Community Clouds: The Next Big Thing?

Virtualization Reality

Community Clouds: The Next Big Thing?

By TMCnet Special Guest
Alan Murphy
  |  November 01, 2011

This article originally appeared in the Nov. 2011 issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY.

It’s becoming relatively trivial for an IT organization to seek out a cloud provider that meets its technical and business needs. In fact, most successful cloud providers today are catering to a particular benefit of cloud computing, be it the ability for IT to manage their own resources if they wish (or not to, if they prefer that route), or easy integration into the existing IT infrastructure, or even dirt-cheap turn-and-burn resources that briefly spike then go away forever. There’s pretty much a cloud provider solution available today to meet just about any IT or business need, but not all of them. For some reason the idea of community in the cloud is lagging behind.

Community clouds are based on the simple premise that like groups of cloud resource users will require like cloud running environments. Not all cloud users are cut from the same cloth, but not every cloud user is completely unique either. In fact the idea that a pre-defined computing template can be applied to most IT and cloud offerings – hence one of the drivers to the huge SaaS (News - Alert) adoption today and ITaaS adoption tomorrow – is what drives efficiency in the cloud. At the heart of a community cloud is the basic idea that an organization has peers that share the same interests, risks, and rewards. Much like a user group functions as an environment to share like-minded technical ideas, a community cloud comes together to share a like-minded computing and resource environment.

One of the most interesting applied concepts of a community cloud is the idea that shared resources within the cloud environment can be both shared and restricted at the same time. While virtualization has enabled us to manage our computing and networking resources at an extremely granular level, it’s also given us the ability to decide how we manage those resources. Although a physical server that’s part of a virtual cluster may be underpowered, only running a handful of virtual machines and having ample resources available to other machines in the cluster, we may not want to give out those resources to just any other VM that comes knocking. We may want to be very restrictive and only give that out within our trusted community.

In my mind, a community cloud is one of the best business use-cases for the cloud I’ve seen since we moved from the cloud buzzword to actual implementation. It just makes sense as a way to both divide up and manage cloud resources at more of a macro level, one step up the stack – you could probably add community clouds to the crowded layer 8, sharing OSI talk time with users, policies, and politics.

So why haven’t we seen a huge adoption rate of community clouds, and why isn’t everyone talking about community clouds like they’re the next big thing?

I think there are a few reasons we aren’t all rushing to build or join community clouds. The first is that many people just don’t know about community clouds – not that they don’t understand the concepts, but that they don’t know such a structure exists. I routinely talk about community clouds at conferences, specifically in the area of data risk and compliance, and every time I give a presentation that includes community clouds I get a questions asking what they are. Another reason is that with a few exceptions – such as fed and education – we don’t see a huge market push for big business to work together, or at least not publicly. We aren’t seeing pharmaceutical companies standing up and asking other pharmaceutical rivals to create a safe cloud area that everyone in that field can use equally. What’s the competitive advantage of playing on the same field as your closest competitor?

We’re not seeing a market driver from within, but we could see a market driver from outside.

Cloud providers that figure out how they can offer community-like cloud services that meet particular vertical needs will be the catalysts for opening up community. All it’s going to take is a few major cloud providers to offer vertical solutions that show that the providers understand the different needs between different industries. Compliance is a huge driver that can help kick-start these programs. Financial institutions have different regulatory needs than health care, but all health care companies share concerns over complying with HIPAA, for example. A strong cloud provider than can offer a community cloud for health care that includes secure and complaint storage will be able to attract health care providers on its own. We don’t have to wait for the health care industry to decide that community clouds are good for everyone; we just have to wait for providers to figure out there’s money to be made in community clouds. And then community clouds could instantly become the next big thing.

Alan Murphy is technical marketing manager of management and virtualization solutions with F5 Networks (News - Alert) (

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Edited by Stefania Viscusi