Businesses around the world are accelerating their digital transformation efforts in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. The so-called ‘new normal’ might be a moving picture, but one thing businesses can be certain of is that they’re going to need to become more agile than ever before, giving their staff the capability to work remotely with as little friction as possible. This kind of flexibility has always been the ultimate goal of cloud adoption, but for many businesses still in the early stages of their digital transformation journey, one huge question lingers: do they choose private cloud or public cloud?

In many ways, the fact that businesses are even having this internal debate is a huge sign of technological progress. While a tragic global crisis may have been the catalyst, it has at least focused the efforts of organizations around the world on something which is largely positive - a more secure, flexible and efficient way of working.

Big cloud
– Xilinx

Head in the clouds

Not too long ago, if a business was considering expansion it would be limited by physical operating costs or prohibitively complex security issues. Cloud adoption is a remedy to those problems, allowing organizations to grow in a gradual and affordable way, tapping into resources as and when they are needed. In other words, cloud growth offers a manageable curve-style expansion as opposed to the rigid step-by-step approach that businesses were stuck with just a couple of short decades ago. Cloud adoption has now become so normalized, that according to Gartner only six percent of businesses worldwide are yet to adopt a discernible cloud strategy. The questions businesses are asking about cloud adoption in 2020 aren’t to do with if or even when, but how.

Right Scale’s annual ‘State of the Cloud’ report told us that in 2019 more than 91 percent of businesses used public cloud and 72 percent used private cloud. If those statistics don’t quite add up on first glance, that’s because there was indeed an overlap, with 69 percent of businesses opting for a hybrid solution. Both solutions offer flexible and affordable growth, but beneath the surface, there are some textured nuances that will sway a business one way or another depending on its needs. Let’s take a look at those nuances now.

Public cloud

Simply put, a public cloud solution refers to hardware and resources within a data center, which are shared between multiple businesses. Think of these businesses as tenants sharing the same property, each using it to store their data. Public clouds typically host hundreds of multi-tenants at the same time, all sharing the same hardware, power and cooling, with data kept completely separate.

Companies such as Google, Amazon and IBM all offer public cloud facilities, and all make it incredibly easy to set-up and get going. Your choice of public cloud might be determined by your preferred programming language, operating system or database, but all public cloud solutions offer roughly the same kind of benefits.

Some cloud providers offer fully managed services, meaning that clients are not responsible for the management of the underlying infrastructure. But the majority of providers, including AWS and Azure, leave the management side of things to clients – compensating on the very attractive service fee. In that sense, most companies that opt for a public cloud have to either host teams of experts in-house to run their cloud environment, or outsource the management at a high cost.

Arguably the greatest benefit is the flexible ‘pay as you go’ type model that the public cloud is built on. In effect, this means that a business is only charged for the resources it uses in a given time period (usually monthly billing) which offers a nicely scalable solution with practically no ceiling. Perhaps the only downside to this billing model is that, because there’s no ‘fixed cost’, a big invoice following a busy month can sometimes catch a business off-guard.

Public cloud is ideal for small businesses looking to provide their staff with web-based email and office applications. It also serves as a virtual environment to store relevant company data, as well as to try out and design new product ideas.

Private cloud

Private cloud differs from public cloud in that all of the hardware involved is dedicated solely to one, individual business, and the management of the infrastructure lies with the hosting provider.

The advantages are similar in terms of scalability, but private cloud offers slightly more in the way of security and control through a single, dedicated architecture. Larger businesses with very specific needs will get the most out of a private cloud solution, particularly those working in finance or government where complete control over data and applications is sometimes required. Private cloud also offers a fixed cost instead of the pay-as-you-go approach, allowing businesses to plan their growth and budget more effectively long-term.

As I alluded to earlier, many businesses opt for a dynamic hybrid solution that utilizes elements of both private and public cloud. This combines the security and control of the private cloud with the flexible elements of the public cloud to offer maximum efficiency and growth for businesses who are willing to put in the effort. No wonder public cloud providers such as AWS are now partnering with historically private cloud vendors like VMware to offer Hybrid solutions on their own infrastructure, to further join up cloud capabilities.

Private and public clouds seem to cancel out each other’s shortcomings, so I expect to see a rapid increase in the number of hybrid solutions being adopted as businesses make progress with their digital transformation strategies.