IT pros: Private clouds a good first step to cloud computing

Until adequate standards are in place, testing in house may be a better option than deploying applications publicly

Deploying a private cloud network is a good way for enterprises to ease into cloud computing before deploying applications on the infrastructures of companies such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft, IT professionals said at a conference in New York on Monday.

A panel of experts discussing whether the financial services industry should build its own cloud-computing infrastructure said the test case for whether it's possible - not just in the financial services industry, but for other enterprises as well - is if companies can first deploy a private cloud network.

"If you can't do it internally, it's tough to take it externally," said Jeff Birnbaum, [cq] the managing director of Merrill Lynch, who along with several other IT professionals discussed the issue at the 2009 High Performance Linux on Wall Street conference.

He said before companies decide whether to deploy applications on an AWS or Microsoft's Windows Azure, they should build a cloud network internally and see if they can make that work, then decide what assets they could run on a public cloud.

A private cloud differs from a standard enterprise IT data center in a few ways, he said.

In a standard enterprise, an application is allocated to its own server or servers, and does not run outside of that silo. To set up a private cloud, a company must have a number of servers and be able to run any application on those servers, among other differentiating factors, Birnbaum said.

"I want to be able to move that thing around, quickly run that application on 10 or 1,000 computers, workload manage the entire complex," Birnbaum said. "It's the software layer of workload management and smart placement of applications that separates it [from a typical data center]."

David Crosbie, [cq] CTO of virtualization software provider Leostream, agreed that "starting internally is really the only way to get going" on cloud computing, particularly because there currently are no standards in place to govern how cloud-computing networks operate in terms of security, business processes, governance and the like.

A group of technology vendors and other companies -- including IBM, Cisco, Sun Microsystems and VMware -- last week came together to launch the Open Cloud Manifesto, a publicly released document that attempts to set some standards for how cloud-computing networks interoperate.

But the group's mission and endeavor has been controversial from the get-go because AWS and Microsoft, among others, were left out of the process of drafting the document, and Microsoft chose to reveal the existence of the manifesto before IBM and others were ready to go public about it.

On the panel Monday Linda Bernardi, [cq] founder of IT consulting firm StraTerra Partners, defended the Open Cloud Manifesto, saying that its aim is to open a discussion about setting parameters for cloud-computing, not to be the end all, be all for how cloud-computing should work.

"The idea was to begin to identify the core advantages and challenges and make sure we bring end-user customers into the process," she said.

Bernardi said it won't merely be a group of large technology vendors that ultimately defines how cloud computing is implemented. "it's going to be a process," she said.

"Enterprises, companies - be it banks, manufacturing companies - big companies will define what cloud computing is," Bernardi said. "It can't be determined by a vendor or set of vendors."

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