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Public vs. private vs. hybrid cloud

When we talk about the cloud, we’re often talking about the public cloud. But what exactly does that mean? What is the public cloud? How is it different from a private or hybrid cloud strategy? What do you need to know about each of them? And which approach should your organization choose?

Public cloud

What is public cloud

Public cloud is computing services or software available via the internet. For example, Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams are cloud-based, as are Canva, Asana, GitLab, Squarespace, and MailChimp. They’re all popular software services provided via subscription and accessible online.

The primary characteristics of public cloud services are:

  • They’re easy to access online and across devices
  • Your account shares space on a server with other accounts
  • The cloud service provider typically handles not only their software applications but also the infrastructure—which means the burden of security, compliance, system upgrades, and ongoing maintenance falls mostly on the vendor instead of your team

Benefits of public cloud

By the end of 2021, at least 50% of enterprise workloads will be in the cloud, according to Flexera’s Sate of the Cloud Report. And with the fast pace of innovation, it’s no surprise. Here are just some of the benefits those enterprises are reaping from public cloud services:

  • Quick and easy scalability: Need more computing power? Most cloud services allow you to automatically scale up to serve more users during busy times or down to save money during slow times. And even if you don’t choose an automatic scaling option, reserving more computing power manually typically only takes the click of a button.
  • Reduced costs long-term: There are a lot of hidden costs for companies that choose to host software on a private server—from the cost of servers themselves to the cost of downtime to the cost of maintenance from your IT team. Public cloud services offload those costs (and the IT burden) from your business and put them squarely on the shoulders of your vendor.
  • Never fall behind the competition: On the public cloud, you get access to the latest innovations, new features, bug fixes, and security and compliance updates the moment they’re available. No lengthy internal approval processes. No additional work for your IT teams.
  • Security and compliance: With public cloud, most security and compliance tasks fall on your vendor instead of your team. With a trusted vendor’s security experts on the job, this can be a huge weight off the shoulders of the IT department.
  • Incident management and uptime: This is yet another way your vendor takes on tasks that free up your IT team to get more sleep, have more peace of mind, and focus on more specialized tasks. No more frantic middle-of-the-night incidents for your experts.
  • Remote work-friendly: Because public cloud services are designed to be accessible (and secure) from anywhere, remote and distributed teams can hit the ground running. No extra VPN setups or complicated workarounds required.
  • Better network performance: Network performance is the number one reason companies move to the cloud, according to a survey by INAP.
  • Shared costs = lower costs: Because you’re sharing a server with other customers, the cost of upgrades, security patches, maintenance, etc. is also shared (and therefore lower).
  • Smarts: With public cloud services, your vendor has a lot more data about how people use their products. This makes it simpler for software to offer you smart autocomplete or predictive options that help you tag the right colleague in a collaborative document, complete a search that gets you the info you need, or find a popular template within your software product.

Risks and challenges of public cloud

So, public cloud services are taking over the world. But what drawbacks should you watch out for?

  • Migration costs: Public cloud services often save you money in the long run, but if you are migrating your data and users from on-premise to cloud, that’ll take time and money up front. The good news? These increased costs are a one-time challenge. Once you’re on the public cloud, the savings start racking up pretty quick.
  • Learning curve: If your employees are working with on-prem systems, there’s probably going to be a learning curve when you move them into the cloud. This means companies making the switch should plan for more help desk requests in the weeks after a move and possibly some short-term productivity slow-downs.
  • Data residency: For companies with stringent data residency requirements (such as many government organizations), they’ll need to pick and choose cloud vendors. Some have data residency controls (here at Atlassian, we offer them with our Enterprise Cloud plans) and some don’t.

Why companies love public cloud

In a recent survey with TechValidate, we asked Atlassian customers how they felt after moving from on-prem to public cloud. Here’s what some of them said:

“Our primary reason for migrating was to support remote users better. This [was crucial] during the COVID-19 crisis, as we were able to reach our code in a secure manner without using company VPNs.” – Damien Gray, Principal Laser Optics Engineer, EOS North America*

“Pricing was more expensive in the short term, but in the long term it will save us money in reduced management costs.” – Bryan Kennedy, IT Director, Science Museum of Minnesota*

“The stability and security is substantially better than we achieved on premise. Being able to scale with individual user licenses is very cost-effective.” - Jarrett Prosser, Lead Engineer, Rollercoaster Digital*

Private cloud

What is private cloud?

Private cloud is computing services and software that are hosted on a private server and not available via the public internet. Private clouds can be hosted on-premise by your IT team or in a remote location.

Companies that have stringent legal and regulatory requirements may choose to manage their own cloud infrastructure behind a firewall or on partitioned servers at a colocation provider where data and assets are kept apart from those of other companies. In this type of cloud deployment, companies maintain full control of their software, servers, data, etc.—but at a significant cost in labor and asset ownership and maintenance.

Benefits of private cloud

So, why do companies choose private cloud? The answer used to be security, but these days public cloud services are often safer than their on-prem counterparts. The main benefits that remain include:

  • Full control: Your IT team manages everything, which means a larger burden on them but also gives you total control over updates, security patches, customization, etc.
  • Customization: The flexibility of private cloud means your admins can customize to their hearts’ content. The drawback is that this can create more work and clutter up systems with unused or discarded customizations if you’re not careful.

Risks and challenges of private cloud

Private cloud comes with its own list of challenges, including:

  • Slower updates: When a security patch or update is available, public cloud gets it instantly. With private cloud, those changes are typically quarterly, bi-yearly, or even yearly. This means everything from bug fixes to security may suffer in the meantime.
  • Higher costs: In the short-term, staying private may save larger companies money. But in the long term, overprovisioning, IT maintenance time, downtime, and other hidden costs eat into your bottom line.
  • Less remote-friendly: Need to support distributed teams or remote workers—either full-time or during a crisis? While private cloud can support remote work, it isn’t automatically set up for it. This means you’ll have to rely on extra work from your IT teams and more complicated set-up for your employees.

Hybrid cloud

Now, we’re obviously advocates for the public cloud, but both public and private have their up- and downsides. Which brings us to an option that meets the two in the middle: hybrid cloud.

What is hybrid cloud?

Hybrid cloud is when a company chooses to host some services on the public cloud and others in a private cloud in order to take advantage of the benefits of both types of hosting. This is a popular strategy for enterprises, with a whopping 87% saying they have a hybrid cloud strategy.

Benefits of hybrid cloud

Why are so many enterprises embracing a hybrid approach? In a hybrid cloud deployment, data moves between a public cloud and a private, self-hosted cloud. The advantage to this approach is that companies can store data behind their own firewalls using any required encryption protocols and then securely move to a public cloud environment where scalable computing power is available on demand.

The core benefits of this approach include:

  • Flexibility: Hybrid cloud means you can prioritize control in some cases and speed, innovation, and cost-savings in others. You aren’t married to one approach or the other but can assess each service based on its uses within your organization.
  • Addresses regulatory concerns without making all tools difficult to access: Private cloud is less accessible, but sometimes it’s the best choice for regulatory compliance. With a hybrid solution, you can choose private where regulations require it but keep the majority of your tools easy to access via public cloud.

Risks and challenges of hybrid cloud

So, are there any downsides to picking and choosing? Yes. Like our other two options, there’s always a trade-off, and what’s best for you depends on a number of factors.

The main challenge of hybrid cloud is that it’s more complex. Your IT teams will need to manage the pros and cons of both public and private clouds. They’ll deal with more integration issues. And they’ll probably need extra layers of security. Not to mention that employees may require additional training and may have to implement more complicated processes to work across both.

Hybrid cloud = hybrid IT

In a hybrid cloud environment, by necessity, your IT team also becomes hybrid. They’re no longer a traditional IT team managing only traditional on-prem servers. Nor are they fully a cloud team, managing only integrations, cloud vendors, etc. Instead, their skills and roles encompass both – managing on-prem resources, migrations, and/or data centers as well as cloud tools, integrations, and vendor security, compliance, etc.

Comparing public, private, and hybrid cloud

 

Public

Private

Hybrid

Hosting

Public

Shared server

Private

Private server

Hybrid

Both

Access

Public

Available anywhere

Private

Limited

Hybrid

Both

Maintenance

Public

Vendor responsible

Private

Your IT team responsible

Hybrid

Both

Scaling

Public

Often automated or instantly available

Private

Manual

Hybrid

Both

Costs

Public

Lower in the long-term

Private

Lower in the short-term

Hybrid

Both

Updates

Public

Instantly available

Private

Typically available quarterly, bi-yearly, or yearly

Hybrid

Both

Incident management

Public

Vendor managed

Private

Internally managed

Hybrid

Both

Remote work-ready

Public

Yes

Private

No

Hybrid

Both

Data residency

Public

Available from some vendors

Private

Yes

Hybrid

Both

Customization

Public

Limited

Private

Unlimited

Hybrid

Both

Think you’re not already on the public cloud? Think again.

Most organizations use just under 2,000 cloud services, but believe they use only 30. From Canva to MailChimp to unofficial Slack setups, your teams are probably already on the public cloud.

This is what we call Shadow IT, and it may be creating security risks for your organization.

The good news is that this added risk is fixable. The solution is to do an audit to make sure you know what cloud services employees are using. Once you know, your IT team can make sure they’re as secure as possible or point employees toward better alternatives if those vendors don’t meet your security standards.

The future of cloud

Over the years, companies have faced off with a number of concerns about the cloud. Security. App availability. Data residency. Compliance. The good news? Every year, cloud gets better at addressing every concern. In fact, these days most companies say cloud is more secure than on-premise. Data residency options are expanding. And with the right vendors, compliance is usually built-in.

Which is why the future is pretty cloudy…with companies moving to public cloud at a fast pace. If you’re thinking about migrating from server to cloud, visit our migration center for more info, free trials, and a step-by-step guide.

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