Which Cloud is Right for Your Business?

10/31/14 9:00 AM iCorps Technologies

Cloud_Slingshot

One of the growing challenges for today’s businesses is determining where to host technology assets.

For many organizations, moving to the cloud is a pragmatic approach to balancing workloads, resources, and budgets. Cloud computing provides convenient, scalable, on-demand access to applications, servers, storage, and other resources – often with no upfront investments and no ongoing management.

There are, of course, highly divided views on the subject of the cloud:

  • Proponents tout the cloud’s unique benefits that include access from any device, backup and recovery capabilities, and scalability that enables companies to adapt quickly to shifting resource demands.
  • Opponents tend to question cost savings in the cloud, and their objections range from regulatory concerns to security inadequacies to shortcomings in service levels. The underlying drivers for these contrasting views appear to be less about the technology, though, and more about relinquishing control in terms of an asset’s physical location, management, and performance.

The conversation of which cloud is right for your business really begins with a closer examination of the cloud, which, in truth, should be referred to in its plural form. Classified by location (private, public, virtual private, hybrid, community) and services type (infrastructure as a service, platform as a service, software as a service, etc.), the technology cloud is as varied as its meteorological counterpart.

Lifting the Cloud of Ambiguity

If cloud-related terminology seems a bit vague, that’s because it is. The distinctions between seemingly straightforward references to public and private clouds quickly become blurred with variations and exceptions (e.g., hybrid cloud, virtual private cloud, managed private cloud).

First, let’s take a quick look at how the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines the different cloud models.

Public Cloud A collection of resources owned, managed, housed, and operated by a service provider and provisioned for open use by the general public.

Private Cloud. A collection of resources provisioned for exclusive use by a single organization; owned, managed, and operated by the organization, a third party, or some combination; housed on or off premises.

Community Cloud A collection of resources provisioned for exclusive use by a specific community of organizations and their users (e.g., government); owned, managed, and operated by one or more of the organizations in the community, a third party, or some combination; housed on or off premises.

Hybrid Cloud A composition of two or more distinct cloud infrastructures (private, community, or public) that remain unique entities, but are bound together by standardized or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability (e.g., cloud bursting* for load balancing between clouds).

*NOTE: When the demand for computing capacity for an application in a private cloud or data center spikes, “cloud bursting” refers to the movement of the overflow demand into a measured service public cloud to handle the capacity until the demand subsides.

What Does Your Cloud Look Like?

While it makes sense for some businesses to move fully to the cloud, others must maintain a local data center. Identifying your company’s specific IT infrastructure and application needs – as well as business drivers – are important steps toward determining which cloud is right for your business.

For smaller organizations, a typical lack of in-house technical expertise and financial resources make public cloud options a practical choice. Certain business or technical requirements may be more appropriate for a public cloud as well – for instance, a startup company that has a growing user base, a staging area for application development and testing, or a business with seasonal fluctuations in resource demands.

If your business relies on specific capabilities, such as high availability, or has to meet strict compliance regulations and/or security requirements, a private cloud located either on or off premises may fit your needs more effectively.

A variation on the private cloud is the managed private cloud – a blend of cloud computing benefits such as scalability and virtualization and the advantages of a dedicated managed solution.

A growing trend is the use of the hybrid cloud, which covers a broader base of use cases – and has varying definitions. The attraction of the hybrid cloud is that it offers the ability to tap into the specific advantages of multiple cloud models to achieve the best of all worlds.

According to George Reese, executive director of cloud management at Dell, “A hybrid cloud is a single logical cloud composed of two or more distinct physical clouds. People often think of an application that operates normally in a private cloud and bursts into a public cloud as an example…but a hybrid cloud [also] could be multiple public clouds or even multiple private clouds.”

“From a business perspective,” Steven Zeller, a VP at Logicworks comments, the “value of a hybrid cloud is to create a single management capability for a client's internal data center and an external vendor. This allows workflows to be moved between the environments and things like security and compliance to be managed across them.” Zeller cites other business benefits as well:

  • “The cloud becomes an instant disaster recovery solution for all in-house applications (payroll, communications, intranet, etc. are rolled over to the cloud if an office goes down).
  • Workloads can be balanced -- trying to run a big task in-house? Bounce it to the cloud. Have extra capacity in your data center? Bring workloads back to save money with your vendor.”

Another cloud variation is the virtual private cloud (VPN). Amazon is a good example of this. Jonathan Nimrodi, owner of Cookie Jar Growth Marketing and former manager at Cloudyn, explains,The line between public and private in this case is very blurred. On one hand, the deployment is 100% private – it consists of an IP [address] that’s drawn from my data center through a secured VPN and it also includes my security regulations…on the other hand, this structure is now on the public cloud.”

The silver lining? The cloud is thick with opportunity. As with any technology venture, identifying your technology and business requirements upfront and proper planning are a start, but you don’t have to solve everything at once. Start small and expand as needed. Remember, pay-per-use cost-efficiencies, flexibility, and scalability are among the promises of moving to the cloud.