This syndicated post originally appeared at No Jitter - Recent posts by Zeus Kerravala.

Whether it’s customization, scale, or something else
you’re after, sometimes public cloud doesn’t make sense.

Business and IT leaders are certainly feeling the pressure to help their organizations become digital. Agility needs to increase, but it’s no secret that legacy IT models simply can’t meet the needs of today’s fast-paced, constantly changing business environments. This is one reason why organizations have been embracing the cloud faster than ever.

However, the public cloud model isn’t always the best choice, especially for medium and large enterprises.

I recently ran across a post by network switching software provider Cumulus Networks on the private versus public cloud debate, and I thought I would weigh in with my opinion. The first point I want to make is that not everything is going to be in public clouds, despite the media hype. My most recent cloud forecast shows that by 2021 only 35% of all workloads will be in public clouds. Of the remainder, 24% will be in private clouds and the rest will continue running on legacy, on-premises infrastructure.

The majority of workloads that fall into the traditional on premises category are legacy systems that do now require infrastructure agility or elasticity. Communications and collaboration platforms do and will eventually wholly migrate to either public or private clouds. Large enterprises will likely deploy the private cloud infrastructure in their own data centers where medium size companies will likely leverage a hosting provider, but either are viable options.

Private clouds certainly require more work to get up and running than simply breaking out a credit card and signing up with Amazon Web Services (AWS). But for certain organizations with specific requirements, private clouds do provide a better option. For example, in some organizations, collaboration apps need to be highly elastic. Consider Web conferencing where the average number of participants normally is just a few but once a quarter a company does an all-hands meeting where the capacity must scale quickly into the thousands. In that case, a private cloud may prove to be more cost-effective than using a public cloud service.

Here are the top five reasons why an organization should consider a private cloud:

  1. Customizable tools and processes — Public clouds are made for the masses, and that means the cloud providers offer highly standardized tools and processes. In other words, you get what you get — and your organization will likely need to alter its processes to work around the standardized set of tools. Well, what if that’s not an option? What if your business does something a certain way that can’t be changed? For example, in a contact center, workflows may be built in a certain way to hand customer inquiries efficiently. With a public cloud, these may need to be altered to fit the service. A private cloud allows for the processes to fit the current workflow. If your company needs to customize cloud tools and processes to meet its unique business requirements, private clouds afford that opportunity whereas public clouds don’t. In addition, most private cloud building blocks use Linux as their underlying operating system, and there is a veritable cornucopia of Linux-based tools to automate processes and eliminate labor-intensive tasks that chew up valuable IT staff time.
  2. Regulatory and compliance requirements — Public clouds are available almost anywhere in the world, but the data often isn’t stored locally. In fact, unless your business is in one of a handful or major countries, like the U.S. or Germany, your data is very likely stored in another country or even on another continent. For organizations in regulated verticals such as healthcare and financial services, using a public cloud could mean violating industry regulations and result in stiff fines and penalties. A private cloud would give your company direct control over where data, such as call records and customer information, is stored and who has access to it, making regulatory and internal compliance mandates easier to meet.
  3. Cost-effective scaling — Both public and private clouds scale automatically, but with public clouds, costs grow as the service scales up. I have talked to many organizations that migrated poorly written code to a public cloud and had sticker shock when they got their bills. The all-hands-on Web conferencing use case I mentioned earlier is an excellent example of cost-effective scaling within a private cloud. Moving to a public cloud may be the right decision, but it’s critical to get your application house in order first. This may require rewriting apps to be cloud-native versus doing a “lift and shift.” Juxtapose this with the private cloud model; your organization would pay a utilization fee and would be able to add capacity to the infrastructure when doing so makes sense. The cost of scaling is perhaps the most significant reason a business might want to consider a private cloud.
  4. Security control — Security and public clouds are interesting. Past survey work by ZK Research has revealed that security can be both the top driver for moving to the public cloud and the top inhibitor. I can’t say whether public clouds are either more secure or less secure than private clouds, as that depends on the implementation of each. I’m sure AWS and Microsoft have great security when compared to some Podunk cloud provider. What I can say is that private clouds are single-tenant solutions and the enterprise has direct control over the security of the hardware, network, data center, and other elements. So while you might argue that public cloud is more secure than private cloud, you wouldn’t be able to argue that public clouds offer superior control over security than private clouds.
  5. Option to migrate to a hybrid environment — Realistically, most organizations are going to shift to a hybrid cloud model over time. My research shows that more than 80% of companies intend to go hybrid. Companies that opt for a private cloud always have the option to connect to a public cloud. Going from private to hybrid may prove to be an easier task than going from public to hybrid. Once the private cloud is built, the company can choose a public cloud service that interoperates with the private cloud “stack.” Choosing the public cloud first may limit infrastructure choices.

Digital transformation is putting tremendous pressure on companies to move with speed. Legacy IT systems are too slow and rigid to be the agile foundation required to make the shift to digital. The cloud is the platform of the digital world, but the public cloud doesn’t need to be the default. Ensure you understand the strengths and weaknesses of public, private, and hybrid models. You might find private cloud is a better starting point.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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