The Infrastructure Behind “Cloud” is What Matters

I’ll admit that I never paid attention to terms like “Public Cloud,” “Private Cloud,” and “Hybrid Cloud” until recently. You would think that considering my position it would be all over my radar, and I’d be advocating for the different uses of each. Every time I had heard one of these in passing, I dismissed it and continued on with my simple understanding of a virtual server and the concept of cloud hosting.

Were these cloud types truly just marketing terms set up to sell currently existing services, or was each a whole new level of service that I had previously refused to adopt? When I attended the OpenStack Summit in Austin, I set out to find the answer.

The OpenStack Summit took place in Austin this year.

Cloud is Just a Concept

That’s it. Simple as that. There is no special cloud server, and no matter what, all of your data still “lives” somewhere. Fundamentally, there is no difference between a server used as a dedicated host for a customer and a server being used as a virtual host for a set of customers. Sure, the specs will likely vary to better optimize a server’s performance for their intended use, but you could even set up virtual hosting on your own personal laptop, and that certainly wasn’t the original intent.

Cloud is the idea that your data don’t just live on a single server, and the idea that it is above us somewhere. You can imagine your data living throughout the network from place to place, like a cloud floating in the sky. Of course, this is all just a concept since your data is still written on a hard drive somewhere. It’s just that it may be written to two different hard drives on two different servers, so if something were to happen to one server, your website is still available and running on the other. So really, Cloud doesn’t mean any difference in your hardware; it’s just a different way of setting up your infrastructure.

Public vs Private

What is now known as Public Cloud is the same VPS server you’ve been used to. This is where a host is split up into smaller, virtual, self-standing bits that customers use. Private Cloud is the same, where a larger host is split up into virtual chunks, except that each virtual chunk is owned by the same person or company, thus making it private. Essentially, it’s a VPS where you have no neighbors on the box. To my understanding, this is commonly used when companies have clauses in their vendor contracts that their data can not share the same physical hardware as outside users.

Regardless of the policies of where your data should live, the product is the same. Chances are, a large enough Public Cloud server would end up living on a server by itself if it nearly matches the specifications of the dedicated host it is on. Therefore, if a Public Cloud server happens to have no neighbors on its server, is it any different than a Private Cloud? There isn’t any difference, yet they are marketed differently, with Private Cloud likely being sold at a premium for avoiding any chance of other customers landing on your box.

Private vs Dedicated

If Private Cloud is a hypervised server running on its own box, is there fundamentally any difference between that and a dedicated host? I’ve heard that scalability is a major component to this difference, but it’s something I don’t understand. A Private Cloud would still be limited to the maximum specifications of the host it is on, and using any less would frankly be a waste of resources. Since no one else could take advantage of the remaining space on the servers — more dedicated servers would be needed to accommodate more virtual servers, leading to increased energy utilization and costs. Many of the green aspects of the traditional VPS are lost in this new format, and a Private Cloud mimics the format of a Dedicated Host closer.

The biggest difference would be that the specifications of the host are bound to the server company in a Private Cloud environment rather than a Dedicated Host, where the user typically has the control to change the components to a preferred specification. One of the biggest differences would be that someone could run multiple servers separated (web server and database for interested) on a single host, where they all belong to the same customer privately.

Security

As far as I’ve been able to tell, security is one of the biggest concerns and reasons why a company may opt for a private cloud over a public one. While certain policy restrictions may apply to prohibit a party’s storing data on a public cloud, is the data really any more secure on a private cloud?

In order for security to be an issue on a public cloud, the hypervisor would need to be vulnerable to hacking. Now any piece of software can be compromised, but we’re talking about a type of software that is rigorously tested, reported on, and fixed extremely quickly. We’ve seen large scale VPS providers roll out hypervisor updates with the utmost of care. Considering that general Public Cloud is a viable solution for storing sensitive information under PCI and HIPPA compliance, I can’t see many reasons where sensitive data would need such security where it should instead just be done completely via an in-house solution.

Conclusion

I believe that the concepts and markets for Shared, Virtual, and Dedicated hosting are very distinct and clear-cut. They all offer very different features and levels of control, and each scales price appropriately to appeal to certain consumers.

Splitting the concept of Virtual Hosting and “Cloud” into Public and Private Clouds further removes the benefits of original Cloud with decreased energy consumption, flexibility to move your data among different locations effortlessly, and changing the resources you pay for on the fly.

The concept of Hybrid Cloud (utilizing both Public Cloud and Dedicated Hosting) makes more sense; although we could also do without the marketing terminology there as well. Companies should focus on the hosting they need to fulfill their desired infrastructure and make smart use of what is at their disposal.