Provisioning private clouds doesn't need to be agonising

Man drawing on glass indicating growth

MSPs want to deliver a range of cloud services to their customers, from public cloud to managed private clouds. Typically, they think of a private cloud as a customised, one-off solution for a specific customer that comes with dedicated hardware and a custom service configuration. However, provisioning a private cloud doesn't have to be a painful, customised activity that limits time to revenue.

You're doing private cloud all wrong

MSPs began offering private clouds because customers asked for the additional control and security. Solely offering a public cloud-style service is now a race to the bottom with diminishing margins in the face of competition from mega-scale clouds like AWS, GCE, and Azure. Private cloud is a way to meet customer needs while boosting revenues - but there are challenges.

The traditional approach to provisioning a private cloud is for the MSP to assess the customer's needs and then build that infrastructure from scratch. This means racking specific servers, firewalls, and other systems, buying various software licenses, and then layering these to deliver customised self-provisioning, billing, and other functions. The process can take several weeks (delaying time to revenue), and it must be repeated for each private cloud customer.

Between hardware setup, software installation and configuration, this approach can be expensive, requiring a lot of manpower. It's also difficult to manage as customer needs change, and servers provisioned for a customer at the beginning of the year may no longer be adequate 12 down the line.

What if the MSP could carve out private zones of resources from a unified private/public cloud infrastructure? And what if the private cloud provisioning process was a simple and easily repeatable structure that reduced time to revenue and maximized the use of hardware resources?

Building hosted private clouds

In a cloud infrastructure, the MSP sees no difference between public and private cloud deployments. The MSP builds a flexible, secure cloud service and provisions resources from it for either public or private cloud workloads. Just as the MSP provisions (or allows customers to self-provision) public cloud resources, it can provision private cloud resources that are secure and isolated from other customers.

From a customer perspective, the private cloud has the security and isolation they need - there's no chance of their data leaking out to the public. What they see is that they have the resources they paid for, and they're not in a shared environment. It's like the difference between living in a hotel with your own room and living in a hostel with a bed among many beds.

How do you achieve a scalable hybrid approach?

To offer public and/or private clouds, MSPs need a cloud platform with orchestration power across a range of hypervisors. MSPs need to be able to centrally manage these services; it's important they can rapidly see all servers, firewalls, storage and VSs to be able to react to customer needs as they arise. Vital to this is the need to be able to create permission-based user roles and user groups. Leveraging a solution that also intricately calculates resources for billing by customer is another element that will save the MSP's man-hours and help them quickly improve their margins.

With the ability to treat the entire compute, network, and storage infrastructure as a flexible zone of resources, MSPs can easily assign specific resources to specific clients and bill for them accordingly. The process becomes a software-based provisioning activity that requires fewer technicians and eliminates custom racking and stacking for individual clients.

Through the right cloud management platform, properly-trained personnel, and some consulting from the cloud infrastructure vendor, one or two technicians should be able to provision a new private cloud in hours rather than weeks. What's more, the MSP can replicate one customer's setup for the next customer, and simply tweak the resource allocations or service mix to suit the new customer.

What this translates to for the MSP is a more efficient use of resources, faster time to revenue for new customers, higher revenue from private cloud services, and easier resource planning for future needs. For example, having a zone of resources makes it easier to plan ahead; the MSP can plan to repurpose infrastructure when one customer is outgrowing a particular set of servers, and put another customer on it.

Finally, it also means MSPs can be more competitive with their private cloud offerings. By provisioning private clouds from a pool of resources, they don't have to buy specific software licenses and hardware for each client, and they can pass some of the savings on to the customers.

Hosted private clouds will provide the higher revenues and scale needed for MSPs to survive; being able to rapidly provision isolated private clouds from an overall unified pool of resources is the key to success.

Caroline Paine is director of MSP sales at OnApp