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It’s unlikely that most of us can accurately describe the cloud types we learned back in elementary school: cumulus, stratus and cirrus, not to mention the more specific subtypes such as cirrostratus and stratocumulus. The funny thing is, many IT workers have the same trouble properly defining and identifying IT clouds.
Forrester Research says that 70 percent of IT workers think they have a private cloud, when they actually don't, according to a report from InfoWorld. Not all clouds are created equal, and it’s obvious that many IT workers remain confused about what is what.
A public cloud, like Gmail or Salesforce.com, offers services that execute on an independent backend foundation, usually far away from the user. Private clouds may do the same, but you need to check behind the cloud curtain to make sure the foundation provides your business the proper data protection.
Running an application that users access through a browser may be an example of running on a private cloud, but your IT department needs to answer how the application complies with the five characteristics of cloud computing, as defined by the National Institutes of Standards and Technology.
We can argue whether all five characteristics are critical for "private cloud" designation, or whether you can tweak the definitions to fit your situation, but there are good business reasons — and good business benefits — behind each characteristic.
If the cloud isn't always available to users, you can't really call it a cloud. Users need information when they need it. Can you call your cloud a private cloud if you only run the service from 9 to 5? You can, but what business completely halts exactly at 5 p.m. these days? If mobile users in a later time zone can't get access after a specific cutoff time, your cloud is useless to them.
Carrying the mobile user example further, your cloud must be accessible from anywhere, anytime. Connection over the company’s physical network is only the starting point. Can users access the private cloud from branch offices, hotels or Starbucks? It’s also important to ensure compatibility with mobile devices as more users rely on smartphones and tablets to stay connected to work.
Some IT professionals believe shared resources are overkill, but collaboration is the crux of the modern distributed workforce, and that means users must share data. Users should be separated based on access controls and authentication, not by which database they can access. For instance, your CRM should allow all users to see every client but require authorization to modify the data.
Shared resources on the backend also play into scalability. To scale quickly, storage servers should be separate from the application servers, supported by either a SAN (storage area network) or at least a scale-out NAS (network attached storage) system, so storage capacity can be updated without downtime. Virtual server instances should have an upward migration path to physical host servers with more horsepower.
You can't manage what you don't measure, and you can't provide uptime without management. Virtualized servers and applications alone are not a private cloud, but they provide the foundation needed to support a properly managed private cloud. The ability to maintain cloud access under any and all circumstances is what makes the difference between an application some people use sometimes from some places, and a true private cloud that services your users and boosts your business at all times in all places.