In the wide world of cloud computing, cloud services are available in a few distinct forms, including public clouds, private clouds, and hybrid clouds. While each option has its own pros and cons, public clouds are very popular choices for individuals and businesses due to the lower price point and overall increased accessibility. For those considering public clouds for personal or commercial choices, however, education in public cloud computing is a valuable asset in ensuring the best possible decision for everything from infrastructure to data management.
What Is a Public Cloud?
A public cloud is a form of hosted cloud in which use is available to almost anyone for free or as part of a pay-per-use model. Public clouds exist in a completely virtual environment where access is granted via the internet. They are referred to as public because, as the name implies, they are open for use by the general public. Anyone can use or purchase space for data in public clouds to use for any purpose, provided the policies laid out by crowd providers are followed. Unlike private clouds in which data use is restricted to the owner or operator of the cloud and permitted affiliated parties, there is no real limit on the use of public solutions. Registration for many services, like Amazon or Google, are free and there is no exclusion based on things like enterprise employment. Infrastructure is handled on the back end, creating no development requirements.
Public clouds tend to be the most popular choice for cloud computing as these options are easily accessible and simple to implement for companies of all shapes and sizes. Public networks can be used to host specific software, like a cloud provided for users of a particular software, or can be a more general form of storage that can host many different forms of files and software platforms. Public clouds often rely on high-bandwidth network connections to support the higher volume of users than is generally seen with this infrastructure.
It is important to note that public cloud solutions do not negate the potential for data security. Secure storage is possible when using a public cloud. Take, for example, Google Drive. Usage of Google’s cloud-based suite of office software is open to anyone with a Google account but access to each individual document is limited based on the user’s sharing settings. Cloud providers of public networks maintain multi-tenant architecture to ensure shared services without shared access, but this frequently creates additional security threats.
A Brief History of Public Cloud Solutions
Cloud computing has a lengthy history despite the fairly recent rise in popularity. With the original network concept dating back over 50 years to a request the government made to MIT computer scientists, the idea of a shared computing system for data access isn’t exactly new.
The rise of the internet pushed the availability of cloud usage into the conceptual realm from the theoretical one; as files and programs began to be shared over the internet rather than on hard drives or via disks for download, the possibilities of the cloud – originally a piece of tech jargon to describe the space between a service provider and an end user – became far more realistic.
Salesforce was one of the first players in the cloud space, followed shortly thereafter by Amazon Web Services, two names that still plays a prominent role in the state of modern cloud services. Google’s Drive platform launched shortly after, as did their data center based enterprise hosting services. Essentially the first stages of what we now have accepted to be an essential approach to computing, these first steps into public hosting options and virtual machine development helped shape the current state of the public cloud services.
In many ways, public networks have a longer history than private cloud do. In the original days of the cloud, many companies didn’t have the know-how to implement private cloud solutions, leading to an embrace of public platforms. Third party private providers are a newer take on the industry; until recently, the options for private hosting were limited, leaving companies with a public cloud or a costly and complex infrastructure challenge.
Today, implementing a private infrastructure is easier than ever, providing stiff competition to public alternatives for those who prioritize security and a customized platform.
With advances in cloud deployments, data center and public and private cloud technology, we’ve seen advances in computing, computing resources, and applications for businesses across the board. Now Virtual machines, virtual private cloud environments and a host of other cloud platform options are available to help improve a company’s computing model.
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Public Clouds versus Private and Hybrid Clouds
Clouds come in a few different forms. For those considering transitioning key services to the cloud, understanding the differences between varying forms of cloud services is an essential part of making the proper decision of which cloud offers a company should deploy.
Public clouds differ greatly from all other forms of cloud computing, and from private clouds in particular. While private clouds are generally owned, established, and maintained by the company using the server for storage or an associated third party provider, public networks are always maintained by a third party that offers space to individuals or companies in need. A Private cloud environment frequently has limited users and an infrastructure that is generally established by the entity that owns the cloud. These cloud technologies can be developed in a similar way to a private on-site network or purchased through a third party. Customization options are greater for private cloud users.
As the name implies, a hybrid cloud is a cloud strategy that blends between private cloud, public cloud, or on premise environment. With a hybrid cloud, users can benefit from the best of both worlds in a flexible way. More proprietary data can be maintained in a private cloud space while less critical information or services can be kept in a public space. In some cases, hybrid clouds can function as both a primary and secondary space; for example, enterprises that have high volume busy seasons, like cloud-based tax software during tax season, may choose to employ a hybrid cloud. Normal day to day operations are handled in the private space, but when use exceeds normal limits, this extra demand can flow over into the public network space. Although a hybrid cloud environment can look like the best cloud platform or allocation of resources, hybrid cloud technologies frequently have performance issues with their applications being stored in various locations.
How Do Public Clouds Work?
All clouds function in a similar way to a physical on-site server for data purposes, but simply without the on-site elements. Instead of saving software, files, or other data to an in-house server, these are saved to a cloud-based server instead. For the end user, the functionality and capabilities of using files or accessing storage doesn’t tend to change in any notable manner; software can still be launched in a similar way and files are organized as usual. The cloud functionality is more important on the back end, as software is hosted online versus on an individual machine.
The Benefits of Public Clouds
Public cloud infrastructure offer numerous benefits to users, including:
- Employment of modern and high-powered technology. Public clouds frequently support a far larger base of users and higher quantities of data than most private platforms. As demand accelerates, technological needs also tend to increase. To meet this consistent request for additional services, many public cloud servers utilize the best in evolving technology to keep users satisfied.
- Reduced expenses. The cost of maintaining private servers of any kind can be immense, especially for companies that don’t have a strong need for extra layers of protection. Public clouds put the infrastructure demands and maintenance obligations in the hands of someone else, allowing users to pay for what the need and nothing else.
- Reduced requirements for on-site support. Cloud computing is often thought to be easier than maintaining on-site servers for storage, but a private cloud only marginally minimizes traditional infrastructure demands. Maintaining a private cloud essentially requires that companies stay in the data center space, or partner with a third party to take the onus off.
- Improved options for scalability. Public clouds are very large, meaning that a small company with limited space needs has plenty of room to grow. As operations change over time, more users are added, and additional storage needs develop, a public cloud can easily accommodate this.
The Top Public Cloud Providers
Public cloud computing and comes in many shapes and sizes, but a majority of the public network real estate is dominated by three large players in the industry.
- Amazon Web Services
Amazon Web Services, better known as AWS, is one of the oldest and most prominent names in public computing. Accounts start on a free level and scale up in price depending on personal or commercial use and are accompanied by access to teaching and training resources. AWS offers a suite of cloud technology tools that can accommodate software development and cloud computing usage ranging from analytics to game design resources.
Similar to Amazon Web Services, the Google cloud platform offers free and pay-per-use computing services for individuals and businesses with infrastructure and solutions that range of capabilities. With opportunities for things like data management, infrastructure modernization, and enterprise analytics, Google platform users have an opportunity to evolve operations as their network grows.
- Microsoft Azure
An open enterprise-grade cloud computing platform, Microsoft Azure offers a similar array of services and data management tools to support business development, application design, and the incorporation of artificial intelligence. As a long-standing player in public cloud computing, many businesses make use of Microsoft’s cloud platform technologies.
Public Clouds: Are They Worth It?
Public cloud services certainly have benefits, from widespread accessibility to reasonably low cost implementation, but a public network isn’t always the best option for those considering moving to a platform. In fact, in some ways, a public cloud can be a detriment to operations rather than a benefit. Before jumping in with two feet, companies, particularly those held to government regulations or extra oversight, like banks and other financial entities, should understand the risks and drawbacks before moving forward.
Security is a major concern for many people using a public cloud. While on-site servers and private clouds can be protected in any way a company desires, those using a public cloud are essentially putting trust in the people who own and maintain the platform. While security is often quite sophisticated – companies like Google and Microsoft do not want the damaged reputation that can come with major security breaches – in public clouds, there is little, if anything, cloud users can do to protect their infrastructure or further safeguard information outside of whatever cyber security resources the provider has in place.
Hacking is a reality across virtually any online platform or network, but public network solutions can be just as vulnerable as other technological resources – and the repercussions can be devastating. Take, for example, the Equifax breach in which data, including addresses and Social Security Numbers, from 143 million individuals was compromised. While this breach was identified to be related to a vulnerability in Apache Struts, an open-source software platform Equifax was using, there are plenty of ways to attach data housing resources of all kinds. With the rapidly expanding technology affecting cloud computing platforms, the possibility of unpatched problems always looms, especially when you don’t have much communication with the provider. Even Microsoft’s own products aren’t immune to hacking – Office 365 faced a recent critical hacking incident as well.
Think hacking is the only problem that users can face? It isn’t. There’s nothing users can do about outages, either. In 2015, Amazon Web Services experienced a fatal outage that immediately took down services like Netflix and Reddit that operated on the AWS platform. While Amazon did its best to get things up to date as soon as possible, there’s nothing affected parties like Netflix could do to change the situation.
A private cloud platform eliminates this helpless approach to problems; instead of sitting and waiting for problems to disappear, IT teams can be immediately deployed to remedy a bad situation and get their network back up.
While plenty of companies operate without significant oversight, there are numerous industries that are required to adhere to compliance regulations, like legal and financial organizations and government defense contractors. For these enterprise businesses, compliance becomes a serious issue to consider when evaluating options, particularly when considering public
In some cases, public cloud computing resources can be in line with compliance requirements, but in other cases, this may not be true, opening the door to fines and other punitive measures. In some industries, auditors need to be able to physically identify the source of data in a server rack and that’s not possible in a public cloud environment. When data sources are obscured as a part of a larger whole, it’s hard to identify where important or proprietary data is stored. This can be especially problematic for companies required to meet more stringent privacy policies like DFARS or GDPR in the EU.
With a private cloud infrastructure, companies are able to maintain information and store data as needed to maintain control and security for audit purposes. One of advantages of cloud technologies in a private network.
Security and Functionality: The Bottom Line
When security is a priority, is there a place for a public cloud in operations?
The answer is almost unequivocally no. The security options for proprietary data in public clouds can be problematic, offering no resources for users and putting the responsibility of protecting sensitive information on the provider, not the user. When platforms go down or cloud providers are hacked, there’s nothing users can do about it, creating the potential for serious issues to which users are helpless. This opens the door to security breaches, compliance problems, and other challenges that may compromise reputation and revenue.
Despite the widespread availability of public cloud solutions, private cloud hosting and private cloud solutions options offer greater opportunities for data storage, protection, and general capabilities. Public providers often have limits on services to some degree and available functionality is terminal. While public properties are very scalable, there is a limit to what can be accomplished. A private cloud managed by a top provider can offer a one to one virtual desktop infrastructure rather than forcing users into shared services, creating a superior experience customized specifically to a user’s needs.
Public and private clouds have some similarities – and there are many advantages of using cloud solutions – but the differences and potential downsides are far more important. While few cloud deployment resources are perfect, public clouds have some significant complications that should be considered before moving forward. From security risks to compliance challenges and performance issues, public technology opens users up to issues that can negatively affect the course of doing business.