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The Pros and Cons of Public, Private, and Hybrid Clouds


Early in the digital era, businesses invested in all the hardware and software required to run their in-house operations. Today, cloud computing has changed how organizations approach, and pay for, their computing needs.

Cloud services have reduced the need for businesses to invest in expensive hardware, as well as in the resources and effort required to maintain that hardware, says 4D CEO Jack Bedell-Pearce. Now, businesses can run many computing operations via the cloud.

To do so, however, organizations will need a clear understanding of their cloud options. When it comes to questions about flexibility, scalability and security, organizations must understand the differences between public clouds, private clouds and hybrid clouds.


Public Cloud

Public cloud is currently the most common cloud deployment model, and the one most people think of when they think about the cloud.

In a public cloud, service providers make their resources publicly available online. These resources can be accessed by anyone with an internet-connected device. Google Drive is one example of a software as a service (SaaS) option available on the public cloud.

Erik Anderson at IBM compares public cloud computing with public transit. People who use public transit rather than owning their own vehicles are engaging in the transportation version of a public cloud. Those who own their own car and use it as their primary form of transportation, by contrast, are using a private cloud analogue model of transit.

Public cloud, like public transportation, limits users’ control over certain details of their computer use or trip, Anderson writes. In exchange for these limits, users gain benefits such as being able to pay only when they use the public cloud or public transportation.

Public cloud options provide a number of benefits for users, writes Microsoft student partner Karan Singh. Public cloud tools tend to be highly scalable, allowing a business to continue accessing the tools it needs even in periods of rapid growth. Pricing is often pay-as-you-go, allowing businesses to access only the resources they need, without the added burden of maintenance or hardware and software updates. Many public cloud options are easy to set up and launch, as well.

Public cloud use presents some challenges as well. For some businesses, security requirements, industry standards or government regulations may prohibit the use of public cloud tools. An organization can find its flexibility restricted, as well, because it does not own the hardware or services it accesses via the public cloud. A business that has unique needs may struggle to fulfill them with publicly available cloud resources.



Private Cloud

In a private cloud, computing services and infrastructure are maintained on a private computer network, rather than being accessed through the web.

For most users, the primary benefit of the private cloud is that it lets them control where their data is located. When their companies have invested significant money in infrastructures and business processes, this kind of control is crucial.

This control, however, comes with costs. In order to maintain a private cloud, a business must purchase and maintain the software and infrastructure required to run that cloud, Hurwitz & Associates President Judith Hurwitz and fellow authors write. These purchases add costs for the business.

Some cloud computing companies offer third-party private cloud services, but these also come with oversight requirements. When data-location control is paramount, however, a private cloud’s benefits can greatly outweigh its costs, particularly when the private cloud protects personal information or proprietary data.


Hybrid Cloud

A hybrid cloud model combines private and public cloud options. A hybrid cloud uses on-premises infrastructure to manage some data and applications, while using the public cloud to manage others.

Hybrid cloud use can be a good choice for organizations that want to streamline their computing costs and resource use, but must meet stringent regulations or standards regarding data privacy and security. Highly sensitive data can be stored in a private cloud, while other day-to-day applications that do not deal with sensitive data may be accessed via the public cloud.

“For example, if we are storing confidential information such as credit card information or medical records we absolutely must store that data in a private cloud but when it comes to non-sensitive info, we can store it in a public cloud if it keeps costs down considerably,” writes Dejan Lukan, CEO of Protean Security.

According to Dylan Thomas, director of cloud solutions at Woolpert, beginning with a public cloud before moving to a hybrid model is one of four key steps for organizations seeking to optimize their cloud use. For highly sensitive data, however, a company may have no choice but to rely on a private cloud or hybrid cloud option if they wish to meet regulatory requirements.

It’s not unusual for businesses to set up a hybrid cloud in which their business-critical systems and most sensitive data are stored on a private cloud, but other business operations are run through the public cloud, writes Thomas Foster Wallace at ITGlobal. Such an arrangement offers an optimal balance of cost and security for many organizations.



Choosing the Right Cloud Options

The growth of cloud computing has in turn prompted an explosion of computing options for a wide range of businesses. Some options, however, are better suited to certain businesses than others.

Public cloud use works well for businesses that need cost-efficient, accessible and easily scalable tools and options, writes Todd Piper, chief information officer at Service Express. Its key disadvantages include:

  • Having no control over outages or service restoration timelines. 
  • Limited customization options. 
  • Little control over security of data that resides in the public cloud. 
  • Limited ability to scale as needed.
  • Additional costs associated for ops teams as well as with maintaining physical infrastructure. 

Private cloud alleviates some of those cost and control challenges. At the same time, it puts the onus of data security on you, as well as responsibility for things like hardware and software updates, maintenance and troubleshooting.

Hybrid cloud offers a middle route between these two options, combining the security of a private cloud with the ease and accessibility of a public cloud.

When weighing cloud options, it’s important to consider several factors, including:

  • Security. The more public a cloud is, the more likely it is to face security threats. If data security laws or regulations apply, pay particular attention to whether any particular cloud option meets those requirements.
  • Costs. Many public clouds offer a pay-as-you-go model, which can help control costs, but which can also run up the total bill if services are not turned off after use. Private and hybrid clouds present higher upfront costs in exchange for greater security and data control.
  • Performance and resources. Growing companies can scale public cloud use as their own income grows. Private cloud is limited by the organization’s investment in hardware capacity, and hybrid cloud falls in between.

Every business has different needs when it comes to computing. Understanding the differences between public, private and hybrid cloud options can help a business ensure it chooses the right tools for its needs.


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