The Virtual Cloud

A new term has just crossed my desk – new to me, at least. The Virtual Private Cloud, or VPC. I apologise for being late in the game on this one, but having finally arrived I wanted to explore the concept.

Essentially, a “cloud” is a network which houses services – so long as a user device can connect to the cloud, it can receive those services. So databases, websites, email, telephony etc. I’ve talked about this in an earlier post. The whole idea of the cloud model is that the supply of services can move from all internal to all external, or a mix, and access to those services can move from being premises-based to universal. The concept of “cloud computing” is a bit different, in that the aim here is to provide servers, from which services can be delivered, “out there” on the cloud. The user of the servers doesn’t care where they are, doesn’t care what they physically look like, but will expect to be able to access them at all times and expand/contract usage on demand – it’s generally assumed this implies virtualisation of computing resources.

In simple terms, a “cloud” is a network which someone else provides and manages for you, “cloud computing” is having sole use of computing resource within that cloud, and “cloud services” are applications providing services which reside on that computing platform.

By signing up to the concept of the cloud, you sign up to using shared assets – and you accept some loss of control in return for simplicity (ie: you don’t have to worry about managing it) and reduced costs.

But by buying anything from the cloud, you do get a segment of network, datacentre, or computer which is yours to use  as you like. It might be 100Gb of bandwidth between two points, or it might be a database, or a physical server, or a VM on a multi-VM server.

Which is why a cloud isn’t either public or private – if you host your sales systems on Salesforce.com, you don’t expect that anyone outside your organisation will have access to your data. They don’t. But you don’t expect that nobody else will have access to Salesforce.com. They do. You have a private slice.

So then, what is a private cloud? And why do you want one?

Well, you might not. Partly this is about control – by buying slices of other people’s services, servers or networks you implicitly accept some security risk. It’s probably very small, but it’s actually very difficult to know. Better then, perhaps, to extend your existing Virtual Private Network out to dedicated cloud computing resources. Now, instead of anyone on the internet being able to access your services – so long as their have the right user/password combo, or token key, or whatever else is required – only people on your network can access them. To gain access from outside requires first an extension of your network to their PC (eg: IPSec VPN tunnel) – tried and trusted technology.

But hang on, isn’t this missing the point of the cloud in the first place? The future is not one of ring-fenced computer systems and networks, it is one where devices build connections to each other based on their identity, or that of the user, over a trusted or untrusted network. That is how services become ubiquitous, that is how access becomes ubiquitous, that is how working practices become mobile and flexible to the extent that virtual teams which cross organisations can be created and torn down in an instant according to need.

For this reason, I’m very wary of the VPC concept. It may have the ability to win over customers who have yet to buy into the future of communications, but it could easily become a distraction from the real purpose of the communications age: to link people, and to ensure that information flow need have no boundaries so that they can work together to achieve their aims.

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About mikbarne
I'm a writer and freelance communications and collaboration consultant with nearly 20 years experience in UK telecommunications, specialising in VoIP, Unified Communications and Collaboration, and building effective communications architectures. Visit my Google+ Profile

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