Migrating to the cloud offers numerous advantages, but for many organizations, making the right decisions about how to best leverage cloud technology can be confusing. What is the right delivery model? Is public cloud the best option or is private cloud better? How do you select the right approach for your long-term business needs?
Like with any technology, there is no one size fits all approach to cloud computing. Every business has unique application and service requirements. While cost efficiency is essential, migrating to the cloud is more about identifying what is best for the organization―not only about reducing costs.
Cloud strategies can vary greatly from one business to the next, depending on workload demands, security needs, and existing IT capabilities and resources. For optimum results, begin with a long-term vision. Consider the level of performance and functionality you need your cloud environment to have; your internal resources and budget constraints; and the existing infrastructure you have in place and how you plan to manage it.
Cloud deployment defines the way in which a cloud platform is configured and implemented, the hosting arrangement, and who can access it. All cloud deployments function in essentially the same way by virtualizing server processing power into separate, software-driven applications. When looking at today’s various cloud configurations and use cases, we can distinguish four different types of cloud architecture that can help keep your data secure:
- Private cloud: Cloud infrastructure is assigned for exclusive use by a single business encompassing multiple users or business units. The infrastructure may be owned, operated and managed by the enterprise, a third party provider, or a combination, and it may be deployed on or off-premises.
- Public cloud: Infrastructure and services are outsourced and provisioned through a third-party cloud provider for open use by the public. The infrastructure resides on the premises of the cloud provider.
- Hybrid cloud: Integrates private and public cloud environments that remain distinct entities but are linked by standard or proprietary technology that supports application and data portability for optimum load balancing between clouds.
- Multi-cloud: Services are delivered from multiple cloud vendors, including private, public, and hybrid cloud providers. Interoperability advantages and best-of-breed capabilities offer greater flexibility in pricing, capabilities, service offerings, and geographic locations.
Establishing a clear picture of your current infrastructure, along with insight into the ideal use cases, will help identify the best approach for your needs―whether it’s private cloud, public cloud or a hybrid model.
Suitable for sensitive data storage, private clouds typically operate behind the protection of a firewall and serve a single user. On-premises private clouds work well for organizations with changing business models or those that must comply with strict regulatory requirements. Unlike the public cloud, access and utilization of computing resources is reserved for use only by authorized users. While private cloud offers both control and security, these advantages come with a cost.
The private cloud owner is responsible for software and infrastructure management, making this model less economical than a public cloud. On the flip side, because a private cloud environment is not managed by an outside vendor, there’s little risk that sudden changes could disrupt your entire infrastructure. Scaling operations are inherently more difficult with a private cloud since the only way to expand is to add more physical computing and storage capacity.
Public cloud vendors provide both infrastructure and services, which are shared among all customers. Scalability is substantially easier since public clouds generally have vast amounts of available capacity. The public cloud environment is ideal for collaborative projects like software development as applications can be tested in a public cloud and moved to a private cloud for final production. Because they use a shared infrastructure and serve multiple customers, public clouds are better suited for storing non-sensitive data.
One important advantage of a public cloud is its flexible cost structure, which allows businesses to provision more capacity on demand and only pay for what they use. A disadvantage is that the core infrastructure and public cloud operating system remain under control of the cloud vendor. In the event that the cloud provider decides to close shop and make substantial platform changes, the customer could be pushed to make major infrastructure changes in short order.
A hybrid cloud combines the best features of public and private clouds, allowing the two environments to interact seamlessly, with applications and data efficiently moving from one platform to another. With a hybrid configuration you can easily scale on-premises infrastructure to off-premises resources, improving your ability to respond to shifting workload demands and changing business dynamics. Since hybrid clouds only involve integration between two environments, set up and scaling is much easier. By reserving the private cloud for more sensitive data, businesses can minimize their potential exposure to security threats and maintain closer supervision over activity within their cloud environment.
Information can be securely stored behind the firewall and protected through the private cloud’s encryption protocols, then safely moved into a public cloud when needed. This capability is particularly helpful in the era of big data, where organizations in regulated markets must comply with strict consumer privacy requirements while relying on advanced analytical tools to drive insights from volumes of unstructured data. Thanks to the public cloud’s inherent “pay as you use” feature, a hybrid cloud can help reduce overall IT costs while still enabling fast and easy processing power scalability when needed.
In cases where a single public cloud isn’t sufficient to meet a company’s computing needs, multi-clouds offer an attractive solution. While similar to a hybrid cloud, a multi-cloud model is more complex, combining a private cloud with multiple public cloud services. While IT infrastructure includes several public clouds from multiple vendors, organizations can access those clouds using a single software-defined network. Private clouds can be part of a multi-cloud environment, but typically are more isolated from their associated public cloud counterparts.
Multi-cloud offers an ideal solution for organizations seeking to accommodate conflicting infrastructure demands among internal departments. Rather than attempting to force all users onto a single platform, companies can choose the optimum match from existing public cloud providers, providing each department with a solution that caters to their unique needs. Since the business isn’t relying on a single cloud vendor, it can benefit from greater flexibility and lower costs, while avoiding vendor lock-in. When combined with the performance attributes of a private cloud, multi-cloud environments deliver the ultimate in use case versatility―allowing organizations to solve multiple needs at one time without having to drastically reconfigure or expand their existing infrastructure.
Building a Framework for the Future
Central to developing a sound cloud strategy is understanding the capabilities and requirements of your current IT environment. This means identifying the types of applications you run and anticipated shifts in capacity demands and resources. With better insight into how applications and services are being created, accessed, and altered, you can better determine the optimum configuration for your business needs.
Choosing the right hybrid configuration also requires carefully considering what you want to accomplish with your system, your unique data security and compliance requirements, and the existing infrastructure you have in place. One major challenge is figuring out which systems should remain locked-down and controlled in a private cloud and which ones might benefit from a more accessible public cloud environment.
As cloud strategies continue to evolve, many organizations are already shifting to hybrid multi-cloud configurations. As that proportion continues to shift, organizations must design, configure and maintain cloud environments that can scale and grow to meet fast-changing market needs and unpredictable business demands.