We talk about “the cloud”, but in actuality, there’s more than one. For starters, there are many different clouds out there, but they usually can be grouped into three different categories: private, public and hybrid. And when you’re thinking of deploying a cloud computing solution for your organization, you first need to determine which type of cloud you want to use.
Private clouds are just that—they’re private. The good news is that a private cloud is all in “your own facility” and you can do what you want with it. You can set it up the way you want, limit access as you see fit and maintain more control over it. Typically, a private cloud provides very tight integration with applications and data, making you feel like you’re hosting the components right within your own four walls even if it’s at a data center halfway across the country.
Then there’s the bad news: Private clouds cost a lot more than other types of clouds to deploy and support. But for companies with very large-scale solutions with high security and data demands, it can be the way to go.
Public clouds are open for business to everyone (like a car rental service). And because the service provider is sharing the bill for energy, special software, equipment and support, the value can be excellent, especially for smaller businesses that get to lease/rent rich functionality on a pay-as-you-go basis. For example, with the software as a service (SaaS) model, you can use applications only as you need them, without having to install, manage or maintain the software and hardware. And more applications are being made available in this form, from email to ERP.
Almost any business solution is becoming available as a SaaS offering, these solutions are becoming commonplace, particularly for services that are pretty mature or well-defined and repeatable across multiple industries, segments or geographies. These capabilities are scaled to high transaction and user volumes to provide extremely low prices for users in a way not possible with stand-alone solutions. In addition, platforms like Windows Azure offer building blocks for applications that can be moved to the cloud as long as they adhere to the platform standards within the stack. In the future, there may be companies with no data center of their own and all IT services will be “in the cloud”.
Of course, with public clouds you do face some drawbacks, chief among them a lack of control over reliability or inability to get solid guarantees on uptime. When Amazon Web Services went down in different instances in late 2012, so did companies like Netflix, Foursquare, Reddit and Pinterest. For organizations with mission-critical applications, this can be a key decision factor.
Finally, there’s the hybrid cloud. Basically, with the hybrid model, you split your IT portfolio between public and private clouds on on-premise and off-premise. While hybrid clouds can be somewhat complex to deploy for some solutions, they can provide the best balance between security and migration risk for many users of core legacy applications where all services cannot be supported in a cloud environment or need to be localized due to a high network transaction volume, which would in turn increase costs. These configurations can scale and be adjusted over time to move the load to the cloud as business functionality and technology can be balanced to best serve the use of cloud technology.
In many cases, choosing the right cloud solution can be simple but if not we recommend that doing the research on the providers, creating the business case and evaluating the migration risk and long term business value are critical to you decision. Ultimately, we will all be using the cloud it will just be a matter of picking the right model to suit your business.