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VMware: Adopt private cloud – or else!

I attended the VMware Virtualization Forum, a scaled-down, traveling VMworld that floored in Boston yesterday. Bogomil Balkansky, VMware vice president of product marketing, gave the keynote, and talked – surprise surprise – about the journey to cloud computing.

Now, I’ve heard many, many VMware executives talk about cloud computing, but here I was struck by Balkansky’s willingness to address the skeptics in the crowd, and paint something other than a vision of automated, scalable shared-resource compute nirvana. While maintaining VMware’s commitment to cloud computing, Balkansky made dire predictions for IT managers that choose not to adopt private clouds.

Balkansky cited a recent Gartner study that finds cloud computing has moved to the #2 position on CIOs’ list of priorities, up from #14 the year before, “which basically means it wasn’t a priority at all.”

To explain the sudden jump, Balkansky told an anecdote about a customer whom he described as “a grumpy British gentleman.”

“’I’ve spent the past twenty years building a monopoly; where no one runs something that I haven’t authorized – or I shut them down,’” Balkansky quoted the customer as saying. But internal users have started going behind the grumpy IT director’s back, spurring his interest in building an internal cloud that he can control. “’I hand out Amazon EC2 sign-up sheets and tell them ‘These are our pink slips.’”

In other words, adopting private cloud is a matter of self-preservation. Sounding much like the grumpy British IT director, “If we don’t do something about [rogue internal users adopting public cloud], this will be the reality for all of us – as vendors or as IT professionals,” Balkansky said.

Meanwhile, on the show floor, attendees I spoke to were more sanguine about private cloud. At lunch with IT directors from a university, a school district and a financial services company, conversation steered away from private cloud and settled on more pressing, desktop-oriented concerns: Windows 7 upgrades, supporting wonky client-side applications, shutting down bandwidth hogs, virtualizing voice over IP, and the like. Private cloud was the topic of the day for VMware, but not for the customers I talked to.

Perhaps the reason that the private cloud message doesn’t seem to generate much excitement among current VMware users is because they don’t fully appreciate the difference between private cloud and what they’ve already done, i.e., virtualize their infrastructure.

Balkansky attempted to describe the difference. To get from mere virtualized infrastructure to private cloud, you need to standardize your service catalog, and provide end users with a self-service portal. Future products and technologies will eventually enable you to burst from your internal private cloud to the public cloud, creating the mythical ‘hybrid cloud.’

However, those distinctions may be lost on VMware users. For them, and sometimes for VMware itself, “Private cloud basically just means that you’ve virtualized,” said Ed Haletky, analyst with The Virtualization Practice.

No wonder no one wanted to talk about private cloud at lunch.

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Alex, I enjoyed reading your post. My own experience is that CIOs may not yet have adopted the private cloud nomenclature, but they are experiencing problems common with a partially virtualized data center such as VM sprawl, difficulties in efficiently provisioning virtual infrastructure, lack of efficient collaboration between traditionally disparate functional IT groups and an increase in overall complexity as the number of objects to manage accelerates. As we explain the concept of private cloud, they tend to very quickly grasp its significance in alleviating these concerns.