Why don’t enterprises have a private cloud already?

Enterprises have developers who are pushing IT to provide a self-service infrastructure. The infrastructure needs to be driven by the needs of applications and developers. They want to operate at a speed faster than their IT ticketing system. To enable this, IT wants an on premise infrastructure that provides security, control and flexibility, with public cloud like APIs. Given this need, why aren’t most enterprises already running private clouds?

Based on our conversations with over a hundred customers, we have found that enterprises are still figuring out how to move some of their workloads to public cloud or evaluating solutions like VMware vCloud, Openstack or Microsoft Azure for Enterprise to build a private cloud. This is taking significantly longer than they expected. To understand the root cause, let us study what it would take to build a self-service private cloud using these technologies.


The “Architecting a vCloud” VMware whitepaper describes how to build a private cloud using VMware vCloud Suite. The first figure in the document shows a jigsaw puzzle of all the components. The jigsaw is quite an appropriate diagram to illustrate the enterprise agony! It consists of eight different components, where each of these components has several sub-components.


For example, vSphere includes ESX hypervisor, vCenter server, vCenter server database, and a management assistant. Some of the other components like Log-Insight are not even shown in this jigsaw. If you do the math, it boils down to more than a dozen software components, half a dozen databases or storage back-ends, and a 100-page description in order to put these together.

While companies with a large IT team, budget, time and expertise can do this, it is too much to expect from most other mid-market enterprises with simpler use cases and needs. It is not very surprising that most enterprises have not adopted vCloud.

The complexity is an unfortunate but expected side effect of combining various technologies built or acquired over 6-8 years and bundling them together as a suite. It is fundamentally hard to stitch so many disparate software pieces into a single stack with consistent APIs and easy management. This complexity directly translates into op-ex costs that an enterprise has to sustain to manage such an environment.


Openstack started as an open source project in 2010 to provide a core component in building a private cloud. There are many advantages to using OpenStack; the APIs are consistent, multi-tenanted, well partitioned, and the overall design is quite modular with expected division of responsibilities across core services. For example, there are separate services to handle Compute (Nova), Storage (Cinder), Image library (Glance), Networking (Neutron) and Authentication (Keystone). Obviously, a project that started after the evolution of public clouds for 4 years and virtualized IT infrastructures for 7 years, would learn from existing shortcomings.


However, even in Openstack, there are six different core services and multiple databases. All of the services need complex configuration to work well together. Given enough experts, time and budget, it can be done in-house. As shown at the most recent Openstack Summit in Vancouver, some of the larger enterprises like Ebay/Paypal, Comcast, Walmart, and Workday are running their production systems on an Openstack based cloud.

Several vendors are offering Openstack bundles to mid-size and non-tech enterprises for building a private cloud. However, Openstack is not a complete private cloud and it has to be combined with several other software components for HA, storage, monitoring, and troubleshooting to obtain a production quality cloud. This still requires an in-house team to operate the cloud and understand the gory details of Openstack architecture. Looking at the current market, it is quite clear that enterprises have not been able to take such offerings and consume them successfully. Microsoft Azure pack has a very similar set of challenges as VMware vCloud Suite.

Given the current set of existing solutions, it is not surprising that most enterprises aren’t already running private clouds. The real question is: what is the right solution to help enterprises move from virtualized IT to a self-service cloud?