Cloud Computing: Public Versus Private Options

By Dennis McCafferty Print this article Print

Business and technology managers may be uncertain about the differences between public and private clouds, but they need to get up to speed very quickly because the demand for cloud computing is increasing at a fast clip.

If you’ve decided to take your organization’s enterprise “into the cloud,” you’re hardly alone. And if you’re weighing whether to go with a public cloud versus a private one, well, you have lots of company there, too.

Take United Seating and Mobility, which sells specialized wheelchairs at 30 locations in 12 states. The company initially tried to stay on top of matters such as vendor contracts by using phones and e-mail. Then it monitored these developments with off-the-shelf applications on its own servers. Today, however, it manages its business via a public cloud.

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“The off-the-shelf applications didn’t collaborate,” recalls Michael DeHart, director of operations at the St. Louis-based company. “You’d log on to all of the apps and try to remember which one needed which password.” Thanks to the enhanced tools available via the public cloud, staffers throughout the country now share the latest information in a more seamless manner.

For the Cleveland Cavaliers, using a private cloud to run its arena’s Website made sense. Going private has enabled more one-on-one interaction with the cloud-provider partner, while giving the sports franchise greater resources to handle traffic.

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As with many sports and entertainment venues, traffic on the arena site can spike—when the team makes the playoffs or a big concert is announced, for instance. “When you’ve booked Miley Cyrus,” says Jeff Lillibridge, director of Web services for the Cavs, “you’d better be ready.”

Demand Is Increasing

As both these organizations have discovered, few enterprise managers will be able to avoid the topic of private versus public clouds. Worldwide cloud services revenue will reach $44.2 billion in 2013, up from $17.4 billion last year, according to research firm IDC.

Though that demand is increasing, many business and technology professionals are still a bit confused about what public and private clouds actually are. A public cloud—such as Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Google AppEngine, IBM’s Blue Cloud and LotusLive Engage, and Microsoft’s Windows Azure Services Platform—is a shared technology resource that’s available via the Internet and can be used on an as-needed basis. In contrast, a private cloud is created specifically for one organization’s use.

Both concepts, greatly enhanced by virtualization technologies, are paving the way for an “evergreen” approach to IT. Enterprises can obtain the technologies they need when they need them, without having to purchase and maintain an array of in-house systems.

“It all stems from the legacy model of ‘build it and forget about it,’” says Bob Zukis, national leader of IT strategy for PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). “Changes taking place in the industry are making it much more efficient and effective to provision what IT needs. So ‘build it and forget about it’ no longer meets the needs of the business. Whether you’re going with a public or private cloud, you’re pursuing a way to increase your technological resources in a more efficient, flexible way.”

Appropriately enough, this evergreen movement is also green-friendly. “Cloud computing allows for reduced power consumption because enterprises are maximizing their resources and paying only for what they use,” says Vanessa Alvarez at Frost and Sullivan. “When an application is not utilizing resources, those resources can be moved to another application that needs them, enabling maximum resource efficiencies. If additional capacity or resources are no longer needed, virtual servers can be powered down or shut off.”

Many organizations struggle with the decision of private versus public clouds. Private clouds offer security and greater flexibility than traditional legacy systems, but they have a higher barrier of entry than public clouds, PwC’s Zukis says. Private cloud services require an enterprise IT manager to handle technology standardization, virtualization and operations automation, as well as operations support and business support systems.

Public clouds don’t require this kind of organizational shift. “With public clouds, you provision your organization very quickly, by increasing service, storage and other computing needs, Zukis says. “A private cloud takes a lot more time because you’re essentially rearchitecting your legacy environment.”

However, though public clouds are faster and more convenient, they don’t provide the same transparency as private clouds afford. “It’s not always clear what you’re buying off the shelf with public clouds,” Zukis points out.

This article was originally published on 2010-04-08
Dennis McCafferty is a freelance writer for Baseline Magazine.
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