The private cloud is dead. Long live hybrid cloud.

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David Linthicum, Chief Cloud Strategy Officer, Deloitte Consulting

Is private cloud dead? The answer depends on how you define a "private cloud."  Technology vendors spin their on-premises systems as being "private clouds." Enterprises refer to virtualized servers as private clouds. Now, even legacy systems are called private clouds that are often a part of a hybrid cloud. So whom do you believe?  

Here's the reality: NIST-defined private clouds have unique characteristics, including self-provisioning, tenant management, usage-based billing, and other attributes. They resemble a public cloud, but are only for use by a single, private cloud owner. Most private clouds that have been "cloud-washed" are private clouds by name only. They don't meet all of these criteria.

There are well-known private clouds, such as any version of a private cloud that leverages OpenStack or CloudStack open-source cloud software. OpenStack, for instance, can be a public cloud, even in public clouds that have since gone away. But for the most part, OpenStack is a private cloud software stack that has the characteristics of a true cloud.

So why are the true private clouds not as popular today? And more importantly, why have people taken the notion of a private cloud and stretched it to odd patterns that causes such confusion in the industry?

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The private cloud is dead, sort of 

The fall of true private clouds is largely due to the success of public clouds, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform, and Microsoft Azure. These vendors quickly added features and functions, such as database as a service, machine learning, serverless computing, and thousands of others, and more are showing up each week.

This focus on moving up the stack from traditional infrastructure concepts such as storage and compute is just too compelling for enterprises to ignore. Moreover, where security, compliance, and privacy were once a concern, today they are considered problems well solved in the public cloud. 

By all accounts, you can create systems that are more secure in the public clouds, and on any on-premises systems. Security is a matter of the time and effort that's expended on it, cloud or not. 

Private clouds have not made the same strides. They're mostly open-source solutions that can’t compete with larger cloud providers, which are willing to spend billions on building, deploying, and managing their services. 

This feature-function gap was narrow a few years ago, but is wide and insurmountable today.

Of course, there is the cost issue as well. Private clouds are nothing less than another set of hardware and software stacks that you must own and maintain. This removes the cost advantages of cloud computing, even if your private cloud is multi-tenant and provides for self-provisioning. 

Company CFOs are looking hard at the true costs of private cloud. Unfortunately, most can't compare to the costs of traditional computing systems. In response, many enterprises have sent their private clouds packing and turned to public clouds as their platform of choice. 

Meet the new private cloud

So, what's replacing the private clouds within hybrid clouds—sometimes also called "private clouds"? Legacy connectivity has come a long way in the last few years. Connecting a traditional system such as a LAMP stack to a public cloud is not a big deal. In fact, many new hybrid clouds aren't paired private and public clouds but traditional systems that have been paired with public clouds. 

This configuration, also known as a "pragmatic hybrid cloud," is fast becoming the new hybrid cloud. 

Even traditional enterprise system providers are better at working with public clouds these days, with out-of-the-box connectors and operations tools that make the use of hybrid clouds easier. Working with public clouds and with the new hybrid-anything that's springing up seems to be the pattern of use going forward, more so than true private clouds (such as OpenStack) paired with public cloud services. 

Is this a bad thing? Not really. The new forms of hybrid clouds seem to be working. While they are less planned and more ad hoc in nature, the core value of leveraging both sides of the firewall is there. Whatever plays the role of a private cloud, even if it's not really a private cloud, should not bother those who are measuring the success of the solution. 

The movement to leverage multiple public clouds (multi-cloud) fits right into this architecture as well. This seems to be the end state for most enterprises, and for enterprise IT it's just a matter of having the on-premises systems talk to more than a single public cloud. 

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Pay attention to the benefits, not to the purists

The term private cloud bothers cloud purists who define private cloud at the beginning of every meeting. Perhaps it's not a private cloud, but it functions in that role. The industry will find another set of semantics at some point, but right now there is more than $20 billion chasing the world of private cloud 2.0. 

Your success is defined by your ability to effectively leverage technology, not your organization's ability to be buzzword-compliant. In this case, it's a good thing to take a more pragmatic view of cloud technology—with the term private cloud as its first victim. 

Focus on the basics, such as security, governance, DevOps, data management, and moving the cloud architecture to provide more agility that can compress time-to-market. Focusing on the requirements is perhaps the best thing you can do right now. 

And focus on emerging best practices. Look at what works and try to emulate that success within your own enterprise. Don't focus on what's cool, or what’s hyped. Look at the number of enterprises with true private clouds that are now trying to get rid of them. You can make mistakes by following the crowds.