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Quick Guide to the Difference Between a Public and a Private Cloud

by Emily Heaslip Published Mar 15, 2021

Cloud security. Cloud architecture. Cloud storage. As you start scaling your business, you know “the cloud” is an important element of your IT capabilities. But, it can be a little confusing to understand the ins and outs of “the cloud” — especially when it comes to using cloud-based tools for your company to work remotely. 

Before we get into private vs public clouds, let’s quickly establish what we mean by cloud computing. Cloud computing is the delivery of “computing services” — e.g., storage, software, analytics, etc. — over the internet. Compare this to locally-hosted options, such as storing documents on an external hard drive or installing a piece of software using a flash drive. 

Cloud computing is a very broad category and therefore it’s likely your organization uses some or many cloud services. Some common examples of cloud-based programs — tools or services hosted on the cloud — include Google Workspace or AWS.  This guide will help break down the difference between a public and private cloud, help you learn which one is right for you, and show you how to best protect your information shared through a cloud-based program. 

[Read more: How to Create a Cloud Security Framework

What is a private cloud

A private cloud is a cloud computing “environment” where all software and hardware resources are “dedicated” to a single customer. This means that your company is the only user able to access any information stored in the private cloud. 

There are many advantages to using private cloud software. An organization that builds its IT infrastructure on a private cloud can maintain access control, set rigorous security protocols, and take advantage of the flexibility and scalability of cloud computing.

Many companies choose private cloud over public cloud (cloud computing services delivered over infrastructure shared by multiple customers) because private cloud is an easier way (or the only way) to meet their regulatory compliance requirements,” explained IBM. “Others choose private cloud because their workloads deal with confidential documents, intellectual property, personally identifiable information (PII), medical records, financial data, or other sensitive data.” 

Private cloud software is hosted either on an organization’s existing infrastructure, such as on-premise servers or by a third-party organization. Some popular private cloud vendors include Dell EMC, IBM/Red Hat, Microsoft, and HPE. 

Private vs public cloud

A public cloud is a computing service that provides its offering to many different customers. SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS services are all examples of public cloud companies — think programs like Slack, Google Workspace, and Microsoft Azure. 

A public cloud comes with some security and privacy concerns, but there are also numerous benefits to utilizing the public cloud. First and foremost, public cloud services tend to cost less than private cloud software: the third party offering the service can host different clients on the same server, thereby maximizing the use of their hardware. Likewise, companies save time and resources by using a public cloud. Instead of having to maintain internal infrastructure, IT teams can focus on things like security and efficiency. 

There is one other type of cloud known as a “hybrid cloud.” Hybrid cloud computing offers the best of both worlds. It combines the on-premise datacenter of the private cloud with a public cloud, allowing information to flow between both. One advantage to using a hybrid cloud option is that it can provide business continuity if one or the other cloud options fails. It also helps mitigate the expensive cost of a private cloud. 

However, hybrid clouds aren’t a silver bullet solution. Setting up hybrid cloud security can be complicated; IT professionals need to blend public and private resources to make sure all information kept on a hybrid cloud is protected. It’s also sometimes difficult to gain visibility over where data is stored, shared, or left vulnerable on a hybrid cloud platform. 

How do you know whether a public, private, or hybrid cloud is right for your organization? Here are some questions to ask when choosing a cloud solution. 

Public, private and hybrid cloud: what’s right for you?

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Each organization will choose a different type of cloud solution based on its size, industry, business needs and budget. 

“While the more cost-effective public cloud is easy to manage and offers increased scalability, a private cloud provides greater control and heightened security for mission-critical data and applications. Hybrid cloud brings the best of both worlds, merging public and private cloud for lower total cost of ownership (TCO), with enhanced security, scalability and management features,” wrote one industry expert

Companies dealing with highly-sensitive data that have fewer budget restrictions may choose to install private cloud software. If your business doesn’t have those conditions, a public cloud is more affordable and can scale flexibly as your company grows. 

Ask these questions to zero in on a public, private, or hybrid cloud system:

  1. How much security do you need? Private clouds are usually the most secure.  
  2. How much maintenance is your organization able to perform? Public clouds need very little time or resources to maintain. 
  3. How critical is consistent performance? The infrastructure of the cloud will directly determine the availability and performance of your system; hybrid clouds may be more liable to downtime. 
  4. Does the solution integrate with your existing systems? Ideally, you should look for cloud-based solutions that provide these capabilities with API, open standards and all required bits and pieces for you to connect with your in-house infrastructure,” wrote one expert.
  5. What is your budget? Keep in mind that some cloud programs are subscription-based or charge licensing fees depending on the number of users. There are also hidden costs to setting up a private cloud – such as servers, devices, and other infrastructure. 

Most experts highly recommend adding a cloud data loss prevention (DLP) solution, no matter whether you choose a public, private, or hybrid cloud. Nightfall is a cloud DLP solution that works with public cloud programs to scan for and protect valuable information. IT administrators can set alerts for instances of inappropriate data sharing, and then delete messages with sensitive data like usernames and passwords, credit card numbers, or protected health information (PHI)

Learn more about cloud DLP and setting up your organization for secure remote work in our complete 2021 Security Playbook for Remote-first Organizations

Learn more about Nightfall by scheduling a demo at the link below.

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