Private Cloud Is Dead? If Wishing Made It So…

UPDATE: Alex Bligh gives a great rebuttal to my comments here: Kudos to Alex and the Flexiant team for being good sports.  His comments make sense, and my guess is that after a pint or three we’d meet somewhere in the midde.

DISCLAIMER: I actually feel bad having written this. It seems pointedly mean-spirited and I normally would have shrugged my shoulders and walked away from it. I know that Alex Bligh (@alexbligh) and Tony Lucas (@tonylucas) weren’t expecting this (although they had been warned), and I feel a little guilty publishing it.  They seem like decent blokes, and I’ve never heard a bad thing about Flexiant or their products…

That being said, this is really crappy marketing, unless one goes with the whole “any press…” adage. My hope is not to make Alex and Tony mad, it’s to voice my displeasure when marketing a product is done with a sledgehammer rather than a chisel. This kind of thing is bad for everyone. Guys, sorry in advance, but it has to be done…

Yes, I was sitting in a VCE partner symposium in Malvern, PA, and killing time until I present [redacted] to an awesome (and surprisingly large) group of NY/PA/NJ-based partners.  As is my wont, Tweetdeck was open and I ran into the middle of a comment/snark storm between Ed Saipetch (@edsai) and the team over at Flexiant.  It seems they have released a new white paper titled “7 business reasons why moving Private Clouds to the Service Provider is a ‘no brainer’!” and I was more or less dragged into filling out the web form, reading through the white paper and putting down some comments.

First, the background.  Flexiant sells cloud orchestration and management solutions.  They sell these solutions to Enterprises, but they have a lot of focus (of course) on the hosting and service providers, which makes sense.  Personally, I like the concept, and coming from a service provider background I can see the value.  Important disclosures to note: I have never used the Flexiant software.  I have never worked with or for a customer who has.  Looking at their list of publicly referenced customers, BT is the only one who is currently a customer of ours, and I’m not aware of what they are using Flexiant for.  I’m not trying to make any comment for or against the Flexiant technology or value, but simply making comments on the white paper they asked me to read.

So, with all that said, let’s look at the paper itself.

Pet Peeves

angryeyesHaving to register to read a white paper is nauseating.  Make the content freely and easily available, especially when it’s a self-serving paper with your corporate logo on it, and if it’s useful or valuable people will contact you about it.  Requiring that you have my contact information first is annoying, because chances are I don’t want to be in your CRM database and I don’t want to get your unsolicited e-mails.  For the record, Mickey Mouse filled out the form and sent me a copy of the PDF…

Also, having your PDF force itself into full screen reading mode by default is dumb.  Don’t presume you know how I want to read the document.  You created the content, you printed it to a PDF, now back away slowly.


My first issue with the paper is that the definitions used seem (to me) to be very self serving.  In almost 8 years of working with and for service providers, I’ve seen a pretty significant evolution in how the term “cloud” is used.   As a general rule, the industry mostly sticks to v15 of the NIST definition, and using that criteria the definitions included in the Flexiant paper are somewhat suspect. There are certainly people who have differing opinions on the definition, but it’s the foundation everyone works from.  If you are going to fundamentally alter those definitions, at least acknowledge it.

Specifically, the definition of “Private Cloud” irks me a lot.  The statement that private clouds must be managed by the company for whom the infrastructure is dedicated is lunacy.  As a service provider, we managed isolated, dedicated infrastructure on behalf of customers all the time.  As a infrastructure provider, we have great partners like CSC and CoSentry who will provide customers either shared or dedicated hardware, and will provide the management in either scenario.  All of those are still private cloud deployments.  How an enterprise pays for or maintains ownership of those solutions doesn’t fundamentally change what is going on.

The dismissal of the Hybrid classification is expected, but disappointing.  Being able to manage resources that have been purchased from public clouds alongside infrastructure that is dedicated is important.  Most of the hypervisor providers have been, or are moving towards tooling that can handle this kind of use case.  If you are a round peg, it’s easy to see the Hybrid use case as a square hole and move on, but customers and service providers are increasingly seeing a need for this.

On the public cloud side, I would wager that the majority of the customers referenced in the GiagOM research regarding pricing being a driver were talking about AWS, not cloud services hosted by traditional service providers.  Using them as the bar, especially on cost, isn’t very useful.   As a general rule, customers are very confused on what to call things (in large part because VENDORS MAKE UP THEIR OWN DEFINITIONS), as you can see from posts like this one from CRN.

Of course, in order for most of the rest of the paper to hold up, these distinctions are important and play into the point that Flexiant is trying to make.  So from this point on, take the content with a grain of salt, because the base definitions are suspect.

Public Cloud Demand Side Drivers

When I look at IT transformation, I see three transition points.  The first is when enterprises move workloads from physical hardware to virtualized hardware.  This is designed to maintain WHAT and HOW IT organizations buy, while driving more cost efficiency.  Nothing changes, it just starts the process of putting capabilities in place and saving some cash.

Next, the company looks at outsourcing the workloads.  They still want/need to CONSUME the resources in the same way, because there’s been no fundamental shift in the applications that the enterprise is using, but they would like to move from a cap-ex to an op-ex model for some portion of their workloads.  There are a number of options for outsourcing these workloads in both public and private cloud deployments.  Do you want to pay monthly for what you need, but you want the infrastructure dedicated to you?  CSC and CoSentry can certainly offer that to you, and it’s still very much a private cloud deployment in an op-ex model.  Want to move them to a provider who will bill you on whatever schedule makes sense for you, like maybe on a multi-year contract to guarantee pricing for a fixed amount of resources?  Terremark, BlueLock, Peak 10, Windstream Hosted Solutions and others can certainly provide that, and those are public cloud deployments aren’t they?  Want to push the workloads up to a large-scale IaaS provider like AWS or Rackspace?  Go for it.  In the end, you get a VM that can be loaded up with your traditional enterprise application and you pay for it in an op-ex model that makes sense for your business.

Finally, there’s the full-on transformation of the enterprise application space.  This is where enterprises change both what AND how they consume by changing the core type of applications they consume.  This is extraordinarily expensive and time-consuming, but in the long term it’s where all enterprises will end up.  There are certainly examples of companies like this today, just as there are applications that have already gotten to this space.  Overall, however, this is still a frontier that’s being discovered, mapped and conquered in real-time.  This is not where big, safe, risk-averse enterprises live.

All that being said, I’m not 100% in agreement with the paper’s “Public Cloud Demand Side Drivers”.  Utility Pricing is a feature of cloud computing, but not every provider meters the same things, and they don’t so on the same schedules.  Some providers bill hourly for powered-on VMs, some bill monthly for an allocated pool of resources, some provide multi-year fixed contracts…  The challenge is that not every enterprise is able or willing to move from a fixed capital budget to a monthly recurring cost model.  There are big changes that happen when you do this, especially if you are a company that uses EBITDA as a meaningful KPI.  Especially when the cost of capital is at an all-time low, not every company wants to move away from it.  For those companies, utility billing is a nightmare, and one of the reasons why they decide to keep their equipment in-house.

As an aside, I don’t agree with including “multi-tenancy” and “commodity” in a list of reasons why customers should choose a public cloud.  Both are things that customers will have to swallow hard and deal with in order to take advantage of the larger value, but I don’t think either is a selling point to the customer.  Of course it makes for a much better marketing anagram than “CUUBER” so there’s that…

On the public cloud supply side, the paper is right on.  Scale, multi-tenancy, shared hardware, service abstraction, API availability, virtualization and cost efficiency are all reasons why providers are eager to get into this space.

On the other side, I’m not in agreement with the Private Cloud Demand drivers.  Again, I feel like the bias of the paper really shows through here.  There are TONS of valid reasons why the vast majority of enterprises of all sizes continue to maintain their own infrastructure, or pay a provider to maintain it on their behalf, and almost none of them include elasticity or utility billing.  I’d argue that very, very, few organizations, no matter what the size, do actual utility billing internally.

The Private Cloud Supply [Drivers] are also misleading.  Here’s a hint: it’s a completely different product, so there is different value realized and different costs involved.  Comparing a company that wants a dedicated infrastructure managed by CSC to a customer who wants to pull VMs from a public cloud provider and migrate their enterprise apps to that model is silly.  They don’t have the same drivers, they don’t have the same expectation of cost, they don’t want the same value.

In the next paragraph the phrase “cloud-bursting” was used, and so I skipped the entire rest of the Hybrid Cloud section in protest.

The last thing I want to highlight is the “Addressing Buyer Objections” section, because it really highlights how out of touch the paper is with the enterprise IT teams they want to change their behavior.

There appears to be a particular reluctance on the part of enterprise IT to adopt public cloud technology. The reason for that is simple: turkeys do not vote for Christmas.

You know, pointing out that every objection made to the public cloud is done by a CIO who is protecting his empire is probably a poor way to change behavior.

Some CIOs may throw up all sorts of objections to an external cloud, but each of these objections to public cloud can be dispelled.

Oh really?  Well let’s see how much bias is put into these, shall we?

Objection 1 – Public cloud has inadequate SLAs – (paraphrased) “Sure they do, and even if they don’t you don’t really need an SLA anyway, but you need a terms of services contract.”

Riiiihght.  VCE customers have, on average, 0.5 infrastructure incidents a year, leading to 83X better availability according to IDC, reducing productivity losses by more than $9,000/yr per 100 users.  There’s an implicit level of accountability with the internal IT teams responsible for those metrics (um, continued employment), but if I want that same level of accountability from AWS (2.0 incidents/year, 72X better availability) I’m asking the wrong questions?  Red herring at best.

Objection 2 – Public cloud has inadequate security – (paraphrased) “Most problems here are actually your fault, and anything that IS an issue with public clouds is also an issue with private clouds, except public cloud providers are smarter than you.”

Well.  OK then.  Once again, the shitty definition of “private cloud” used plays into the failure of this statement to reflect reality, but this isn’t an actual rebuttal of the objection, it’s just pointing the finger somewhere else.

Objection 3 – For regulatory reasons we cannot use public cloud – (paraphrased) “You don’t really know what those regulations mean.  Hybrid cloud may help here, just ignore that we ragged on it in the previous objection.  You should go get a deeper understanding of the fundamental regulatory oversight your company is in.”

Again, not an actual rebuttal, just more noise.  Show me how a public cloud can meet specific regulatory muster.  If you can’t, than you aren’t helping.

Objection 5 – Public cloud is just hype – (paraphrased) “SPs and the press are responsible for this, not biased, misleading marketing efforts like this one.  Unlike them, we are presenting a nuanced argument that includes non-standard definitions and an inability to actually address objections.  Your objections are overplayed and spurious. Your personal incentive is at odds with your business.  Don’t talk to the technical people about this, keep your discussions at a cost level and go over their heads to the CEO and CFO so you’ll have a better chance.”

It becomes very easy to see that the ultimate goal here is to sell service providers on the benefits of public cloud, and then sell them the secret sauce that turns a multi-tenant cloud into lots and lots of money.  And hey, I’m a huge supporter of both of those things.  I know that the public cloud (as it is properly defined) is the ultimate model that enterprises and their applications will move to.  I also know we aren’t there yet, in any number of vectors.  Marketing like this paper only exacerbate the issue, providing conflicting information, eschewing standard definitions, pitting the technical and financial control centers with enterprises against each other and attempting to force a square peg into a round hole.

Again, I want to make clear that I have nothing against Flexiant.  It may be the greatest management software every made, I don’t know.  But that doesn’t keep this document from being a spectacular example of what is helping prevent enterprises from actually understanding their cloud options and moving forward.