Get off my cloud

5 Oct 2010

Private clouds could be the answer for organisations that are cautious about putting their data into a shared computing facility.

The debate of whether to move to the cloud is sometimes presented as an all-or-nothing gambit, but the reality is a little more complicated than that. While businesses try to work out how the cloud can work for them, the private cloud has emerged as an option.

The cloud’s gift and its curse is in its structure: by sharing computing between a vast pool of servers and storage, economies of scale allow cloud providers to keep costs low for customers, but it’s also the reason why some organisations are worried about how secure their data is in a shared system.

A cloud is too risky for some businesses

If the idea of putting sensitive data into the cloud is too risky to consider for some businesses, an alternative option has emerged. Some IT industry commentators say private clouds offer many of the benefits of the technology with fewer risks.

Private clouds take the concept of cloud computing – IT delivered as a service, able to scale up or down to cope with the business needs. However unlike with the public cloud, data is not stored on systems that are shared among multiple organisations. Think of it as your own personal plane rather than a commercial airline.

Giles Hogben, network security policy expert with the European Network and Information Security Agency, said he wouldn’t recommend storing sensitive intellectual property or healthcare-related information in the public cloud. He added that government departments looking to share data with one another should consider a private cloud where the information would not be visible to third parties.

According to Dr Werner Vogels, CTO of, private clouds have come about because customers have demanded them. Rather than accessing their data over a standard internet connection, businesses can set up a virtual private network and ring-fence their systems so they are not accessible to anyone else.

The private cloud also helps organisations to ensure they are not only reassuring themselves but complying with regulations that may apply to them. “It is completely protected by the traditional walled garden approach,” said Vogels. “None of the resources you put out there can talk to the public internet. It’s an important step as a transition phase – organisations can use it as their first stepping stone to start experimenting with things in the cloud without moving to the public cloud.”

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