No doubt you’ve been considering moving to the Cloud or are in the process of selecting a Cloud provider. In fact, very few businesses have a strategy of keeping their servers and infrastructure locally, and rightly so.
With the amount of investment being made into the Cloud infrastructure by large companies (94% of enterprises are already using a cloud computing service), it makes less and less financial sense to try to recreate this functionality within your own business.
That said, it does pay to be fully aware of all the various Cloud types available, since there are only small differences between the different Cloud providers, but some vast differences between the Cloud types.
Who Are the Primary Cloud Providers?
The three main Cloud terminologies you will hear are:
- Private Cloud
- Public Cloud
- Hybrid Cloud
Although all are Cloud services in their own right, they are all slightly different and cater to different requirements.
Let’s jump right in, and quickly cover off the leading Cloud providers who are offering services for most businesses out there. It’s worth noting that there are indeed many smaller suppliers of Cloud technology products but with the large bulk of Cloud revenue flowing through three major providers let’s stick with those for now:
For all intents and purposes, all three will be able to provide 99% of all solutions required, i.e. they all offer Virtual Machines, they can all provide security services, and all have geographic replication to maintain continuity.
However, that 1% is crucial for usability and does have a direct effect on how your implementations operate. The best way to describe it is to imagine a car built by Ford, which on its own is fantastic, works well, good economy etc. but Panasonic have this MP3 player that you really love and works with the car speakers by simply plugging it in.
One day though, you need to take your Ford to the dealer for an “update.” This goes ahead, everything seems to work fine, but a week later, you fire up Tom Jones and notice you can’t use the remote on the steering wheel with your MP3 player, and alas you have to resort to the good old-fashioned knobs – not the end of the world but a slight annoyance as it was working fine at the beginning.
No matter what you select through those steering wheel buttons, you’re just not getting the result you expect. You just have to accept that the days of the two products working well together are over, and that’s because, at inception, those products had the same standards of interoperability, but there are no guarantees, and everything is now being updated at such a pace it’s hard for anyone to keep up.
We must always consider that 1% of difference can have a considerable effect on usability further down the road. Every Cloud provider is primarily going to focus on products and integration within their own platforms. You may not spot these differences at the beginning of your Cloud journey, but further, down the road, you will.
A great example of this might be users who decided they loved Microsoft Outlook 365, but also liked using Gmail, perhaps it was cost or just the fact they were comfortable with the Google brand. Either way, they decided they had to use both.
After adding their Gmail accounts into Outlook using IMAP and hey presto, everything seemed to work, emails, contacts etc.
But, some weeks later, you see the calendar just isn’t syncing with your phone, and appointments are not showing up, so Google releases a sync tool, to be used with Outlook and Gmail.
To start with, everything works fine, although Outlook now has an annoying popup to show it’s synchronising. Microsoft then releases an update, so do Google, and before you know it, Google pulls support for Gmail running in Outlook.
Planning is critical, and before you commit to a Cloud provider, you must consider how your company will use Cloud computing, as using multiple providers can sometimes not work out precisely as you may hope.
With the above story in mind, the questions to ask when selecting a Cloud provider should revolve around:
- What do I currently have with any of the vendors? Mailboxes, servers etc.
- Are there any products in those company stacks that I can see I will want in the future?
- Which bits of software might I have which are certified with them?
- Do I integrate or want to integrate with critical suppliers or clients, if so, who do they use?
- Will they integrate with what I have currently so I can migrate “softly.”
The last point is especially relevant if you are already operating in a Microsoft environment, as with the right support you will be able to quickly provide end to end SSO access for your users throughout your migration, meaning their same login will be usable without worrying about multiple sets of credentials.
Now we have covered off considerations and some key reasons you should think hard about your Cloud provider, let’s move into the three main Clouds and why they are different.
A Public Cloud, does NOT mean there is no security and you’re not protected, it just means that the platform is ultimately shared. Effectively a Cloud provider hosts lots of hardware in a single location, with a layer of technology over the top to create segregation when users/businesses start using those services.
The advantage to Public Cloud offerings is that most of the work has been done already in terms of hardware configuration and clients of that Cloud have fewer risks when configuring. For most businesses, a Public Cloud will be enough, since it’s both safe and reliable. There are only a few reasons why a company may decide to consider other options:
- Legal obligations to organisations or governments
- Legacy software needing more flexibility than the tech layer offered by Public Clouds
- Guarantees of certain types of data practices, encryption etc
- Data locations in regions not preferable by the client
But, in terms of general use, even the UK government now use Microsoft Cloud products, with many other governments fully invested. Not all their services will be on a Public Cloud, but many will be.
A private Cloud will typically not be hosted on such an extensive infrastructure as a Public Cloud for reasons of supply and demand, although sometimes provisions can be made for such a facility when one of the big three deem it a worthwhile endeavour.
However, for the purposes of this, a Private Cloud consists of hardware and software which is not shared with any other party and is solely provided for a specific client.
Why might you need to consider a Public Cloud?
Usually, the reasoning falls around two key areas, security or flexibility. For instance, let’s say you are using some legacy software in your environment, which needs an operating system which is no longer supported or secure, this would be a perfect example of when you’d need such a provision.
Another example might be certain access your applications require directly to physical hardware, on a Public Cloud, it’s highly unlikely the provider will be able to grant such high-level access without compromising the integrity or security of the whole Cloud.
Security is never an “absolute” and requires a multi-varied analysis every single time you wish to deploy IT. Individual organisations still insist on a complete private infrastructure for their IT, especially when providing external access to their data.
Some banks and financial organisations insist on Private cloud, as they believe possibly that they can provide a better security provision than the Public Cloud providers.
Due to the sheer scale available in terms or replication over multiple sites and resilient broadband access with Public Clouds, it’s usually not a fair comparison to say a Public Cloud is more reliable that a Private Cloud. Although from a physical infrastructure perspective, a Private Cloud may not have as much physical equipment behind it, they can still provide high levels of resilience.
There is some debate over the idea of using a private cloud. The idea of cloud computing after all, is that an organisation shouldn’t have to build and manage their IT infrastructure. By using cloud vendors, an organisation can lower costs while simultaneously receiving applications and services on par or better than what can be done in-house.
On the other hand, not all organisations can relinquish control to third-party vendors, as we’ve already briefly covered. Private clouds are able to host vast IT systems, allowing the centralisation and monitored without the unknown factors that come with outsourcing.
This category simply means a combination of local server infrastructure and Cloud services, regardless of Private or Public. Again, there are several reasons to have a hybrid configuration which usually revolve around incompatibility, cost or performance.
An excellent example of such a requirement could be a manufacturing company which had a local email server, file server and various applications linked to their production lines. Perhaps they started trying to migrate everything to a Cloud provision and were successful to some degree, managing to move emails and files.
However, when it came to their production line applications, it was discovered that the cost to move those pieces of software was too high, as the software vendor required large portions of code to be re-written as they had a completely bespoke requirement.
It was also discovered that the application required an unusually low latency (ping time) and no public internet connection could provide such a service. Thus, it was agreed to leave that software locally for the foreseeable future.
The advantage in this scenario would be that a large portion of the company IT was able to benefit from Cloud functionality, which may include, better remote access, high levels of availability or better disaster recovery.
It’s important to note, that just because your business may be unable to move absolutely everything to the Cloud, it does not mean you should refrain from making use of those facilities for other elements which can be migrated.
Eventually, most data processing will be done in some form of a Cloud, so whether it’s now or later, the effort should be made to analyse and start planning your own migration.
In this piece, we’ve covered the differences between public, private and hybrid clouds, and a few advantages and disadvantages.