There’s broad agreement on the key benefits of virtual servers — scalability, improved resource utilization, reduced operational costs, instant provisioning, and the ability to quickly expand the server base. But there is no “one size fits all” consensus around private vs. public cloud servers.
For educational institutions, the selection of a public vs. private cloud turns upon a number of factors. When considering a move to the cloud, organizations must evaluate these two functionally similar technologies and assess the appropriateness of each for their needs.
They should look at the specific applications and processes they want to transition to a cloud-based infrastructure, and factor in security, compliance, cost, and scalability before deciding which of the two options aligns most closely with their strategies. Some schools might determine that specific applications and processes require a private cloud, while others can live in the public cloud.
The primary consideration for any educational institution when choosing between a private or public cloud solution remains security. With private cloud deployment, access can be actively restricted internally and externally, and firewall technologies can be implemented to protect against external threats. At first blush, a private cloud might seem to provide a better choice for organizations that want to enjoy the benefits of virtual servers without compromising security policies or overall system flexibility.
But a closer look reveals that, implemented correctly, the public cloud can be as secure as the most effectively managed private cloud implementation. While security is an issue in the public cloud, there are new and effective ways to mitigate risk. Before transitioning to cloud server hosting, it's wise to check the service provider's profile and history, and obtaining reference customers in their industry.
To achieve maximum security in a public cloud server hosting environment, look for intrusion detection and prevention systems (IDPS), which are designed to prevent attacks and extend far beyond traditional firewalls. The better public cloud providers also embrace the concept of "application-consistent backup" as the optimum restoration method in the event of data loss.
Aside from security considerations, some organizations – including some educational institutions --have the additional burden of considering compliance requirements when transitioning to a cloud server. Public cloud providers can offer full compliance with protocols under Sarbanes-Oxley, PCI and HIPAA, but not every provider does -- again, due diligence is the byword. In a private cloud, the hardware, storage and network configuration is dedicated to a single company, so compliance is less of an issue.
Cost is another key factor when assessing public versus private clouds. Schools and colleges considering virtual servers must not only investigate upfront investment, but long-term expenses as well, including operational costs, maintenance, and application expenses.
With the public cloud, the service provider is responsible for all management and maintenance of the infrastructure, thus eliminating ongoing maintenance and management costs. Private cloud implementation can be cost-prohibitive for many small-to-mid-size school districts because of initial hardware costs, while large enterprises have the advantage of using their existing data center hardware for cloud hosting.
Scalability also belongs on the shopping list. Both cloud options, public and private, offer a degree of scalability. However, the flexibility of public cloud hosting ensures an almost infinitely scalable platform. The pay-as-you-go scalability of virtual server hosting is particularly suitable for smaller educational institutions because it allows them to immediately scale up or down. For enterprises that operate their own private cloud infrastructure, scaling will involve additional hardware investment and longer timelines than a similar degree of expansion within a scalable public cloud.
When considering the transition to virtual servers, schools and colleges must prioritize their needs in terms of scalability, cost, security and flexibility, and then make an informed decision regarding which alternative provides the best fit.