Public vs. Private Clouds – Know What’s Right for Your Business

Did you know more than 94% of companies use the cloud? Most people do so as well. If you’re looking for the right cloud-based solution, you should know that not all clouds are made equal: some are public, others are private, and some are found in between. So, what’s the difference between public vs. private clouds?

Public clouds share the same infrastructure for different companies, though customers can only access their data. Private clouds use infrastructure only accessible by the company using it, which could be hosted in-house or elsewhere. Hybrid clouds that combine both methods exist as well.

What’s the right cloud for your company? It’s tough to say! The best way to figure it out is to understand both types of clouds, their challenges, and benefits, as well as other options available for you.

Public vs. Private Clouds: A Comparison

  • Public Clouds. Cloud providers that use the same infrastructure for all their customers offer public clouds. In other words, servers accessible by multiple people are public, though that doesn’t mean you’ll get to see what everyone else is uploading there. Your data is safe from third parties, at least for the most part.
  • Private Clouds. Servers only accessible by one customer are called private clouds. Companies who prefer this service usually deal with sensitive data (such as financial or medical information). Businesses could host their private clouds in-house or elsewhere (i.e., hire a cloud provider to store their data on private servers).

A Metaphor To Understand Cloud Types

Imagine you’re on a basketball team. You need a place to practice and play between games, so you look for a court to rent. At that point, you come up with two options: share it with other teams or pay extra to use it on your own.

The first option allows you to cut costs and forget about the maintenance after you leave the court. Unfortunately, in extremely rare cases, people may find out about your strategies or who’s injured on your team: information could leak.

The second option is costlier and time-consuming, though you can rest easy knowing nobody else will access your court, whether you’re playing or otherwise. That doesn’t mean you’re free from someone infiltrating to steal information – but that’ll be close to impossible with the right defense measures.

What’s a Public Cloud?

A public cloud is a cloud service (i.e., servers) offered to multiple customers. In other words, a cloud provider uses the same infrastructure to host data from different companies.

Of course, there are tight security protocols in place to prevent data leaks or third party peeking at what you upload. Sharing infrastructure doesn’t mean others will see your data.

Why would multiple companies share the same server infrastructure? Because they want to cut costs and have a quality cloud service at an affordable rate.

Public Cloud Benefits

  • Affordable. One of the best things public clouds have to offer is affordable rates. Uploading your data to a public cloud will cost a fraction of the price of doing the same to a private cloud, let alone setting up one yourself.
  • Efficient. The biggest names in the business (Amazon, Google, and Microsoft) are constantly competing and improving to get more customers, meaning they’re always trying to get an edge over others, improving their service as time goes on.
  • Scalable. Public clouds allow you to scale your operations as you see fit. You can ask for more storage space or less, depending on your needs – with no drawbacks as you do! What’s the best part? Your storage will grow or shrink as soon as you click the right option.

Public Cloud Challenges

  • Multitenancy. One of the biggest issues (or pet peeves) of using a public cloud is multitenancy: multiple people using the same server at once. It usually creates little to no trouble, though some people would find it hard to trust such a thing. At the same time, multitenancy goes against certain compliance guidelines.
  • Leaks. It’d be difficult for a public cloud to leak your data out of the blue, though data cloud breaches have happened in the past. Do you want to risk a leak, even if it has a small chance of happening? That’s up to you!
  • Dependency. Cloud providers give you plenty of tools to use with their services. Things like apps or technology are taken for granted. These are great tools to have at first glance, but becoming dependent on them will create a disadvantageous relationship with your cloud provider.

What’s a Private Cloud?

A private cloud could refer to a data center or service used by one company alone. It could be self-hosted or otherwise, though that doesn’t change the fact that nobody but the client can access these servers.

Private clouds are more expensive, though that’s the price companies have to pay if they want to collect sensitive data (such as medical information).

At the same time, private cloud solutions are more hands-on (especially if they’re self-hosted), making them more customizable and time-consuming.

Private Cloud Benefits

  • Customizable. You can change and customize your private cloud as much as you want (within the limits of the hardware you’re using) because you’re not sharing it with anyone else. Public clouds offer little customization. The sky’s the limit with private clouds.
  • Secure. Your private cloud will be as safe as it gets, especially if you have cybersecurity experts on your team taking care of the defensive end of your servers. Companies handling critical data should have security at the top of their priorities, making private clouds the go-to choice.
  • Reliable. Downtime is rare but far from impossible when using a public cloud. In contrast, private clouds seldom go offline, especially if you host them in your company, meaning you’ll always have access to data, even if it means physical access.

Private Cloud Challenges

  • Costly. Public clouds are affordable because fixed costs are shared with countless other customers. Paying for a private cloud is a costlier option because you have to pay for a lot of things (e.g., server space) on your own.
  • Time-consuming. You’re one click away from purchasing more storage space on a public cloud. Doing the same with private ones takes a little more time, especially if you want to set the servers up yourself. Making sure everything is up to code takes time if you’re going down the private route because of compliance.
  • Difficult To Protect. On-premises private clouds will fall under the protection of your IT department, which means your cybersecurity analysts need to be ready to run preventive and reactive defenses to protect your data from threat actors. It’s not impossible but certainly difficult.

Are There Other Types of Cloud Computing?

Basic cloud server options could be public or private – but it doesn’t stop there: you can also find multi-cloud and hybrid cloud options on the market.

Some people believe those two terms are the same, but they are different. A multi-cloud environment joins multiple clouds, helping them work together. In that case, you could have several public clouds sharing information.

In contrast, a hybrid cloud combines public and private clouds. Companies who want to host an app (e.g., a messaging app) on a public cloud and sensitive data (e.g., financial information) on a private cloud choose this option.

Should You Use a Public or Private Cloud?

Choosing between a public or private cloud depends on the type of data your company handles. More importantly, what you need the cloud for.

Spending money on a private cloud sounds like the go-to choice if you want to have the tightest security possible.

However, you may not need to spend that money to protect your data. Public clouds are extremely safe and often managed by tech giants such as Amazon, Google, and Microsoft.

In contrast, using a private cloud is a must when you deal with sensitive data and severe compliance guidelines. In that case, failing to comply would be costlier than paying for a private cloud. In the end, it’s all about costs and customization needs.

Takeaways

Public and private clouds look similar to the untrained eye but have plenty of differences you need to be aware of. Public clouds are great for hosting apps and similar things. In contrast, private clouds are ideal for people hosting sensitive data. Companies that work in both areas should look at a hybrid cloud based solution.

Herman

Herman McCargo is a Cyber Defense Analyst here at U.S. Cybersecurity. He’s been in the technology field for over 20 years and has expertise working with the most critical technology infrastructures. He has a deep understanding of cyber risks, threat mitigation and prevention, and overseeing infrastructure.