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Q&A With Mark Minasi: Evaluating the Private Cloud

Mark Minasi is one of those Microsoft MVPs that does it all – he's a  technical consultant, a speaker and an  author of over 40 books relating to Microsoft and IT.

So to say that his opinion carries some weight is an understatement. I recently got the chance to pick Mark's brain on the emergence of the private cloud and what kind of impact it has for your shop.

Also, if you want to hear Mark's often opinionated (and usually right) thoughts for yourself, check out his speaking gig at this year's TechMentor conference.

Q: What do you think of the term "private cloud"? Is it a good, clear term or a vague and abused buzzword?
A: The cloud is just our latest attempt to talk less about servers, cables and software and talk more about delivering fast, effective, so-reliable-you-don't-think-about-it services like Exchange mailboxes or SharePoint services. Push away the hype and I think the cloud will result in a new and improved set of best practices on how we run our datacenters and how we deploy services.

Ultimately, a private cloud will be our private datacenters employing those new best practices and those seamless deployment tools to provide our end users with self service -- a Web front-end to create and modify the services they need -- and less downtime.

If that's not clear, think of it this way: Over the past 70 years, computers have gotten easier and easier, and more and more useful -- for example, personal computers were one such step, GUIs another, networks a third and the Internet a fourth. Cloud computing is simply the most recent big step, a technology that's "disruptive" in some senses but that couldn't have happened without those four precursors.

For our attendees, I think it means: Learn about this -- it matters. Even if it does turn out to be a fad or hype, it's one that prospective employers will ask you about, so put "private cloud" on your list of things you need to get somewhat smart about.

Q: What does it mean to you?
A: Good news and bad news. It'll mean that all of my fellow IT pros will have to put up with a lot of silly marketing bafflegab from sales droids who've decided that adding the words "in the cloud!" to any IT-related sales pitch will generate interest. It'll mean that a small few might lose their jobs because some higher-up got sold a bill of goods that included a promise of lower staff requirements -- outsourcing with another name. It's good news because the private cloud takes some of the really boring scut work and friction points between IT pros and both end users and other IT pros and simplifies them. That frees us to focus on the projects that many of us haven't had time for, like, "What the heck do I do with these iPads and smartphones that want to access our important corporate stuff?!" Again, to rephrase it, for many of our organizations, adding a password self-service Web portal meant that users didn't need us and that either freed up an IT pro to do something else, or in some cases made someone whose only job was to reset passwords into – sadly -- an unemployed person.

Q: What's the difference between a good, highly virtualized set of servers and a private cloud?
A: Easy question. In its simplest form, a private cloud is virtualization plus automation plus self-service.

Q: Whose security is better: an IT shop with security based on the best person they could hire, or a cloud vendor whose whole business is presumably securing their systems?
A: It's hard to say. On the one hand, the in-house security guy gets a W-2 from the same people who use the cloud. That person is – hopefully -- invested in the safety, security and viability of the organization. On the other hand, the cloud security person honestly doesn't care all that much about one of the 10,000 accounts that his company services, but he also knows that a data breach might cost his job. Therefore, he might strive mightily to create a one-size-fits-all answer and  might have more free time to find that answer. It's sort of like asking, "From whom will you get a better pair of shoes: a craftsperson or Macy's?" Some craft pros might create the best shoes you've ever owned, but in truth most won't, at least not in a postindustrial age. Mass production -- meaning the cloud -- will naturally move to a point of standard mediocrity. But it will be a reliable level of mediocrity, and that will be better than what probably 65 percent of craftspeople could accomplish.

Q: When I build a private cloud, do I overbuild to handle spikes or deal with an outside provider to handle times of high demand? If I do the latter, don't I double my security risk?
A: One of the whole points of cloud technology, as I said in my first answer, is that we're learning new best practices. One of those best practices is about how to plan for the flood. Call it "overbuilding" if you like, but that seems like a negative phrase. I think that five years from now, even the most cloud-allergic groups will be talking about "fabric," "capacity units" and the like.

Remember: Hardware is cheap. Failures are expensive. Not serving the users is massively expensive.

Just ask the mainframe MIS and DP guys who lost their jobs because they weren't meeting user needs. They saw their clients go gleefully to the lower-tech, slower, less-capable but more-responsive PCs.

Want to learn more? Mark will be speaking at our Techmentor 2012 conference, being held at Microsoft HQ in August.

 

Posted by Doug Barney on 07/09/2012 at 1:19 PM


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