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Sep 27, 2016 | Reading time: 5 Minutes

Cloud 101: The Differences Between Four Types of Cloud Environments

Laura Vietmeyer, Managing Editor

Cloud technology continues to grow as a new and exciting domain in technology. As it becomes integrated into daily life and business on a growing scale, the need to understand its uses becomes increasingly necessary. The cloud can no longer be defined concisely (if it ever even was, for that matter). As it proves to be a fluid form of technology with endless applications, most environments can be categorized within a few different models of cloud technology: public, private, community, or hybrid.

These deployment models are typically geared toward different user bases and emphasize their own strengths and weaknesses. After gaining an understanding of the technology, it is prudent to analyze the advantages and disadvantages of each implementation.

Public Cloud

A public cloud is the most familiar model for most, and requires minimal technical savvy to utilize. This model may be described as “external to the consumers’ organizations,” meaning the user has no relation to its deployment, customization and maintenance of its infrastructure. Many technologies used in daily life are synchronous with this type of cloud: smartphones and laptops will automatically sync data to a cloud to be accessed from any device. The iCloud provided by Apple Inc., Google’s cloud, and Amazon Web Services are recognizable names in public cloud service.

Most of a public cloud’s user base is likely to be individuals with their own private data needs. However, the vastness and simple integration of this model makes it practical for small businesses as well. The large and growing user base of public clouds keeps pressure on providers to maintain a quality, cutting-edge and reliable product; as a result, public clouds offered by enterprise giants tend to be secure, cheap and scalable.

Still, it is necessary to point out that the user has the least amount of control within this model, and is subject to the provider’s terms of agreement. A user of a public cloud must examine how their data is shared and with whom. As the infrastructure itself cannot be altered by the user, this privacy deficit may extend beyond the control of their personal settings. For the average person, this is likely not an issue. For enterprises, this may be critical to examine.

Private Cloud

Broadly speaking, a private cloud represents the opposite of a public cloud, but has its own benefits. Although hosted, managed private clouds are increasingly popular, private clouds are traditionally deployed within business enterprises. The basis of this model is that all infrastructure is setup in-house for a company’s own use and is not advertised or seen by the public. Private clouds offer the most sincere form of control, and are just as private and secure as they are configured to be.

Of course, a company maintaining a private cloud is subject to a greater amount of human error and ignorance, so this model may be a risk in itself if its creator is not completely adept. However, for enterprises with adequate security personnel, this can be the most secure type of cloud. Companies may also wish to outsource the maintenance of a private cloud to a third-party company, effectively gaining the benefits while distributing the actual deployment and maintenance to a more capable group.

It is critical to stress the need for risk assessment and mitigation with private cloud infrastructure. It may be prudent to house the infrastructure in a location separate from a business’s primary quarters, and even better to have multiple locations for failover in the event of disaster. Beyond security and risk, private clouds — especially on-premise private clouds —   are less easy to scale; a company may need to upgrade or expand the physical counterpart of this technology, which can be a resource-consuming process. For large enterprises, this is not necessarily a deterrent.

Small companies may find this impractical, however, especially if they expect to grow. For them, hosted private clouds that share similar functionality to their public cloud counterparts are an increasingly viable and cost-effective option.  

Community Cloud

A community cloud may offer a good solution for small and medium-size businesses. This cloud model offers a greater level of uniqueness in its configuration than a public cloud, while not being as exclusive as a private cloud, thus eliminating some of the drawbacks of a private cloud. A community cloud is geared toward organizations with similar needs, that have common privacy and security needs. This model lends the opportunity to standardize privacy and security.

Many businesses fall short in their information technology sector, and a community cloud can mitigate that. Furthermore, community clouds offer a way to create an industry standard. They are a hallmark of the healthcare industry and universities, where cloud needs are similar, and the need to uphold a standard is crucial. The infrastructure of these clouds may be more complex than its public and private counterparts, which implies its own drawbacks. As a rule, a cloud structure which relies on standardization as its key feature may be less adaptable to changing technology needs.

Hybrid Cloud

Like a community cloud, a hybrid cloud is defined by its standardization. A hybrid cloud represents the marrying of a public and private cloud. An organization will jointly use a public and private cloud for different functions, effectively gaining the ease of use and other benefits of a public cloud while maintaining another private cloud as it is necessary.

This is an excellent solution for businesses that need to differentiate data which is too sensitive to host publicly, but also have data which must remain in-house. A hybrid cloud may also be used to create a fail-safe environment, where data is held both within their own infrastructure and outside of it. A common practice is to host e-commerce within a private cloud, and a public website in a public cloud. The use of a hybrid cloud offers a cost-effective solution for enterprises with complex needs.

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Cloud technology continues to develop rapidly, and it is increasingly important for those in the technology community to understand the differences between the types of clouds offered. Each has its own development and deployment model, as well as its own targeted user base. As the internet continues to expand and cloud technology becomes more fundamental to businesses and private citizens alike, knowing the resources available is more critical than ever.

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