As children, we discover that clouds, like snowflakes, aren’t all the same. There are cirrus clouds (wispy), cumulus clouds (white and fluffy) and stratus clouds (sheet-like) varieties with a seemingly endless number of sub-varieties. In the same way, cloud communications technology has its own categories—public, private and hybrid cloud communications systems. Telling them apart isn’t as simple as matching a shape with a name and, as a result, there’s a good deal of confusion around what each entails. We created this post to clear up some of that cloud confusion and help you decide which kind of cloud might be right for you.
The public cloud is what most of us think of when we hear about a system or application being offered in the cloud. As its name implies, it’s publicly available infrastructure that is constructed as a multi-tenant system (i.e., multiple businesses using the same infrastructure) and leased to companies on a sliding monthly scale depending on the amount of cloud capacity they need. Amazon Web Services and Google’s Cloud Storage are examples of public cloud platforms, as are application-specific public cloud offerings like Adobe Creative Cloud and Salesforce.com.
Public clouds are popular because they often feature a low entry cost (remember, you’re not buying any hardware with a public cloud solution) and fast access to vast amounts of capacity during demand spikes. For example, a videoconferencing system deployed in a public cloud could scale out seamlessly to handle high demand during an all-hands meeting, then scale back down when the meeting has ended. Unfortunately, the “public” aspect of the public cloud can present security concerns for enterprises, particularly in heavily-regulated industries, like financial services and healthcare.
In situations where security trumps cost, a private cloud is the better path. A private cloud often features many of the same scales of efficiency as a public cloud—virtualization, converged infrastructure, etc.—with the distinction that it’s a private, dedicated system residing in the enterprise’s own data center instead of hosted remotely by a third party. The shielded nature of the private cloud allows enterprises to manage access and security in order to meet industry compliance requirements and protect sensitive data. That security, however, comes at a cost; private clouds are typically more expensive than public clouds because of the investment in hardware and the IT resources required to manage them.
The third type of cloud, hybrid cloud, is really a mixture of public and private clouds. Why would you want to mix cloud types? Well, let’s consider our earlier scale-out example of videoconferencing. In a private cloud architecture, an enterprise would need to overprovision their private cloud to meet peak demand. In other words, much of the time, a sizeable portion of their private cloud would go unused. By extending their private cloud with extra capacity in the public cloud during peak usage periods—a technique known as cloudbursting—enterprises could ensure high performance levels at a lower cost without compromising security.
Which one’s right for you?
As you can see, choosing the right cloud for the job depends on the type of application you have in mind. To give you the most flexibility in the future, look for cloud solutions that support standards like OpenStack and popular hypervisors like VMware’s vSphere. That way, you’ll be able to integrate public and private cloud environments more easily when the need arises.
Learn more about cloud-based communications systems >