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A Cloud for One is Just Smoke

If "private cloud” is simply a fancy marketing term for a virtualized server, then it is doubtful that all or any of the six benefits above would be achieved.

Buzzwords are nice. They are often catchy. They sometimes concisely communicate an idea or an ideal.

VOIP, Unified Messaging, Unified Communications, Collaboration have all been recent popular product monikers.

Over the past several years it has been important for vendors to label their products with the currently “in” term.

Today, it seems we are all looking upwards towards the clouds.

Beyond the buzzword, cloud computing is real. A cloud-based architecture provides some significant attributes that may allow more efficient communication and collaboration solutions to be developed and delivered more easily and more cost effectively; this would be great.

However, simply calling something cloud-based does not necessarily immediately confer the solution with magical properties.

Further, adding arbitrary adjectives into the mix, as in "private cloud" or "hybrid cloud" makes the benefits associated with a true cloud architecture less certain. You could say the benefits of "private clouds" and "hybrid clouds" are "foggier" (but then you might be accused of using really bad puns).

There are many definitions of cloud computing and I will refrain from offering yet another. What I will suggest is that there are key properties that cause people to be drawn to a "cloud" solution. Almost all definitions of cloud completing reflect two key properties: shared and “on demand”.

These properties in turn, yield several very specific business benefits, and it is these business benefits that I believe cause people to be drawn to the concept of a cloud computing communication solution:

1. No capital investment required: Because cloud resources should be available on demand, often described as a "utility" model (like electricity, you simply pay for what you use. Also like electricity, you do not need to pay to build a nuclear generator just to turn on a light bulb).

2. Time efficiency: The on demand characteristic of a cloud solution should also mean no lost time waiting for provisioning; you need a cloud resource, and presto--it is available; no servers to order and install, no weeks wasted waiting for equipment to arrive and be configured.

3. Cost control: On demand also provides elastic resources; that is, you get to use as much or as little as you need and only pay for what you use. In contrast, with most current mobile phone plans you need to pre-purchase a specific number of minutes and you end up paying for all of the minutes even if you don't use them all. Some people say metering is a property of cloud computing; however, I would contend that metering is simply a mechanism that cloud computing providers use to bill based on usage. If someone decided to provide cloud computing resources for free they would not need metering and it would still be cloud computing.

4. Cost efficiency: The shared nature of cloud resources implies that per-unit costs are lower because the resource provider can spread investment across a large base of users and thus greater economies of scale can be achieved. Additionally, economies of specialization and automation can also be achieved. Teams that set up, install and configure the same thing multiple times (perhaps hundreds or thousands of times) are able to become very efficient. And ultimately a process that is to be repeated hundreds or thousands of times may be automated, pushing the per instance cost very close to zero.

5. Access mobility: Because cloud resources are not located in a single defined place or on a single defined machine, cloud resources are generally available for from any location required, provided an Internet connection is available. With the increasingly mobile workforce, mobile access to communication and collaboration tools is a must.

6. Built-in redundancy: Because cloud resources are typically located on multiple servers, a failure of a single server or even all the resources in a single data center should not impact the overall service availability.

And so, definitely "yes", a cloud-based communication architecture would provide several significant business benefits.

A "hybrid cloud" may provide some of the benefits of cloud computing, or maybe not. The truth is, no agreed upon standard definition for this architecture has emerged. No one really knows what a "hybrid cloud" architecture actually consists of, and as such the business benefits, or lack thereof, are not clear.

However, it is certainly questionable whether a "private cloud" built and consumed by a single organization is indeed even a “cloud". More importantly, it is not clear that a “private cloud” would provide any of the desirable business benefits associated with a true cloud solution.

If indeed "private cloud” is simply a fancy marketing term for a virtualized server then it is doubtful that all or any of the six benefits above would be achieved. If a single organization is building out their own cloud then they are investing all of the capital necessary to pay for the infrastructure because cost of the infrastructure is not shared with anyone else. Spreading capital cost over time, for example through leasing, is not the same as a utility model and does not provide the cost efficiency provided by true cloud computing.

In the end, if a private cloud is "intimate" to the point of only servicing one organization, then I would contend it is not truly a cloud but rather smoke. Smoke and perhaps a few mirrors.

Kevin Kieller is a partner with enableUC, a company that helps measure, monitor and improve UC and collaboration usage and adoption. He also currently holds the role as Lead Unified Communications Strategist and UC Centre of Excellence Leader at Bell Canada.