The public cloud computing market is becoming increasingly competitive with new entrants focusing on hybrid offerings that combine public and private clouds. That's leaving some asking the market-leading public cloud provider, Amazon Web Services, where its private cloud offering is.

The question was posed to CTO Werner Vogels at GigaOm Structure last month and Vogels didn't give any indication of plans to offer customers a way to run Amazon-style clouds on their premises behind their own firewalls. Instead, he says the company offers a variety of ways for customers to build private-like cloud on Amazon's infrastructure. Also, acknowledging that customers will not abandon their own resources, Amazon has built ways to connect existing on-premises systems with its public cloud. "We've been doing quite a bit for people looking for that model," Vogels said.

[MORE CLOUD:How to build a private cloud]

For example, the company has tools like:

  • Direct Connect, which allows customers to build dedicated 10 gigabit connections between their on-premises resources and the public cloud.
  • Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), which enables a section of Amazon's cloud to be cordoned off to be used just for a single user.
  • Storage Gateway, which is Amazon software that can be run in storage blocks on customer premises and that automatically backs them up to the cloud.
  • Amazon Workflow Engine, which has the ability to automate certain tasks on-premises and in the cloud.
  • Identity and Access management supports integration with LDAP and Active Directory.

But still, there is no Amazon private cloud that customers can run in their own data centers. This is a drastically different approach from others, especially some of Amazon's biggest potential competitors. Microsoft, for example, touts its ability to combine public cloud Azure services and private clouds run on Windows Systems Center and Hyper-V. Rackspace, one of Amazon's biggest current competitors, has a private cloud offering for customers based on OpenStack. The Rackspace private cloud is basically a combination of tools from the open source cloud computing platform OpenStack that is meant to work with the company's OpenStack-powered public cloud.

VMware is set to jump into this market this year from almost the exact opposite direction as Amazon. The company has a strong installed base in the enterprise for management software, most notably vSphere, which many companies use as the basis for their private clouds. To fill out its hybrid cloud strategy, VMware will launch a public cloud later this year named vCloud Hybrid Cloud Services. Executives say the biggest advantage of that vSphere can be used as a common management platform across the public and private cloud.  

Despite these other offerings, does Amazon really need a private cloud service for customers to run in their own data centers though? Carl Brooks of the 451 Research Group says not really; it may help with marketing, but the company has a dominant market-share position in the Infrastructure-as-a-Service market without it, so the lack of an on-premises private cloud from AWS does not seem to be hurting the company right now.

Plus, there are dozens of third-party integration tools that allow users to connect on-premises resources with Amazon's cloud to create a hybrid cloud. BMC, CA, RightScale, Enstratius (now owned by Dell), and others all provide such tools. There are also vendors who sell software for building private clouds that integrate with AWS, including Eucalyptus and CloudScaling, which uses OpenStack code.

"Given Amazon's competitive position, it hasn't been necessary" for the company to have a private cloud option, Brooks says. "I'm sure they get asked about it all the time though, so it must be something they struggle with." But just throwing together a private cloud distribution could be a complicated effort for AWS, which runs a secretive, and complex distributed architecture that has been finely tuned for its massive-scale operations.

Perhaps this could all be changing though, given recent news. Amazon recently had somewhat of a coup when it won a $600 million contract to build a cloud for the CIA that would run on the government agency's premises but be operated by Amazon. That sounds an awful lot like a private cloud, and one that Amazon doesn't offer out-of-the-box for regular customers. Is it just a one-time deal given the size of the contract? Or could it be a sign of things to come from Amazon?

Network World senior writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at [email protected] and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.