Cloud computing, still in its infancy but growing steadily as a major player in midmarket enterprise IT, is already starting to branch off into more custom-designed configurations.
Cloud, or utility, computing serves up computing power, data storage or applications from one data center location over a grid to thousands or millions of users on a subscription basis. This general kind of cloud -- for example, services provided online by Amazon EC2, Google Apps, and Salesforce.com -- is known as a "public" cloud, because any business or individual can subscribe.
Private cloud computing is a different take on the mainstream version, in that smaller, cloudlike IT systems within a firewall offer similar services, but to a closed internal network. This network may include corporate or division offices, other companies that are also business partners, raw-material suppliers, resellers, production-chain entities and other organizations intimately connected with a corporate mothership.
Obviously, security is much tighter in a private cloud, simply due to its exclusive nature. And security is Reason No. 1 that an enterprise, if sold on the cloud computing concept to begin with, will consider constructing its own private cloud formation.
How Dell approaches private cloud structures
Paul Bell, president of Dell Americas, told eWEEK Nov. 4 at a roundtable discussion at the Dreamforce conference in San Francisco that private cloud computing is indeed on the company's agenda and that it is a trend in which customers are beginning to invest.
"This [private cloud enterprise] is definitely on our radar. We work with partners like Rackspace, which has been supporting smaller businesses, trying to leverage hosting that way. We are also seeing a growing number of customers trying to built it [their own cloud systems] themselves," Bell said.
As a mainstream supplier of the hardware to put these things together, Dell is coming at this in several ways, Bell said.
"One situation is where we may have a joint [private cloud computing] project with Citrix or VMware -- I think right now we're doing about a third of VMware's [hardware] business -- in the server virtualization market," Bell said.
"Increasingly, our customers are working on technologies such as VDI [virtual desktop infrastructure]," Bell said. "This allows them to do client virtualization. The reality is, there are multiple means to the end state today."
VDI is a server-centric computing model that borrows from the traditional thin-client model but is designed to give system administrators and end users the best of both worlds: the ability to host and centrally manage desktop virtual machines in the data center while giving end users a full PC desktop experience.
"This reminds us an awful lot of where server virtualization was about three or four years ago. People were testing it, thinking about it, but it really wasn't out of production at that time. Now it's gone massively into the mainstream at a very rapid pace," Bell said.
VDI for use in private cloud computing appears to be headed in the same direction. However, the different client virtualization technologies that are available "are still in kind of a fragmented state," Bell said.
"There are many ways to do it. So we're in a process right now of scaling out our consulting capability ... to help customers decide upon how they would do that cloud," Bell said. "There are a lot of issues, starting with, 'What is the server backend?' to networking issues to 'What kind of device the client ought to be interfacing with?', and so on.
"No question that for security reasons, this [private cloud computing] is a very strong trend for our customers."