As Amazon continues to dominate public cloud computing, perhaps the bigger news is that private cloud adoption outpaces public cloud adoption by a considerable margin, according to new Forrester data.

If you dig deep into the data, however, the prevalence of private cloud solutions appears to do more with enterprises repurposing virtualization as "cloud," rather than any real shift to truly cloud-like deployments.

So is enterprise cloud simply one big exercise in cloudwashing? The answer is definitely maybe.

The Boom Of The Private Cloud

Given the hoopla around public cloud, it's somewhat surprising to see Forrester survey data reporting significantly higher deployments of private cloud solutions:

Credit: Forrester Credit: Forrester

While 30% actually reflects a decrease in private cloud adoption—previous Forrester surveys revealed that 33% of respondents had embraced private cloud computing in 2012—it's balanced by the 55% of IT decision-makers from North American companies with 1,000 or more employees surveyed, who say they are prioritizing private clouds in 2014; in 2012, only 46% of respondents said they made the private cloud a priority. 

Of course, this may be a question of definitions more than actual adoption. 

From what I've heard, VMware's vCloud Director has fewer than 100 deployments worldwide. CloudStack has about 200, and OpenStack is in that same ballpark. So if these three private cloud leaders notch those kinds of numbers, there's no way we're anywhere near 30% adoption of true private cloud deployments.

As Forrester analyst Lauren Nelson notes in the report, much of private cloud adoption doesn't really involve the cloud at all:

For years, enterprises have been labeling enhanced virtualization environments as private cloud. In 2013, Forrester saw an increase in the number of private clouds meeting each core requirement. What may appear to be decreased adoption is actually decreased cloudwashing across many of the core characteristics and an increasing maturity in the North American market. This is a step forward, but cloudwashing will continue for quite some time, with 92% of private clouds still falling short of the core requirements.

VMware leads the "private cloud" pack, according to Forrester, with Microsoft and Cisco second and third, respectively.

But, again, is this the cloud at all?

Cloudwashing: Here To Stay?

It's understandable that private cloud vendors would try to dress up their old technology as newfangled cloud. They want to protect their existing investments, and repurpose old technology for new workloads. One major problem with this approach, however, is that in so doing they largely ignore the true benefits of cloud computing, or those adopting it in droves—namely, the developer.

Gartner analyst Lydia Leong hits this nail on the head, arguing that "the vast majority of the dollars spent on cloud IaaS are much more heavily influenced by developer desires than by IT operations concerns." Perhaps more accurately stated, the vast majority of true cloud dollars are much more heavily influenced by developers than IT operations. IT operations want to keep using VMware. Developers want Amazon Web Services (AWS).

Over time, of course, VMware may be able to parlay its entrenched position with IT operations into real cloud adoption, as Leong points out in a separate post. But for now, those that want the full benefits of cloud computing are looking beyond their firewall to AWS and other public cloud options. After all, according to Forrester, a mere 8% of private clouds actually meet the definition of cloud computing, offering features like self-service and full automation.

But while the prevalence of such features is on the rise, so is cloudwashing among the private cloud set.

Meanwhile, Public Cloud Keeps Growing

It's very possible that IT operations simply don't know a real cloud when it sees one. Redmonk analyst Stephen O'Grady suggests as much in response to the suggestion that private cloud is outpacing the public cloud.

AWS cloud chief Andy Jassy last year declared that private cloud offers "none of the benefits” of Amazon's public cloud, and that it's merely a "stopgap" measure introduced by "old-guard" IT companies to protect their businesses." Jassy went on to insist that "if you’re not planning on using the public cloud in some significant fashion, you will be at a significant competitive disadvantage."

IT might not like Jassy's message, but developers certainly do. Commenting on Forrester's survey data, James Urquhart, director of cloud management at Dell, suggests that "Many IT orgs still in denial" of just how potent—and different—cloud computing can be. But their developers are not so much.

It's fair to say that public cloud dominates among developers, given the agility it provides. In fact, separate Forrester survey data shows a clear shift to public cloud computing in that regard.

Maybe it's time IT talked with developers and got on the same cloud.

Image via mnsc on Flickr