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Though the debate is not as old, nor as embattled as say, the Operating System wars, the public vs. private cloud controversy still rages.
Just listen to the conversations at any local tech gathering or meetup and you’ll catch snatches of conversation that pit one group firmly against the other.
The benefits of cloud computing as a whole are not in question. At the heart of the matter is the issue of control. While IT professionals may be loathe to give up control of their beloved servers and data, the bean counters are all but salivating over the perceived cost benefits of outsourcing these services.
Benefits – on both sides – do come with their own sets of risks. An organization must consider and weigh both sides before making a decision. However, the case for maintaining control of one’s own infrastructure is a strong one.
Clouds: Public, Private, and Hybrid
Before we can begin to make the case for the private cloud, we need to ensure a baseline understanding of each of the cloud computing concepts. To begin, let’s examine the three different types of cloud offerings:
The first and probably most well known type of cloud service is the public cloud. This is based on the model that dictates the service provider supply resources and functionality – such as applications, data storage and infrastructure – available to business as well as the general public over the Internet.
For public cloud, think a service like Dropbox, which provides file storage to the public - files that can be stored locally but also accessible from the web. They, like many providers, have free and paid versions of their services.
In terms of public cloud offerings, there are three services: IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service), PaaS (Platform as a Service) and SaaS (Software as a Service).
IaaS: The Infrastructure as a service model refers to the outsourcing of equipment that supports operations. This includes virtual or physical servers, storage, computers, and other network infrastructure.
The vendor owns this equipment and handles purchasing, operating and maintenance. Rackspace Cloud and Amazon EC2 are service providers in this space.
SaaS: Under the Software as a service model, software or applications are hosted by the vendor and provided to customers over an Internet connection. Think Google Docs or Gmail, for example.
This is an area where the benefits may indeed outweigh the disadvantages. Applications are no longer tied to the desktop - and can be accessed by employees from a variety of locations, using multiple hardware platforms. SaaS also presents a cost savings via its pay-as-you-go model. Salesforce.com and Microsoft Office 365 are popular SaaS vendors.
PaaS: Platform as a service leverages hardware, operating systems, network capacity, and storage over the Internet. Customers can then rent virtualized servers in order to run applications. Where PaaS really shines is for testing and development.
Heroku and Microsoft Azure are examples of PaaS providers. They offer a wide range of platforms and operating systems, where settings changes and upgrades can be easily and quickly implemented.
The second type of cloud service is popular among business - the private cloud. Under this model, an organization’s IT department effectively acts as the service provider for internal corporate customers. Everything is stored or managed in-house, likely with only data backups stored off-site.
This scenario appeals to organizations that want more control over their infrastructure and inherently have more trust and confidence in their internal IT departments than an outside entity.
The last is the hybrid model - this is where the public and private cloud converge. The hybrid is a combination of one or more private and public cloud services co-existing but remain effectively separate.
Take, for example, an organization that uses an external storage cloud service for archiving files that are no longer actively needed, but also wants to maintain financial information on an internal cloud so that security can be more tightly managed and always accessible.
This allows immediate internal access to that data – regardless of whether an Internet connection is available.
What Are The Advantages of The Public Cloud?
The public cloud comes with a certain amount of inherent risk, however this option is not without its merits.
Reduced Reliance on Internal IT Departments - The public cloud is managed by a vendor. This is not done entirely without some oversight from internal teams, however it does greatly reduce management and maintenance requirements.
And as IT department human resources are already stretched to capacity, the ability to offset this responsibility is welcome by management, if not entirely by staff. There are some staffers that would still prefer to manage their own infrastructure.
Cost - When comparisons are made between the cost of purchasing equipment, software, and staffing, the utility price model afforded by public cloud vendors often (but not always) results in significantly reduced costs to an organization.
Using our testing and development example, if a customer only needed to install a specific operating system to run a test, under the public cloud model, this could be implemented in minutes. Alternatively, one might have to dedicate staff to provision and procure hardware, install, and then perform the testing. And if the same setup was no longer needed, this new equipment could prove to be little more than a costly boat anchor.
Scalability - Vendor provided solutions can easily scale up or down to accommodate changes in requirements and the corporate environment. In this regard, you only pay for the service that is actually needed at any given point in time.
What Are The Advantages of The Private Cloud?
The private cloud turns corporate IT departments into an internal provider for cloud computing resources. And there are obvious benefits.
Security - Over the last several years, major cloud service breaches have dominated the headlines. Dropbox, Amazon Cloud Service, and GoGrid among others have each suffered from security breaches that have negatively impacted their customers reputations and bottom lines.
Corporations are taking notice and some are deciding that the private cloud proves less risky. A recent report by the Government Information Group confirms that government agencies are fleeing the public cloud and even Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak worries about the implications of storing everything in the cloud.
Whether or not cloud providers are more likely hacking targets has not been definitively proven, yet many view these vendors as the higher hanging fruit.
Revenue Generation - As many organizations are organized into cost centers, usage of a private cloud then provides additional opportunities to generate income that can then be funneled back into support for the infrastructure. Through charge-backs, IT can actually charge individual departments based on their usage.
Virtualization - Though not the sole format for private cloud solutions, the ability to virtualize services maximizes hardware usage, ultimately reducing costs and complexity.
In Support of The Private Cloud
The most important resources of any organization are arguably its resources and its data. Trusting these resources to outside entities that have been repeatedly proven vulnerable to attack puts an organization in a most precarious situation.
The case can be made, then, that for small and medium-sized organizations and even their larger counterparts, managing that risk should remain an internal responsibility. Accountability, personal investment and customer expectations outweigh any potential cost savings. If something goes wrong, there is an immediate and identifiable person and action plan that can be managed and tracked internally.
It seems that until public cloud providers can provide more secure options, the private cloud remains the best option.