Understanding the pros and cons of five different cloud types

For businesses approaching cloud infrastructure, there are a few different options to consider. Here are five of the core choices and how they compare to one another.
Written by Conner Forrest, Contributor
Image: iStockphoto/Ig0rZh

Cloud competency is a critical trait for today's business leaders, whether they're in IT or not. As enterprise cloud adoption continues to grow, it affects everything from update cycles to business expense models.

Some 93 percent of organizations are using cloud services today, according to a report from security solutions provider McAfee. In examining specific verticals, 99 percent of financial services organizations have adopted cloud technologies. In the business world, full cloud ubiquity isn't far off.

SEE: IaaS Research: The State of IaaS in the Enterprise 2017 (Tech Pro Research)

Understanding the impact of the cloud starts with cloud infrastructure. Here are five types of cloud infrastructure options available, and what they can provide for your business.

1. Public cloud

Public cloud is what most people think of when they think of 'the cloud'. With a public cloud approach, a service provider offers all of the resources necessary for an organization to get into the cloud, typically in a multi-tenancy environment.

The pay-per-use revenue model is one of the defining factors of public cloud, according to Forrester Research analyst Lauren Nelson. This model allows customers to scale capacity as needed, such as during high-traffic seasons. It also allows businesses "to take on many risks without as many sunk costs," Nelson said.

The public cloud model also offers widespread availability and very broad reach in terms of geographic distribution, 451 Research analyst Carl Brooks said. This could make it easier for businesses to get into new markets and to provide better access there. Brooks also noted that this model represents "the easiest way to consume IT resources these days," in that you can simply take your credit card and purchase what you need.

Public cloud provides "scalable, elastic, and programmatic" access to storage and compute, Brooks said. There are also common frameworks and best practices available for utilizing this model. However, there is also a de facto lock-in to the public cloud provider you choose, and as such you'll need to focus on their APIs, platform, and services.

"When you pick one, you're basically stuck with it, and all of your data is also stuck with it too," Brooks said. "Workload mobility is not really a thing at this point -- it may be in the future."

2. Full private cloud

A full private cloud is one that's fully owned and operated by the business or organization using it. In essence, the goal of a private cloud deployment is to take factors of public cloud like automation and self-service access and apply it to your own data centers, Nelson said.

A full private cloud gives the user full control over how infrastructure is provisioned or deprovisioned, Brooks said. Security is easier to engage, and potentially more effective, whereas with public cloud, you often don't have any control over the hardware or security tools available.

"The pros to owning and operating your own private cloud are that you have uncontested control over the environment and infrastructure, including the software, so you have a much higher likelihood of compatibility and ability to architect and work within the systems of the organization that already exist," Brooks said.

Private cloud is a more expensive option, as a business has to build out the infrastructure to support it, and must hire or train employees with the proper expertise to run it. Brooks said that it also requires "a commitment to operating IT as opposed to consuming IT. It's back to cooking your own dinner versus eating out."

It also requires many more resources, and takes longer to ramp up to its full potential.

"You can have public cloud resources and be using it, have developers productive on day one," Nelson said. "With private cloud, that is a multi-year journey to get that going."

3. Hosted private cloud

Hosted private cloud sits somewhere in between the public and internal private cloud, as it's a separate private cloud that's hosted, and sometimes managed, by a service provider. In a way, it provides the best of both worlds, Nelson said.

"You get to use the expertise of a service provider, so you don't have to do that," Nelson said. "And, it's someone else's data center, so you don't have to spend time fixing what you've got."

Hosted private cloud is the most attractive option for many enterprises for this reason, Brooks said, as the service provider is usually more efficient at running the infrastructure than the business. Forrester analyst Dave Bartoletti said that he has noted a distinct increase in demand for this cloud model among businesses.

Using a hosted private cloud, businesses will have some options for customization, but they won't typically have the scale or resources of major public cloud providers, Brooks said.

Additionally, Nelson noted, hosted private cloud is often split between two approaches. Some providers see it as "we will build a private cloud for you," but others see it as a mini-public cloud where they separate and segment resources specifically for you.

4. Hybrid cloud

Hybrid cloud is a generic term for any combination of the different types of cloud models. Nelson argued that "hybrid cloud" is primarily a marketing term, but it could refer to a deployment of public + private, public + public, or private + private clouds. Some companies think of it in terms of bursting capabilities, while others think of it simply as a central management experience.

"Pretty much everybody is at hybrid today," Nelson said. "The question is, what does it mean to be hybrid?"

SEE: Hybrid cloud: The smart person's guide (TechRepublic)

For the most part, Nelson said, when companies mention a hybrid cloud strategy, they are trying to describe and address the challenges they have in their particular organization.

One of the primary reasons companies begin working in hybrid cloud, Brooks said, is "because businesses still have computers." This model can provide a stepping stone to a full deployment one way or the other, but it's often used to complement existing IT investments and to cover the specific security and compliance needs in a given company, Brooks added.

Many companies have a sliding scale of what it and is not crucial, Brooks said. So, certain aspects of the business aren't as valuable, and can easily go straight to the public cloud. However, others require more control, and are better suited to a private cloud environment.

5. Cloud-based services

Brooks described cloud-based services as "things you don't require a cloud for, but you need to have interacting online." This can be a database and/or data tools, or other tools such as disaster recovery as a service.

Perimeter-aware services such as Internet of Things (IoT) and mobile device management (MDM) solutions are often leveraged as cloud-based services as well, Brooks said. Vendors are also now offering online platforms to manage those projects for businesses in a plug-and-play model.

Many companies exited the public cloud market because they couldn't make the margins they expected, Nelson said. This led many of them to pursue cloud-based services as a business model.

"If you can provide value on top of a platform, through services, that is a high-margin opportunity," Nelson said. "It just takes a lot of bodies to be able to do that, and it takes a lot of very specific expertise today."

The big four management consulting groups have all been working in the space of complex cloud usage, especially in companies trying to migrate applications to the cloud. Businesses can also consider the concept of managed public cloud, "where vendors will provide a management layer on top of Amazon, to make it easier to use and manage AWS," Nelson said.

While cloud-based services can provide more management capabilities for your cloud infrastructure, or an ad hoc way of getting pieces of your organization to the cloud, it's important to note that they can be limited in scope and capability with complementary tools.

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