It seems today that every enterprise solution has been relabeled as a “cloud solution” in order to fit today’s version of buzzword bingo. This leads to some level of confusion as to what a “cloud” really is, and what we mean when we talk about public clouds, private clouds, and hybrid clouds.
Cloud Infrastructure Basics
To address this question, we need to emphasize the difference between the cloud and traditional IT services. Cloud solutions typically refer to the use of public internet connectivity to make business processing power & storage available wherever it's needed. For example, instead of a customer relationship management (CRM) database being run and managed on servers in an internal datacenter, this application is hosted on someone else’s datacenter and connected to through the internet.
The Public Cloud
The biggest, most well-known cloud service providers offer public cloud services. Microsoft Azure and Amazon AWS are two of the biggest names in the public cloud market. Public cloud providers offer managed, decentralized IT services to their clients through an online portal.
In return for maintaining a data center and renting out its data processing power, businesses and organizations gain access to a reliable data infrastructure with no up-front equipment costs.
Benefits to the public cloud include:
- Cost-Effective: Public cloud clients generally pay a strict monthly rate for using the cloud, which makes it a very easy budget item so long as they avoid hidden fees and charges.
- Easy to Scale: Growth is easy to accommodate in a public cloud environment. Clients can adapt their subscription on an as-needed basis.
Drawbacks to the public cloud include:
- Inflexibility: Since the client is not in control of its own IT resources, there is little room for data processing flexibility. If the services your public cloud provider offers don't fit your needs exactly, you might need to make compromises.
- Security concerns: By delegating all of your data processing power to a third-party, you expose your data to risk. Although public cloud providers spend a great deal of resources on maintaining security, they can't always adhere to enterprise data security needs, especially in sensitive industries or fields.
The Private Cloud
An enterprise that already has its own equipment can implement a private cloud solution. In this case, existing infrastructure resources are decentralized and made available to the organization's employees, partners, and customers. This lets the organization retain a great degree of control, but it also forces it to assume responsibility for maintaining the equipment.
Even if a company has its own data center, it may find that the ongoing costs of maintaining a private cloud outweigh the benefits over time. Servers eventually need to be replaced, cybersecurity becomes increasingly complex, and organization growth needs to be accommodated continuously.
The benefits of private cloud solutions are:
- Control: Enterprises with their own private cloud solutions have total control over the way they use their equipment. They are guaranteed against data loss and hidden network inasmuch as they are capable of maintaining the equipment they own properly.
- Internal Flexibility: Private clouds are more flexible than their public counterparts. Internally, the enterprise has full control over how its various departments, partners, and clients use data – but it is not always easy to scale this flexibility to accommodate growth.
The drawbacks to private cloud solutions include:
- Up-Front Costs: Creating your own private cloud infrastructure is an expensive process. Significant hardware costs combined with equipment maintenance can overwhelm IT budgets in the short-term.
- Dependence on Personnel: Private cloud infrastructure is complex to create and implement. Enterprises who take on this responsibility tend to become disproportionately dependent on the architects of their system.
The Hybrid Cloud
For most organizations and institutions, the hybrid cloud offers a best-of-both-worlds solution for addressing information technology needs. In a hybrid cloud environment, core business processes are delegated to the private cloud while public cloud services take on the brunt of the organization's most resource-intensive tasks.
By keeping the most sensitive data and processes safely in an on-premises system, enterprises can keep their data secure while remaining well-positioned for eventual growth through the public cloud.
Hybrid cloud systems have the ability to automatically transition processes between the private and public cloud. Called cloud-bursting, this generates the greatest degree of efficiency when dealing with periods of peak usage.
There is no need for an organization to keep all of its business processes in a public cloud environment, nor to go through the costly and time-consuming process of implementing a private cloud. A hybrid cloud solution puts the most sensitive data in the safest place and puts the public cloud in charge of less critical day-to-day processing tasks.
Through the use of virtualization, enterprises can use the security and robustness of a private cloud solution while remaining flexible and easily scalable. As more enterprises and institutions adopt this approach, it will become an increasingly visible element of modern IT strategy worldwide.