Public, Private or Hybrid Clouds: What's the Difference?

The distinctions between the different types of clouds can be confusing. Public, Private, Hybrid- what exactly sets them apart and which is right for your business? Let's clear the air between the three.

The business world has its head in a cloud these days. Shifting services over to the cloud can present some real benefits for your organization, but it can also be a massive undertaking. Making sense of the various terms and understanding the different ways you can get into the sky can be a little daunting. So as more companies are getting serious about moving parts of their operations into the sky, I thought a brief primer on the three primary cloud distinctions may help clear the fog.   

Public Cloud

A public cloud is essentially the internet, the "Grand Poobah" of all clouds. The public cloud is a decentralized system of linked networks from which services can be received or provided by the global community. Free services are the defining attribute of a public cloud, such as the free tiers offered by Google, Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft.

When it actually comes to architecture, there's often little difference between public and private clouds, though deployments in public clouds tend to be mainly used by organizations as web servers or development systems, environments where security and compliance matters are less of a concern. 

Private Cloud

Now this is the cloud most businesses are currently talking about, and the big clould players mentioned above want to get you on the hook for. Private clouds exist solely for a single organization. They are designed from the outset to meet the businesses-specific requirements of the organization. If you're considering moving your sensitive infrastructure assets skyward, the safety and security of a dedicated private cloud is exactly where you want to be. 

Think of the Caerlaverock Castle in Scotland. It has a serious moat around it. The network, servers, etc. are inside your castle and controlled by the people you allow inside of your castle. Your firewall is the alligators cruising around the moat. You may or may not own the servers and networking equipment, or even the alligators for that matter, but you control them all. After all, it is your castle...

Now, let's pretend you own the Kingdom of Google and are sitting inside the Castle Google. The databases which house all of the world renowned Gmails your kingdom is famous for, would be stored safely in your own Castle Google data center. If one of your customers wanted to find a particular Gmail containing the dates of their last vacation, for example, the algorithms required to perform that search across the yottabytes of data are located on your servers, also humming away in your data center. This private cloud is your domain. Once the computing retrieves and packs the data requested, a drawbridge from Castle Google is lowered across the moat and an ironclad man riding a horse is sent across to share the message with the customer on a digital scroll which showed their last vacation was 5 years ago. While customers can access the public facing Kingdom of Google email website, they're not allowed in the castle. They are simply using a public facing server running the code necessary to provide the service's functionality from the public side of their private Google cloud.

But, for all the safety and security afforded by a fortified castle, private clouds can also reside outside of a physical building. They can be vendor owned, in which you simply pay for the services rendered on an on-demand basis. Your IT assets can be stored in a distant kingdom which specialized in building and operating data center castles for others to use. All of your desktops can communicate with your stored assets directly across the drawbridge via a safe, encrypted tool called a Virtual Private Network (VPN). You still have the protection of the moat, albeit a virtual one.

For example, AWS' private cloud is virtual. You connect to it via a dedicated communication line as provided by a major communication company, not via the public internet. AT&T provides one of these products called NetBond. With Netbond in place, you have a direct, secure connection through to AWS which is completely separate from the public cloud. You effectively carve out a private wing of Castle AWS, are given a key card to their drawbridge, and are now able to leverage their resources to run your business. 

Hybrid Cloud

There is also a third kind of a cloud, a hybrid cloud. Let's say you own your own castle which contains a data center housing your corporate database and servers, but you've identified that you need additional servers or a stronger disaster recovery solution. After deciding it imprudent to build your own additional castle to meet the goal, you decide to look outside of your kingdom's walls and move certain functions into a customized space inside Castle AWS. 

Now, to get the assets located in two separate castles communicating succinctly, an additional drawbridge is build across the mote over to Castle AWS. After installing a pipeline product like Netbond to establish a wideopen, yet private connection between both environments, you're now leveraging the best of both worlds- a hybrid solution of on-premise resources mixed with the efficiency and scaleability of the cloud.


Hopefully this post goes a little way to clear the air as to the differences between the available clouds and which approach might be right for your organization. Of course, it should be noted, aside from ASW, large cloud players such Microsoft, Google, IBM, and others all offer their own private and hybrid options. You'll want to consider the specifics of each solution as you consider making the move into the clouds. One thing is for certain though, with so many options available today, the sky really has no limit to what you can do.

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