Community cloud: The answer to the public/private debate?

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wpid-thumbnail-aa47c20870d15a5117d7492b88c3ffee1-500x383Should you turn to a public or private cloud solution? Discussions prizing the first or the second option are endless. Public cloud means flexibility, unlimited scalability, frictionless consumption and less worry for your CIO.

On the other hand, private cloud gives you full control over the environment and keeps your data close to you, preferably under your nose—or at least within the borders of your country. Public cloud is relatively cheap, while a private cloud might get pricey.

But what if neither of those two options fit your needs? You may not trust public cloud providers, but at the same time you are searching for the way to cut through complexity of the private cloud. The answer to your needs might be a community cloud.

Why public cloud isn’t always the right answer

For organizations from highly regulated industries like banking, government or utilities it is very difficult to accept the openness and globalization proposed by the public cloud providers. Questions regarding required compliance certifications, data placement and the interpretation of the local laws inhibit wide adoption of cloud computing. Although regulatory bodies can issue appropriate certifications confirming that the given cloud platform meets the specific industry requirements, organizations (especially in the European Union) are very careful with the interpretation of local laws. As a result, many barriers regarding public cloud consumption are based on the fear of non-compliance rather then concrete requirements regarding security, data placement or governance model. Nevertheless cloud providers must address those fears.

Constraints and requirements around financial data processing are complex enough to successfully discourage banks, for example, from more widely adopting public cloud. It’s a shame. Many of the next generation services, analytics capabilities and platforms are available only through the public cloud. As a result, banks cannot fully utilize the potential of new technologies available on the market. It impacts the quality of service and the ability to innovate.

What is community cloud?

From a technical standpoint, community cloud is a multitenant platform that is accessible only for a specific subset of customers. A good example is the U.S.-based dedicated IBM SoftLayer cloud for federal agencies. In short, only governmental entities sharing common characteristics like security, auditability and privacy concerns/requirements can use this platform. Such an approach gives much more confidence in the platform, which cloud consumers will use to deploy their sensitive workloads.

There are many variations how the community cloud could be set up, who can govern it and which subscription model to use. In contrary to the general-purpose cloud platform, community cloud gives much greater flexibility when it comes to industry-specific regulation compliance. The fact that all consumers are sharing similar concerns and are bound by the similar law regulations makes it easier to create a common industry-specific governance model. Additionally, community cloud providers are much more willing to bend and adjust to the requirements that might be difficult to fulfill in a public cloud scenario.

Industry-specific community cloud

Each highly regulated industry has its own special requirements, best practices and guidelines describing the rules of cloud computing consumption models. Therefore, an industry-specific community cloud makes sense as it groups the similar organizations within one generally accepted platform. To address data privacy and placement concerns, IBM is working with the local, in-country partners to define, deploy and run industry-specific community clouds. In general, the concept of such a cloud is based on 4 types of participants:

  1. Community cloud governance body: Publicly trusted entity that takes responsibility for governing the community cloud platform.
  2. Community cloud provider/technology partner: A trusted and reliable partner that will be able to set up and operate the community cloud platform while fulfilling industry-specific requirements and laws.
  3. Cloud consumers: Organizations that belong to the specific industry, sharing similar data processing regulatory concerns. Cloud consumers have a chance to utilize services provided by the community cloud according to their needs and their cloud adoption maturity level.
  4. Regulatory entities: Organizations responsible for defining, enforcing and controlling industry-specific regulations. Their role is to assure that the platform is compliant with the international and local law.

The community cloud business model is yet another discussion. At the end of the day, this closed and regulated environment needs to make a commercial sense for all participants. The cloud provider cannot reach out to any willing customer as the rules of participation in the community cloud are strictly defined, balancing supply and demand is a crucial component of the success. Once the critical mass is achieved and the community cloud becomes a commercially viable solution, there are many benefits for its consumers. Some of those are:

  • Access to the infrastructure as a service: Subscription-based or pay-per-use model allows for dynamic capacity adjustments, help to achieve flexibility which is so much needed in context of innovation, experimentation and new value creation.
  • Industry tailored security mechanisms: Once the main players in the industry and the governing and regulatory bodies agree on common interpretation of a security and data privacy requirements, it becomes commonly accepted that the given community cloud is compliant.
  • Community-driven governance: A healthy community cloud allows all of the cloud consumers to shape the governance model of the platform. This should assure that no major requirement is omitted that would inhibit potential customers from using this platform.
  • Access to innovative services: It is up to the technology partner to enrich the community cloud platform with the business and technology services helping consumers to innovate in a way that is difficult to achieve using private cloud or on-premises data centers. Support for advanced analytics & big data, Internet of Things, mobile and other emerging technologies are good examples of higher value that the community cloud can deliver.
  • Smooth transition to the public (or private) cloud: Community cloud can be used to help with a hybrid cloud adoption model for the organizations that are just starting to experiment with cloud computing. This platform will deliver safe environment for tests and proof of concepts.

Community cloud is an important component of the overall hybrid cloud marketplace. It helps to address industry specific requirements at the same time delivering the value of a public cloud. It’s a great example of a “glocal” approach where the providers with global experience cooperate with in-country partners to deliver services tailored to the needs of a local market.

IBM Distinguished Engineer, CTO for Banking

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