Public Cloud vs. Private Cloud: What’s Best For You?

By now, you’ve certainly heard of cloud computing technology, and you probably have a good idea of what cloud computing is (but just in case – Netflix and Dropbox are two examples of cloud-based services. One shares a media database with customers, the other offers remote storage to customers).

Once you get to cloud applications, though, there are two main technologies used in cloud services: public cloud, and private cloud.

As with many applications and services, there are advantages and disadvantages to both.  If you’re sharing media files with clients, you may need to scale your bandwidth quickly – so public cloud might be a better option.  On the other hand, if you have sensitive data that you’re storing remotely, you’ll want to make sure unauthorized users can’t access that data – so a private cloud solution would make more sense.

Here’s a more detailed breakdown of public vs. private cloud services.

Public Cloud

An example of the public cloud is Netflix, and an example of public cloud storage is Amazon Web Services (AWS).  Amazon rents you time and bandwidth on their data centers, which you can then use to configure apps, databases, or other internet-based features.

Public cloud services are easily scalable, and some even offer a free introductory plan so that you can evaluate and learn the service.  Here are some of the features of public cloud.

1. Pay-as-you-go: Most public cloud services offer their services for a fee based on the amount of time and computing resources you use.  For example, AWS offers a flexible pricing plan in which you pay for the compute time, storage, user connections, and other metrics that you actually use.  This is handy for ensuring maximum flexibility and utilization.  But if you’ve ever tried to navigate the AWS website, you might have difficulty actually finding the prices before being forced to create an account or talk to sales.  Also, the flexible nature of billing by usage can mean an unpredictable line-item cost in your IT budget.

2. Shared Hardware: Public cloud services are built on large companies that have massive server farms, which they rent out to multiple clients like time shares.  It’s a great business model – it allows smaller and less tech-savvy companies to get access to top-tier technology, without having to invest in training, talent, or hardware.  What that means, though, is that you’re sharing those resources with lots of company, in the form of users and administrators.

3. Hardware Performance: With a public cloud like AWS, there’s a whole “alphabet soup” of different acronym options you can choose from with regard to the compute capacity, storage performance, caching, and so forth.  Solutions offered by most cloud hosting companies are pretty well standardized and workable.  However, you’re at the mercy of the hosting company with regards to the performance of the cloud – if they don’t offer Solid State Drives (SSDs), for instance, then the speed of your service will be limited to the read-write speed of their Hard Disk Drives (HDDs).

4. Self-managed: Public cloud options are pretty much self-serve.  There’s a robust database of tools and tutorials available to teach you how to configure and utilize public cloud services – but those take time and talent.  So when you’re considering a public cloud, it’s important to build in the cost of implementing, maintaining, and updating the software that you’ll be running on the cloud.

Private Cloud

Now let’s talk private cloud. Some examples of private cloud are DropBox and Nerdio, which configure an isolated virtual server environment separately for each client.

Private cloud is characterized by a more robust feature set, stronger pre-configured security or compliance packages, and a suite of managed services.  Some will offer a free trial of services, but private cloud companies are structured more around building an ongoing relationship with clients.  Here are some of the key features of private cloud offerings:

1. Stable Billing: In most private cloud models, you are given a clear set of features which are enabled at a per-user-per-unit price.  For example, with a service like Nerdio you can expect to pay a certain price per-user-per-month.  For other services, you might pay a certain amount per-website-per-year.  Often, usage spikes are included in the price – so that if there’s a spike in utilization, you aren’t hit with a similar spike in your bill.  This might seem like it creates a situation where resources are underutilized, but the trade-off is a stable and predictable budget.

2. Security & Compliance: Each private cloud instance is dedicated to a single organization, and isolated from other organizations.  This creates an environment which is substantially more secure across the board; a breach in one area is contained and isolated from all other organizations’ environments.  Furthermore, many industry-standard compliance policies, such as Sarbanes-Oxley, PCI, and HIPAA, are only available in a private-cloud solution.  Because each private cloud is dedicated to a single client, it becomes much easier to configure the cloud to meet compliance requirements.

3. Ability to Customize: Many private cloud services offer the ability to customize not only the package of services, but also the base features of the service.  For example, a private cloud package might include the ability to choose the amount of data storage available to each user.  But private cloud services really excel in allowing each organization to customize features like the computing power of servers, network speed and throughput, server operating system, and many other features.

4. Hybrid Deployments: Another area where private cloud outpaces public cloud is in the ability to deploy hybrid hardware/virtual systems.  For example, if an organization requires a dedicated real-world server to run a high-speed database, that real-world server can be integrated into the virtual environment of the private cloud.  This is not possible with a public cloud.

5. Managed Services: In contrast to the “do-it-yourself” implementation of public cloud, many private cloud services implement and manage the infrastructure as part of their service.  This can help reduce investments in training and talent, making higher-end technology available to smaller organizations.  Furthermore, the patching, upgrading, and maintenance of the cloud services are all taken care of by the provider.  This means that a private cloud can offer a more substantial package of features, without an equal increase in operating costs.

The Choice is Yours

When comparing private cloud vs. public cloud services, it’s important to not just look at the up-front costs, but also the hidden and associated costs that might not be apparent up front.  Public cloud options can be a great fit for large enterprises – the ability to hold massive amounts of data and scale up and down with traffic is an outstanding feature.  But small and medium businesses might not be able to take advantage of standard public cloud features.  In fact, the lack of customization and compliance options can often make private cloud a much better solution for more specialized business applications.

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