Private and public thoughts

I must live a sheltered life. Until about a year or so ago, I’d never heard the term “private cloud”. Perhaps I wasn’t looking for it, perhaps I’d inadvertently masked and glossed over every instance of it I’d come across. One way or the other, I hadn’t come across the term.

Which was a good thing. Because it would have confused me no end. For some years now, I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the “cloud’, planning for it, preparing for it. For a variety of reasons, reasons I will come to in a later post.

But first, let me share what I think about private and public clouds. And let me start by using terms other than “private” and “public”: instead, I shall use the terms “shared” and “not shared”.

Public is shared. And private is not-shared. It’s as simple as that.

Which means, at the very least, there is an economic distinction to be made here. Let’s take planes as an example:

We have “shared” planes:

And then we have “not-shared” planes:

I’m not here to draw any moral or judgmental difference between shared planes and not-shared planes. What I am here to do is to emphasise the fact that shared planes are fundamentally different from not-shared planes, particularly when it comes to pricing and economics.

It’s not just the economics. There’s a strong sustainability angle at work here. You can share things sustainably and responsibly, but that’s not always the case. Let’s look at shared transportation as an example:

Here the shared state of the transportation is sustainable, and compares well with the not-shared lanes visible:

Here too, the transportation is shared, but somewhat less sustainably, less safely:


The economics, sustainability and safety of shared things don’t happen by accident: they are a function of design. You have to design to share effectively. Let’s look at food in this context:

Here’s some food designed to be shared. Lamb stew. In a cooking pot. Ladled out in heterogeneous servings. More people? No problem, just peel a few more potatoes, boil some carrots, add some stock. Stews are designed to be extensible.

And here’s food designed to be not-shared: Lamb again. But this time it’s lamb chops with vegetables, everything counted out precisely, just so much of every dish and no more. Not easy to extend.


So where are we? Things that are shared are fundamentally different from things that are not-shared: different from an economics perspective (far cheaper), different from a sustainability perspective (kinder to the environment, safer), even different from a design perspective (more flexible, easier to expand or contract). But all this doesn’t matter if people don’t actually want to share in the first place.

And this is where the new generations come in. They have a different attitude to sharing. They rent their films, their music, their books, their homes, even their bicycles.


Shared. Cheaper. More sustainable. Safer. More flexible. And consistent with the values and ethics of a generation less hung up about “owning” things.

When I see the terms “private cloud” and “public cloud” I translate them.

The “public cloud” is the cloud I know: Fundamentally based on sharing, with the economic, environmental, ecological and ethical benefits of sharing.

The “private cloud” is the cloud I don’t know. Fundamentally based on not-sharing, and therefore not-cloud.

Shared and not-shared.

The cloud is about sharing and is shared in concept and design.

The not-cloud is just what it says. Not cloud.

[My thanks go to Floydian for the HOV lane shot; Rosa Jackson for the Navarin d’Agneau; Private Jet Charter for the Learjet interior; Broadway Bistro for the lamb chops; and The Independent/AFP Photo/Geoff Caddick for the London cycles.]

13 thoughts on “Private and public thoughts”

  1. Well. I’ve not applied myself to sharing so far. I’m certainly going to. Enjoyed the post. A private cloud! I’d not thought of the incongruity of that too!

  2. Perhaps a bit idealistic. Have you ever worked in a library or another lending/rental facility? The goods do not always come back in the same state in which they left. Repairs and replacements both cost money. Someone must budget the resources to keep the shared items operational. Will the rents charged allow for that type of sustainability? Something to consider, and it isn’t trifling.

    As we all keep reading, too, these generations coming up quite often are used to accessing their various entertainments at no cost. It’s impractical and unfair to expect, e.g., musicians to devote years of their lives learning to play and perform and then to receive nearly no remuneration to sustain themselves and their own lives.

    I am fond of your blog and your worldview, and have been reading you for quite a long while. Just wanted to play a bit of devil’s advocate in favor of select ownership aspects. I don’t want to be compelled to borrow everything in the future! I’m old enough to remember mainframes (VAX/VMS, anyone?), however, and how absolutely liberating it felt to own even a floppy diskette on which to save one’s files.

  3. Hi JP – doesn’t it just come down to trust relationships between the cloud providers and the cloud users? You could argue that there are no private clouds, just clouds you don’t have access to?

  4. JP like the analogy you have used to explain private and public cloud
    Cost and Service would be the key offering that should be pitched to customers
    – provide a private jet service for price of a economy ticket.
    (** private cloud is nothing but a managed service)

  5. I really liked this post, is is a nice comparisson between public and private clouds. The bad thing is that at the end it makes me remember articles from people like Phil Wainewright that at his column at ZDNet states the public cloud is the only valid cloud definition, usually writing against any other definition of clouds with angry words.

  6. JP:
    I completely agree with your disticntion – thank you for your post.
    Corporate reality (even if it is just a transformational one) has a different take though. There is not just one cloud, there are many different kinds (ask a metereologist how many names they have for clouds).
    I come from a Swiss banking background and any notion of “giving away” any data to the “cloud” (or “whomever”) is doomed right from the start. Therefore, IT departments or service providers have created the term of the “corporate” or “private” cloud. It’s a simple marketing term to dissolve mistrust and any impression of intransparent cloudiness. In most cases, it means simple intra-corporate virtualization of servers – not more, not less. For banks or any other conservative, siloed company being obsesssed about the question of who owns the data, the applications or even the physical servers, it’s a big step into the right direction of effectively sharing (intra-company) resources.


  7. After thinking this through further, my brain really hurts!

    On your ‘about’ page you say: “I believe identity and presence and authentication and permissioning are in some ways the new battlegrounds” – I agree that this is fundamental to the argument, and how this is controlled (or not) will have a big say on how all this plays out.

    The kind of sharing I see going on here is based on the provision of ‘sharable’ resources – I ‘share’ a hired bicycle with strangers, but not my personal mountain bike. An airline has provided ‘shared’ transport facilities, but I’m not sharing my personal private jet. We have a network that enables the easy sharing of our digital resources, but sharing a copy here does not deplete my personal resources, so am I really sharing in the true sense? I consider this ‘weak’ sharing.

    Identity and presence and authentication and permissioning – enable me to ‘strongly’ share i.e. sharing where I really care, and that there may also be a cost or inconvenience to me. But I think this ‘strong’ sharing is where we truly forge our human bonds – your stew example is very powerful and sharing food runs deep.

    Wealth appears to provide the ability to opt-out of sharing, but often this is an illusion based on the creation of (false) scarcities.

    Can we make platforms that allow strong sharing, or can that only really happen in physical space?

  8. Management teams are still choosing on-premise for bills-of-material because they can walk into the IT room stare at file server, look the IT admin in the eye, and know with human certainty the basis of a companies valuation is secure. Unique intellectual property, Coke-a-Cola’s formula, Channel No. 5 secrete, keep these private or public.

    “Public is shared. And private is not-shared. It’s as simple as that”.

  9. Private cloud means shared amoung a subset of people. They may still not know each other but they are still sharing and yet some person off tge street might not be able to share.
    Municipal library is a good example if you have to live locally to be a member.
    Spotify is a private cloud. I’m in au. I can’t use it.
    There are many cloud services on gov and enterprises which are behind firewalls therefore private.

  10. Jericho Forum found it more useful to separate architectural differences from ownership when it created its Cloud Cube model.

    That model distinguishes Internal vs External, Proprietary vs Open, and Perimeterised vs De-perimeterised as architectural differences. To this we added Insourced vs Outsourced as a business dimension.

    We debated whether to include ownership (Private/Public) but found this generated more heat than light. Two cases in point: Google’s US government services running on dedicated machines in their datacentres; use of SETI@home on corporate computers. Debating whether these are public or private doesn’t really help much. Perimeterised / De-perimeterised (or “collaborative” or “multi-tenanted” if you prefer) is a more useful actionable distinction.

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