Nov 15 2013

Finding the Right Cloud Mix for Your Business

Public, private, or hybrid: Which cloud blend is right for your business?

Marketers often mangle the term “cloud.” This happens so often, the definition of exactly what the cloud is, and how various types of cloud services differ, is frequently lost. No wonder so many SMBs find it difficult to develop the right cloud strategy for their business.

In a nutshell, a public cloud is a data storage service run by a third party that maintains an organization’s data in the third party’s data center. For example, Dropbox, Box, Carbonite, Google Drive and Office 365 are all public-cloud offerings. A private cloud, on the other hand, stores a company’s data in its own data center, while a hybrid cloud mixes the two approaches — public and private — because not all of a business’s data files have the same storage, access and security requirements.

Private-cloud supporters tout security and control. They host their data on their hardware, so they control it completely. Mandatory for some regulated industries, private clouds dominate in large com- panies. Why? Because these are the businesses that can most afford to own and operate their own data centers. And to deploy a private cloud, they have to buy and manage advanced storage systems, which means a large upfront cost.

Public-cloud advocates tout low prices, easy access and the security expertise of the service provider. Clients encrypt files before sending them over the Internet, and stored files are encrypted by the service provider.

The Selection Process

Organizations too often place the cart before the horse when it comes to developing a cloud strategy. They argue about which type of cloud is best for their needs before taking the basic steps to properly categorize their data.

When a company is planning a cloud deployment, it must first identify the data it intends to share. Next, it should ascertain which users will access that data. A discussion of the type of cloud services to employ should not happen until these first two steps are completed.

After identifying the data, a business may find that some of it is regulated (such as financial services and medical data), while other data may be too sensitive to leave the organization (employee personal information and proprietary research, for instance). Determining which users require access to a particular set of data will likely turn up a small subset of the employee base. Critical data files shared by only a few people are perfect for a private cloud.

The first step will also identify large amounts of data that may be suitable for a public cloud. Departmental shared data, for example — particularly in distributed companies — is a natural for a public cloud. Online backup services that store files offsite for redundancy and disaster recovery purposes are the most common use of public clouds by companies large and small.

Not an Either/Or Decision

Most companies wind up using a mix of public and private clouds. For example, an organization may decide that a particular function — say, backup — would work best under the hybrid-cloud model.

Housed in another office, a private cloud could store and provide access to critical research reports, while a public-cloud solution could back up less critical employee work files to a third-party provider.

This hybrid approach would keep critical and regulated files close at hand while cutting down on infrastructure costs by using a service provider for storage of other files. In both cases, the backed-up files should be far enough off-premises so that they would be protected in case of a disaster affecting the business.