Most technologies experience continuous change and innovation, and with the extent to which cloud computing has significantly evolved over the last ten years, it is no exception. Previously, the cloud was for more for technology-based sectors, whereby the computing geniuses of the world would test new, revolutionary ideas.
Now, the landscape of the cloud is far more widely incorporating and open for business, with companies taking up residence for multiple reasons and to serve a huge range of sectors. All have asked themselves the same question: which is better, where does the future lie, in the private or public cloud?
Two competing forces
Both forms of cloud are scalable, flexible clusters of computing power, usually servers, and associated services including management. The public cloud is easy to access and generally provided by large corporations such as Google or Amazon.
On the other hand, the private cloud is slightly different. Private clouds are for the exclusive use of a specific entity, and they may be hosted either by that entity itself, using its own equipment and location or, more frequently, hosted by a third-party provider that manages the private cloud, ensuring updates, quality of service and security.
While it is common to hear people defending their preferred cloud provision, and plenty of published articles contrast the two, as time passes it becomes less appropriate to discuss cloud computing in these terms. For as the market matures, and more people experience cloud computing in various formats, clearly there is a place for both forms, but perhaps in slightly different formats or proportions.
What's right for you?
When it comes to selecting cloud provision, is not which is 'better', but rather the stage of maturity of the business (what is appropriate for a start-up may be much less appropriate when it is an established business), the nature of its work (if the same business diversifies, it may need to change its cloud) and the sector that the business operates in.
Social, legal and regulatory matters also affect cloud computing. With an increasing focus on privacy and data protection comes a need to ensure the highest levels of security, particularly for those in sectors such as banking and health, where data security is vital and mandatory to ensure regulatory compliance. Many would say this is where the private cloud excels, since private cloud providers are generally much more specific about their security provision than public cloud providers, whose provision can also vary widely. While the public cloud is generally safe, many businesses need the detailed understanding and assurance that private provision can bring.
For less privacy-sensitive applications, however, the public cloud can offer a much more accessible and affordable platform. Indeed, the apparent affordability of the public cloud can seem very appealing, but when businesses begin to grow and scale their provision, the apparent costs can become misleading. As a business becomes more complex, the greater range and more detailed specifications of private cloud provision, such as the ability to plug in specific applications and assure constant availability and data speeds, can become very important and reduce or outweigh cost differentials.
That being said, many businesses have some data and activity that is sufficiently security-critical to require private provision, and some that is not. Many firms now combine both private and public cloud provision, either in the form of a bespoke hybrid package from third party providers, or a combination of in-house and third-party provision. This has the advantage of assuring security and other compliance as required by sector or location, while also letting the business leverage the cost, flexibility and accessibility benefits of the public cloud.
And while there is also talk of open source solutions making private cloud provision more affordable, at the moment the user base probably has too many concerns about the early stage of development to make it appealing to most. In terms of public clouds, worries about security, providers' ability to assure regulatory compliance, the relative loss of control over data and the limited extent of public cloud services' support and expertise all combine to make many businesses prefer to retain at least some of their provision in a 'traditional' private cloud.
Stepping into the future
Ultimately, for as long as pen source solutions remain in their infancy and the public cloud continues to lack detail and transparency, it is unlikely that businesses will, en masse, move their data to the public cloud any time soon. Although the public cloud boasts many advantages, it cannot assure the reliability and safety of private cloud provision. Rather, the general movement seems to be more towards combined provisions that blend the accessibility and cost benefits of the public cloud with the accountability and security of its private counterpart. The proportions in which these two are allocated will vary by sector, by the ambition of each business and its stage of development.
Future predictions are always speculative and prone to inaccuracy, but for now and for the foreseeable future, businesses that can combine public and private clouds that meet their needs and stay within their budget are far more likely to be headed towards success.
Toan Nguyen is director business development & cloud platform at e-shelter