When Is a Cloud Not a Cloud?

Rackspace this week joined the ranks of those companies offering virtual machines that are hosted on a pool of dedicated servers. What’s curious, however, is that Rackspace refers to these setups as private clouds, yet lists them under its managed hosting offerings, not its cloud hosting products. Such a move once again raises the question of what, exactly, is meant by “cloud computing.”

If Rackspace’s Private Cloud offering is, indeed, a cloud offering, why does it fall under the managed hosting banner? Similar offerings by hosting veterans Savvis and Terremark are marketed as cloud computing solutions only. Layered Technologies clearly distinguishes between VMs housed on its multitenant architecture (virtual private data centers) and those housed on dedicated servers. GoGrid only crosses paths with its dedicated hosting parent company, ServePath, for a hybrid cloud-dedicated offering called Cloud Connect.

Rackspace’s approach, by comparison, could prove confusing to potential customers. Those who think they need a cloud offering but really want something more managed might not, for example, make the connection between the company’s Cloud Servers, a public cloud option, and its Private Cloud managed hosting offering. And those fearful of cloud computing might not be able to separate in their minds the dedicated nature of Rackspace’s new offering from its cloud label. Private Cloud also features a pricing model that is far more complex than most pay-for-what-you-use public cloud services.

At this point, it may be foolish to expect members of the highly competitive managed hosting market to agree on standard definitions of what is and is not cloud computing, but they should at least set forth clear features that differentiate one from the other (e.g., multitenant vs. dedicated, automated provisioning vs. manual provision, automatic load-balancing, etc.). If there must be delineation, prudence dictates making it as clear as possible.

Question of the week

How would you differentiate between managed hosting offerings and cloud offerings?
Relevant analyst in managed hosting
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  1. “Private Cloud” is marketing-babble for what has been and will always be nothing more than hosted services, now with a virtual twist. ^^^What ‘true cloud’ represents is a radical difference in the economic model, where compute, storage and bandwidth is charged by precise usage monitoring, not by cage space, cpu’s used, monthly rent or max disk/max bandwidth up-front commitments.^^^ It’s buying by the drink (really the actual amount drunk!), not by the case! Anything purporting to be ‘cloud’ without delivering these scale economics to the customer is guilty of either a gross misunderstanding of the future, or a gross misrepresentation of the present… or both!

    1. Derrick Harris john6 Monday, August 3, 2009

      As you can tell, I agree for the most part. However, I don’t really care what any individual provider decides to label as its “cloud” offering so long it is consistent across that provider’s portfolio. Providers run the risk of someone saying, “I was expecting some like EC2. This won’t work,” for example. If I don’t like Provider A’s cloud offering(s), I can opt for provider B and its offering(s).

      What muddles things is when Provider A has multiple options, seemingly applying different definitions of “cloud,” across cloud and non-cloud product lines. Not only is it confusing to the customer, but when “cloud” falls out of favor as a term, this broad cloud strategy could poison more product lines than necessary.

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