Public vs Private vs Hybrid Clouds: Your Guide to Cloud Storage

Cloud computing is fast becoming a universal standard in business. 96% of businesses use the cloud in one way or another. What really differentiates cloud strategies are the different types of cloud solutions.

So, what are the differences between public, private and hybrid clouds? Can you choose just one? Do you have to choose just one? Where is your current cloud plan potentially letting you down? And if you aren’t in the cloud, where should you make your first investment?

These are some of the critical questions that we will answer here in our guide to cloud storage, which will cover public vs private vs hybrid clouds. Keep reading and find out what the cloud can do for you.

The Public Cloud

The public cloud is really just the internet. Things that people often consider ‘the internet’, like Gmail or Dropbox are public cloud solutions. Public cloud services are the most common cloud storage option and are offered by a large (and growing) list of service providers including communications, tech and commerce giants like Microsoft, Amazon etc. as well as smaller dedicated service providers.

Where a public cloud package delivered by AWS, for example, gives you more flexibility than a software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions like Gmail, is that you are renting the compute and storage capabilities to run whatever software you want in the cloud. However, like anything you do online, the public cloud is cheap and scalable, relying on distributed servers and storage infrastructure that generally consists of low-cost storage nodes with directly attached commodity drives. Content is distributed across these nodes by an object-based storage stack.

Cloud service providers usually charge their users on a per-gigabyte-per-month basis. Some service providers may charge additional access charges and fees dependent on the volume of data transferred. The cloud provider is responsible for the development, management and maintenance of all the shared computing resources, which are distributed between multiple tenants all over the network. This creates a robust infrastructure basis, resilient to outages.

Public clouds allow businesses to shift the responsibility for maintaining infrastructure to the cloud provider, and access storage and compute resources on demand — scaling up and down dynamically to match needs. Although the use of shared resources reduces security and access speed guarantees, it enables users to avoid any infrastructure costs and switch off resources when not in use.

Pros of the Public Cloud

Like all cloud solutions, the public cloud provides flexible connectivity, bridging the gap between remote teams and easing collaboration. However, the public cloud brings some unique benefits that drive its popularity across a broad range of industries and business:

  • Affordability — With the public cloud, there are no setup costs and no initial outlay. Pricing plans vary, but when used for the right applications, the public cloud is a very cheap way to access IT resources.
  • Scalability — It’s quick and easy for users to scale their public cloud solution up or down when experiencing a period of expansion or contraction — no matter what the time frames. You only pay for what you use, adding to the affordability of the solution.
  • Easy to manage — Public clouds are zero maintenance as the service provider takes care of all your maintenance needs. You don’t need an in-house IT teams able to manage and maintain your cloud network.
  • Flexible and reliable — Public cloud solutions and pricing structures are highly flexible. What’s more, because they use large networks of distributed servers, this mitigates the risk of failure and downtime. Although you might not get access speed guarantees, the public cloud is one of the least likely IT resources to entirely go down or suffer data loss.

Cons of the Public Cloud

While public clouds are popular, affordable and versatile, they do have certain limitations:

  • Lack of infrastructure control — You don’t own public cloud infrastructure. This can be a benefit to maintenance, but means you are relying on the policies and practices of a third party. For some very sensitive applications and data, this is not a viable solution.
  • Potential high total cost of ownership — No upfront costs are great, but you still need to pay every month. Like renting vs buying a house, your costs can be end up higher in the long run. With the cloud, this is particularly true if your usage requirements remain pretty consistent. For the inexperienced public cloud user, there are further cost issues that arise in complex pricing schemes with different price points for upload, download and usage.
  • Reduced security — The public cloud is shared infrastructure. That means that other users will have access to the same infrastructure. Although the public cloud is secure for more practical purposes, the level of security that can be delivered is limited compared to private clouds or traditional IT infrastructure.
  • Limited access speed guarantees — the shared infrastructure of the public cloud also impacts access speeds. Just like how your internet speeds can be impacted high-traffic demands in your area, how fast you will be able to access your public cloud infrastructure will be affected by other users.

Recommendations for Use

The flexibility of the public cloud provides a lot of positive use cases. Anyone in need of dynamic scaling capabilities needs public cloud solutions. There is really no simpler way to scale up your IT resources at the drop of a hat, and the public cloud is the only way to ‘turn off’ IT infrastructure when not needed.

Businesses with project based IT needs and go through periods of low demand benefit greatly from the public cloud. Fast growing businesses also greatly benefit from the ability to scale up operations without suffering large capital investments and the need to plan ahead and build infrastructure before it is needed.

The public cloud can also form an important part of disaster recovery planning — providing access to scalable resources that can leap into action if needed. However, if looking to build a disaster recovery plan in the cloud, make sure to do your research.

Lastly, the public cloud can be a great archive solution, freeing up faster and more expensive drives for more active storage needs. Just make sure that security weaknesses don’t create a problem.

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The Private Cloud

The private cloud takes the public cloud and package it in dedicated hardware. Instead of providing you access to a rented portion of a public resource, you purchase and build that resource yourself. Rather then being the internet, a private cloud is like a remote access intranet — a private business network built just for you.

Private clouds can be built and managed by IT service providers — hosted in a third-party data centre, not requiring any in-house investment in maintenance. They can also be built and maintained in-house, simply providing your teams with remote and flexible access.

The use of dedicated hardware improves security, allows for guarantees around access speeds, and delivers an all around better user experience. The problem is that the use of private infrastructure removes the dynamic scaling abilities that people look for in the cloud and is delivered by public cloud solutions. Although private clouds are usually for a single tenant, some larger enterprises may use multi-tenancy features to segregate access by department or location. However, this still does not remove the problem of making capital purchases to expand overall capabilities.

Pros of the Private Cloud

It’s not hard to imagine the inherent advantages of moving to a dedicated private cloud:

  • Customisability — Because you have your own dedicated solution, you can completely customise your cloud environment to suit your needs.
  • High performance and efficiency — The use of dedicated hardware means that you can quantify usage and make guarantees around access speeds. Overall, the performance capabilities of private cloud outstrip their public counterparts.
  • Security — Because resources are not shared with anyone else, security is improved, you can tailor your security to your own needs and assure appropriate compliance.

Cons of the Private Cloud

While private clouds can be highly advantageous, they are not without their disadvantages:

  • Expense — You can rent private cloud servicer on OPEX (operating expense) models. However, because you are using private infrastructure, there will always be greater upfront costs.
  • Lack of scalability — Scaling a private cloud is far more similar to scaling traditional storage hardware than a public cloud. You need to plan ahead and invest in increased capacity before it is required. If you build the private cloud yourself, you can’t scale back resources if they are no longer needed. If you are renting a private cloud, you can scale back resources. However, because you aren’t sharing servers, the increments by which you can scale up or down are limited.

Recommendations for Use

These solutions are best suited to businesses that work in highly regulated industries (like financial institutions), or large companies that require advanced data centre technologies. They’re also suitable for tech companies that require robust security and rigorous control over their IT workloads and the infrastructure that supports them.

Private clouds are great for any use case where your IT demands are known and relatively consistent, but you want greater remote connectivity than traditional local hardware will allow. Private clouds are robust, fast and secure — making them a great resource for most business. Their relative in-flexibility when it comes to scaling, however, makes them a far different solution to the public cloud that operates much more like traditional hardware.

The Hybrid Cloud

Hybrid cloud solutions offer the best of both worlds — at least potentially. They combine on-site private solutions with public clouds so that tenants can take advantage of both. Applications and data are shared between the two, based on policies and priorities, making for a much more customisable and scalable solution.

The main benefit of the hybrid cloud is that it allows for the seamless use of public and private cloud resources by single applications, and across the business. You are allowed to silo sensitive material, and data to which you need guaranteed fast access to a private cloud, while dynamic scaling needs can be accomodated in the public cloud.

Hybrid solutions are becoming wildly popular with Microsoft, Red Hat and Amazon, with even Google now getting in on the act.

Pros of the Hybrid Cloud

Broadly speaking, hybrid clouds deliver the benefits of both public and private cloud, making them a solution with a lot of benefits:

  • Flexible — You can allocate resources to either private or public cloud storage depending on where, when and how you need them.
  • Scalability — where public cloud resources are concerned, a hybrid cloud delivers the same kind of dynamic scalability that public clouds allow.
  • Secure and reliable — The private cloud segments of your hybrid cloud solution deliver all the security guarantees of a private cloud. Further, distributing resources across private and public cloud makes for increased reliability and redundancy.
  • Cost-effective — With a hybrid cloud, users can mix and match their use of public and private cloud resources, only using the more expensive private cloud where absolutely required. This delivers cost effective infrastructure that is ideal for your exact usage needs.
  • Easy to implement — Hybrid clouds can be phased gradually into business operations for an easy transition.

Cons of the Hybrid Cloud

It’s easy to see why hybrid solutions are increasingly popular, but do they have any disadvantages?

  • Integration — Building a cloud infrastructure across different locations and categories requires very strong compatibility and integration, which may present logistical difficulties to some organisations.
  • Can become complex — When managing an evolving combination of private and public clouds, you can encounter complexities and complications as your operation grows.
  • Cost — Hybrid cloud solutions can become expensive over time. You need to scrutinise how you are paying for different elements of your hybrid cloud services.

Recommendations for Use

Hybrid clouds represent the perfect mid-point for operations that want to optimise their cloud based investments without compromising on the inherent value of either a private or public cloud. They’re useful for businesses that require an agile and proactive approach to their operations, allowing them to switch between different delivery models for tasks and applications.

The versatility of a hybrid cloud solution makes it hard to pin down any one best use case. If you need to scalability of the public cloud for some of your IT requirements, and the security and reliability of the private cloud for others, what you actually need is a hybrid cloud. They’re perfect for those with multifaceted security, performance and regulatory requirements or those who want to improve the security of their existing cloud based solutions.

What About Multi-Cloud?

Solutions need to be easy to integrate into your existing operations with minimal disruption or downtime. Hybrid clouds are appealing because they are extremely versatile and flexible but also because they represent an integrated system. Users don’t want to create silos that actually make internal communication harder just so that they can take advantage of different storage solutions.

The term multi-cloud solutions is often used interchangeably with hybrid solutions, although these are a slightly different beast. Multi-cloud solutions use several different public clouds, often with different service providers. There are some advantages to this (such as reducing vendor lock-in) but they are not integrated solutions. If you aren’t sure what kind of cloud to use, professional services can help find the solution that fits your needs.

Choose an Effective Solution for Your Business

Needless to say, the “right” solution for your operation will depend largely on your needs, your industry, your operational priorities and, of course, your budget.

In order for a cloud solution to be effective, it needs to integrate seamlessly with your conventional hardware. Even in an increasingly cloud-enabled world, the need for reliability and speed will inevitably require operations to keep their standard hardware investments.

This can lead to a tricky balancing act.

Partnering with IT managed services can allow you to benefit from whichever cloud solution suits you, without needing to worry about setting up, upgrading software or hardware, or successfully integrating the two. They can set up or host private/hybrid cloud servers while managing seamless integrations across your network.

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Rob Townsend

Rob Townsend

Rob is a co-founder at Nexstor and has dedicated his career to helping a range of organisations from SME to Enterprise to get ahead of the game when it comes to their compute, storage and data needs.

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