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Private Cloud and Server Virtualization, What's the Difference?

Last week I was sitting at the Louisville VMUG listening to some vendors speak. Even when he was gauging the crowd, he asked the question "what type of cloud is everyone running today?" Everyone responded with the same answer "Private Cloud". That got me fired up enough to send out this tweet that read "I want to express this very important point. Server Virtualization != Private Cloud"


Of course, everyone is going to have their own opinions on this topic because the term "cloud" is always open for debate. Let me give you a take on what I think. I've had this conversation with Chris Colotti and some other folks a few times so I would consider myself somewhat educated on the topic.


Server virtualization (or a virtualized datacenter) is what we have been doing for years now. Get a couple of servers, some switches, a storage array, make it all talk, then use VMware Converter or PlateSpin to do some P2Vs. Consolidation, simplifying DR efforts, simplifying administration, and achieving a lower TCO are the main goals of server virtualization. At the heart of all this was running a multitude of virtualized operatiing systems on a hypervisor that virtualized the underlying hardware. Pretty fascinating stuff. Is that cloud? Of course not. It's just a cool technology.

Moving to cloud is a completely different game. Cloud is a different set of mind. You've probably heard this analogy 1000x, "Cloud is like electricity. When you flip on a light switch, the light comes on. You don't care if that electricity was generated by coal, solar, water but the light is on and mission accomplished." It takes more than just virtualization to move to a cloud system. I would consider virtualization to be the foundation for cloud, or the key enabler. Virtualization helps accomplish cloud. But, a virtualization datacenter IS NOT a private cloud.


So what are the components needed to achieve a cloud-like system? Let's look at that electricity example.

  • The electric company has a product, electricity. IT has a product, it's compute, storage, and network connectivity.
  • The electric company has lots of customers. So does IT. SPs have direct customers from different organizations, but internal IT has to deal with different departments such as marketing, engineering, HR, etc. There are strict requirements in every organization to make sure these departments aren't sharing information. A cloud platform must be multi-tenant and have strict access restrictions.
  • How does a customer order electricity for their house? Now-a-days, you can access the company's website and schedule a technician to come out to your house. That's a key part to cloud. Having a self-service provisioning portal. The ability to allow consumption of the product or resources without the need of intervention of IT.
  • So it's time to flip the switch and power on the light bulb. But first, it's your turn to make some choices. Do you want a dimmer switch, flourescent lights, LED lights, a fan with lights? There are plenty of options. That's where the self-service catalog comes in. Customers access the self-service catalog and order VMs of different types, sizes, pre-built operating systems, and even applications. Giving customer's a choice makes adoption successful.
  • As your turning on the light switch and electricity is being pushed, there is usually a set of approvals that need to be done to get electricity out to your house. Or perhaps upgrades on the back-end that you don't see. That is where the beauty of automation and orchestration comes in. Just like any business, there are approvals, signoffs, etc. There are plenty of orchestration tools out there that will automatically send email approvals or start workflows of some sort. Just because someone ordered a SQL server, the job isn't over. Through the use of orchestration, you can figure out who ordered that VM, and then add in their user credentials to have administrator access to the VM or even change the SA password. Heck, you can create workflows to do basically anything if you have the right tools. Consistency is critical in a cloud platform and too much human intervention can lead to costly mistakes and errors. Automation is a critical part of the cloud experience.
  • Now that you've been using your electricity, it's the end of the month. You get a bill, we're all too familiar with that. Chargeback is a key point in having a cloud. Billing, charging, and metering of the storage, compute, and networking of the entire infrastructure is how you turn table. For the longest time IT has been viewed as a cost center. Now, IT is looked at a well oiled machine and the business units are the ones responsible for the costs of IT. Even if you really aren't charging the business units, you can atleast do showback. Showback gives the ability to prove that IT isn't the cost center, and the VMs being used by the different business units can now be metered.
  • New housing projects, moving circuits, and new territories are all parts of an expanding electric company. Now that you have a running and working system, you have to plan for growth and scale. Capacity modeling is important so you know predicted cost and budgeting for the next year. Now the business isn't blindly throwing money at resources and is instead taking an educated approach.


To me, server virtualization is only a single step, but a very important one. A Private Cloud, or any IaaS Cloud for that matter, isn't achieved until you have crossed off every bullet point above. So now it's your turn. Do you believe that server virtualization and private clouds are similar? I would like to hear your opinions and see what you believe.

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