouds—abridged analogs of the larger public clouds—will eventually run their course. They did their job in providing a comfortable bridge between on premises and the public clouds. While some were indeed needed, most of the time these were just sales approaches to gain market share quickly. If that is the way we’re sizing up success, mission accomplished.