"Cloud" continues to be an ambiguous and often misused term. What is the cloud, anyway? PC Magazine put it best in a 2013 article: "In the simplest terms, cloud computing means storing and accessing data and programs over the Internet instead of your computer's hard drive. The cloud is just a metaphor for the Internet." While this may not be 100 percent accurate, it's close enough to the truth to work as a definition. The cloud allows you to store data, access services and run programs remotely using shared resources—instead of on the actual machine you are using or on an attached data device.
Cloud computing comes in three basic forms—public, private and hybrid clouds. Understanding the often-subtle differences between these options is the key to choosing the right service for yourself or your business.
When most home users think about "the cloud" and the common services offered, the public cloud is what comes to mind. This is when services, storage or other elements are provided completely over the Internet—normally in a pay-per-use or pay-per-period model. There is no on-site infrastructure. The biggest benefit of the public cloud is that it offers the most efficiency in sharing resources; an off-site provider is able to share the cost of storage or service among many, many users. The public cloud worries many in the security field, however, as vulnerabilities could exist if the cloud provider is not following proper protocol. Luckily, these issues are few and far between.
The public cloud is a great choice when you are working with a firm that has a well-implemented strategy for security, because it allows for great savings. In addition, since you are not purchasing or utilizing a server or other equipment, it is easy to add incremental space or power as needed.
With private clouds, the basic infrastructure of cloud computing is used only for one specific organization or group. The name is a bit of a misnomer, because they are not always privately run—sometimes they can be operated by an outside organization where the equipment is housed off-site.
A private cloud offers advanced security that is simply not available with a public cloud. Additionally, the rate of availability is often higher than with other types of clouds, since there is normally a dedicated professional operating the cloud. That said, the main drawback to the private cloud is cost. Because it is fully dedicated to one organization, there is no sharing of cost. Additionally, when it comes time to scale up, the cost and effort can be hard to handle for all but the largest organizations.
The final cloud option is the hybrid cloud. As the name would lead you to believe, it offers a combination of the public and private cloud. There are a number of cases where this could be very useful. An organization may choose to operate a private cloud, but use the public cloud for backup or in case of usage spikes. With the easy ability to scale up and down on the public cloud, it could be nice to have this available to help an organization work through "growing pains" when it may not be ready to upgrade to a new server.
The most important consideration when using hybrid cloud technology is that the firm must be mindful of what type of cloud is being used for what service. That way, when changes are made later, there is no confusion or potential security hazard.
Now that you understand the key differences between the different types of cloud service, decide which will work best with your particular set of needs and computer configuration. The cloud may seem like a mysterious force, but in reality, it is a better way of doing things—often saving you money, resources, time and stress.
Written by Amanda Regnerus. As Vice President of Marketing and Product Development at US Signal, Amanda Regnerus defines and establishes strategic direction with supporting marketing and product development plans for both network and cloud revenue growth. She oversees product management, advertising, lead generation, digital marketing, social media, channel development and overall go to market strategy. Amanda has a successful track record of business-to-business solutions selling, account management, client development, project management, and product marketing in both IT and telecommunications industries. Before joining US Signal in 2005, Amanda held positions as Sales Manager and Senior Director of Business Services for Choice One Communications and US XChange, LLC.