What Is Public Cloud?

If you scour the Internet (or let Google do it for you) for “What is Public Cloud” there are plenty of articles defining cloud computing and the differences between Public Cloud, Private Cloud and Hybrid Cloud.   I wanted to put a different slant in this article by trying to define these terms in a way that would be more relevant to small businesses and their owners rather than IT decision makers.

Let’s start with: What is Public Cloud?  In a nutshell Public Cloud is where a service provider makes computing resources available to business or consumers over a public network i.e. the Internet.

Those computing resources could be cloud storage like DropBox or OneDrive; online applications (often called Software as a Service or SaaS) which can include anything from email applications like Gmail to online accounting and CRM systems; and also hosted IT infrastructure i.e. the servers that may have traditionally been kept in a small business’s office that stored document files and databases.

The reason Public Cloud is so advantageous for small businesses is the way resources are pooled and shared by all who use it, so everyone benefits from economies of scale.   

As an example let’s look at the traditional office server.  A few years ago a small business would buy the best it could afford, usually pay a local IT support company to install and configure it, and the server would work away using most if not all of its computing power to perform the tasks required of it by the business.   Although even this server would be mostly idle overnight.   Nowadays computing power has increased almost exponentially and costs dropped dramatically to a point where off the shelf servers can have something like 20 – 40 times more processing power than many small businesses actually need.

To take advantage of this available resource the software companies invented “virtualisation”, the ability to run multiple versions of operating systems on the same physical hardware as “Virtual machines” or “Virtual servers”.  This meant that large corporations who may have previously had dozens of physical servers filling large racks in their data centre could now replace these with just one physical server running dozens of virtual operating systems, saving power, and metal.

In parallel to this the speed of the Internet has increased (in most areas) to the point where it is the same speed (or bandwidth) as previously existed on local networks.

So in comes Public Cloud; combing the ability to run multiple virtual servers with increased Internet bandwidth, the cloud providers are able to offer small business their own server but instead of it sitting on the customer’s site it is virtual and “hosted” on a shared server at the providers data centre.  It also shares all the other infrastructure from power supplies to firewalls and network connections.

Of course Public Cloud doesn’t end there.   Imagine all the small tasks that the IT support company would have done on an individual basis for each small business; from configuring backups, installing and managing Antivirus, managing user accounts and security, updating and patching the server to swapping out parts when they fail.  All these things can now be done centrally for all the customers with management tools and automation.

Because cloud providers are serving hundreds or thousands of customers they will invest in redundant infrastructure at every level.  Hardware, or even mains power, can fail without necessarily impacting the customer making it a far more reliable platform than an onsite system.

All this makes Public Cloud services quick and easy to setup for the small business, hardware costs are covered by the provider, even software licences which traditionally would have been a significant outlay when purchasing servers can now be rented on a month by month basis alongside the cloud server.

For some businesses the sharing of infrastructure is not always appropriate.   They may need direct control over resources for critical systems at busy times or have strict data regulation, governance and compliance obligations.   In these situations a Private Cloud environment may be more appropriate or for added flexibility a combination of the two known as Hybrid Cloud can be useful.   See the next two articles about Private and Hybrid Cloud.

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Further Useful Articles

What Is Private Cloud?

What is Hybrid Cloud?

 

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