What is public cloud?
Cloud computing remains an important technology for businesses. It’s divided into three categories: public cloud, private cloud, and hybrid cloud, the last being a combination of the first two.
In contrast to a private cloud that is built using the company’s infrastructure, a public cloud is created from third-party resources, which get shared between multiple organizations. This makes the public cloud provider a vendor which is providing virtual computer resources to the organization.
These days, public clouds are not routinely deployed as the only solution for the organization. Rather, they are frequently utilized as part of a heterogeneous environment, often combined with a private cloud environment to be part of a more comprehensive hybrid cloud solution.
Additionally, given the popularity – or even necessity – of having a public cloud provider for today’s businesses, firms are increasingly taking on multiple cloud providers as part of a multicloud solution. This can help to explain the current growth of public cloud, a market expected to reach $186 billion (£145 billion) in 2018, according to Gartner, growing rapidly by over 21% compared to the previous year.
Advantages of public cloud
Driving the growth to the public cloud are multiple advantages which include:
Unlike a private cloud, with which the business must build out the infrastructure, a public cloud environment means the vendor has the responsibility for providing the resources on-demand. The side benefit to the business is that this allows resources to be scaled as needed, and to be responsive to the occasional spikes in traffic that occur. The latter means businesses don’t have to overbuild their private cloud just to cope with a once per year rise in demand, for example.
The data center of a businesses is situated in a particular geographic location, which may be subject to catastrophic weather events, power outages and other potential issues. Only a minority of businesses have the resources to have multiple data centers as their private cloud, in multiple disparate geographic areas.
However, with public cloud, vendors like Microsoft and Google are massive operations providing a vast network of servers across many different areas, providing redundancy, and therefore a higher level of reliability, than most businesses can provide on their own. Even if a single data center went down, the others would still perform, and the organization would not experience downtime.
Building out a private cloud can be expensive. You’ve got to consider the initial cost to acquire all the hardware, and then the ongoing maintenance, including hardware failures, the upgrade cycle as gear reaches end-of-life, and the manpower from the IT department.
With a public cloud, this is replaced with a contract for a monthly fee that provides all this without the steep startup cost. There are also economies of scale as the larger providers have so many accounts that they can acquire and run gear most efficiently, and at a lower cost than many organizations can accomplish independently.
Disadvantages of public cloud
The public cloud has its own set of downsides as well:
While public cloud security has improved, there remain concerns that a server shared with multiple users is inherently less safe than a private cloud solution that is dedicated to a single organization (and can be made even more secure behind the firm’s corporate firewall). A recent example of worrying data spillages are the multiple ‘bucket leaks’ via Amazon Web Services from Spyfone, Tesla, GoDaddy and Accenture.
While a private cloud service connects via a faster corporate LAN, public cloud is at the mercy of the internet connection. This can result in higher latency for apps, causing poorer performance, especially considering many data centers can be located at quite a distance geographically from their users.
A common use case for public cloud is offsite data storage, taking advantage of redundancy to avoid data loss. However, this can create problems for the movement of data as it is based on internet speeds, and can be hampered with congestion issues. Also, the data can end up in different countries, and be subject to different regulations, including different data privacy laws.
Public cloud solutions are available from plenty of sources, including the tech juggernauts of Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud, Oracle Cloud and Google Cloud, as well as some less big-name cloud companies, such as Navisite, Alibaba, Egnyte, Red Hat and Rackspace Cloud.
However, the leader in this segment is Amazon Web Services (AWS) which continues to grow at a healthy rate – 48.9% in Q2 2018, keeping it ahead of the competition, and generating over $6 billion (£4.75 billion) for that quarter. AWS has become increasingly profitable since its launch in July 2002, contributing over 11% of the company’s overall income in the last quarter.#
AWS has a 34% share of the cloud infrastructure market, which makes AWS not only the largest of the public cloud services, but gives it a commanding lead when we realize that it is larger than the next four competitors in this space – combined. This is doubtless something rival cloud outfits are worried about.
The list of clients that use AWS is expansive across many sectors, such as Comcast, Siemens, Lyft, Slack, and government customers such as the FDA, PBS and the CDC. There is no shortage of testimonials of successful companies that are running successfully on AWS, including car shopping site Edmunds.com, with 20 million visitors monthly, the grammar checking website Grammarly.com that uses AWS for its natural language processing engine, global news leader Politico, and Tinder, the world’s largest dating app.
However, the public cloud, and in particular AWS, is at risk of becoming a victim of its own success. The online storage provider, Dropbox, was an early success story of AWS, and the service would have been difficult to build out without access to a robust public cloud environment.
However, over the last few years, Dropbox has found that the allure of lower startup costs did not pan out in the long term, particularly when combined with being locked into a single vendor. Since 2015, Dropbox has been building out its own data centers, a project dubbed its ‘infrastructure optimization,’ so the firm isn’t locked into AWS, and is therefore expected to save $75 million (£58 million) over the next two years thanks to these efforts.
So while the public cloud offers many advantages, it is not a one-size-fits-all proposition across all organizations.