Over the past decade or so, cloud computing has evolved significantly. Ten years ago the landscape was far different as the cloud was mainly a platform limited to preserving technology-based sectors and allowing computer enthusiasts to develop and experiment with new ideas.
Now however, it is a far different prospect. No longer kept behind closed doors and reserved for the few, the cloud is absolutely open for business. The platform has risen in popularity amongst more businesses for multiple reasons and to serve a huge range of sectors.
So much so that Forrester research estimates that the global market for cloud computing will exceed $241 billion in 2020 (opens in new tab). Businesses embarking on a journey into the cloud however can feel overwhelmed by the vast array of options at their disposal, and it can be challenging to establish which options work best. In light of this, almost all these businesses would have asked themselves the same question: which is really better, and where does the future lie, in the private or public cloud?
Private vs public
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.
Ending to the one-size-fits-all mentally
When it comes to selecting cloud provision, it 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.
Finding the perfect balance
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.
What’s next for the cloud?
So, what does the future have in-store? Currently, the public cloud, whilst offering many advantages, has several notable shortcomings in terms of detail and transparency, meaning that it cannot guarantee the stability and protection of private cloud provision. As well as that, open source solutions are still relatively young and in their infancy.
It therefore appears improbable that businesses will relocate the entirety of their data to the public cloud, en masse, any time soon. More likely rather, is that we will experience a greater movement towards combined or hybrid provision that are able to combine the accessibility and financial benefits of the public cloud with the accountability and security of its private counterpart. Of course, we must remember that the proportions in which these two are allocated will vary by sector and will vary based on the ambition of each business and its stage of development.
In ten years, new initiatives will undoubtedly change the landscape of IT. But for now, and for the foreseeable future, success will be far more destined for those businesses that can combine both public and private clouds in order to meet their needs and stay within their budget.
Toan Nguyen, Director Business Development & Cloud Platform at e-shelter (opens in new tab)
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