Private Cloud vs. Public Cloud: 7 Key Differences and How to Choose

What Is a Public Cloud?

A public cloud is a computing service offered by third-party providers over the Internet, making resources available to anyone who wants to use or purchase them. These resources include storage, servers, and applications, which are maintained and operated by the cloud service provider. 

Public cloud users benefit from economies of scale, as resources are shared among a pool of users, leading to lower operational costs. Public clouds are highly scalable and flexible, allowing users to easily adjust resources according to their needs. 

This model supports a pay-as-you-go pricing strategy, where users only pay for the services and resources they consume. Major examples of public cloud services include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.

What Is a Private Cloud?

A private cloud refers to cloud computing resources used exclusively by a single business or organization. Unlike public clouds, the services and infrastructure in a private cloud are maintained on a private network, and the hardware and software are solely dedicated to one organization. 

This setup offers enhanced security and control, making it suitable for businesses with strict data, regulatory, and security requirements. Private clouds provide flexibility by allowing organizations to scale up or down based on their operational demands. They facilitate a customized environment that can be tailored to specific business needs. 

However, private clouds require significant investment in IT infrastructure and in-house expertise for deployment and management. Some of the technologies used to set up a private cloud include VMware for virtualization, Kubernetes for container orchestration, Nutanix for elastic storage, and Aqua for cloud security.

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According to O’Reilly’s Technology Trends for 2024 report, the use of both public and private cloud deployments is continuing to increase. 67% of those surveyed said they use a public cloud, while 45% said they use a private cloud. 39% of organizations are adopting a hybrid cloud approach. According to the Wall Street Journal, over 85% of organizations are taking a multi-cloud approach, using more than one public cloud.

According to Flexera’s State of the Cloud 2024 report, 49% of organizations run significant workloads in AWS, 45% do so in Azure, and only 21% run significant workloads in Google Cloud. The most widely used private cloud solution is Microsoft Azure Stack, used by 37% of organizations surveyed, followed by VMware vSphere used by 31% of respondents.

Related content: Read our guide to multi cloud strategy

Public Cloud vs. Private Cloud: Key Differences 

1. Infrastructure

Public cloud infrastructure is hosted off-site and managed by the cloud service provider. Users access services and resources over the Internet. The infrastructure is shared among multiple tenants (users or organizations), which helps in optimizing resource utilization and reducing costs. The infrastructure is spread across different locations to ensure global accessibility and resilience.

Private cloud infrastructure is hosted on-premises or in a dedicated space provided by a third party. It is exclusively used by one organization, ensuring that resources are not shared with others. The organization has complete control over the infrastructure, including servers, storage, and network devices.

A middle ground between public and private clouds is a virtual private cloud (VPC), a feature offered by all public cloud providers. This gives organizations a private network within a public cloud environment, dedicated only to their resources, which offers a higher level of isolation and security. 

2. Security

Security in public clouds is a shared responsibility between the provider and the customer. The provider is responsible for securing the infrastructure and platform (security “of” the cloud), while customers must secure their data and applications (security “in” the cloud). Public clouds offer advanced security features, but the shared environment may pose risks if other users’ activities affect the overall security posture.

With a private cloud, the organization has full control over security measures, making it easier to implement and maintain security policies. This setup is beneficial for organizations handling sensitive data or requiring a high level of compliance with security standards. The dedicated nature of private clouds significantly reduces the risk of data breaches and external attacks.

Learn more in our detailed guide to cloud security solutions 

3. Deployment

Deployment in a public cloud is quick and straightforward. Users can provision new resources or services instantly through the cloud provider’s web interface or API, without the need for physical hardware setup. This agility supports dynamic scaling and rapid development cycles.

Deploying a private cloud involves more complexity and time. It requires significant upfront planning, including hardware procurement, network configuration, and software setup. However, once a private cloud is in place, it provides similar capabilities to a public cloud, such as elastic scalability and automated provisioning, within the limits of the organization’s physical infrastructure.

4. Costs

Public clouds convert capital expenses into operating expenses. The pay-as-you-go model eliminates large upfront investments and reduces ongoing operational costs, as users only pay for what they use. However, costs can escalate if usage is not carefully managed. In addition, depending on the specific configuration, over time the cost of public cloud resources can be higher than comparable private cloud resources.

Private clouds involve higher initial and ongoing costs due to the need for dedicated hardware, software, and skilled personnel to manage the infrastructure. However, they offer more predictable costs over time, and at large scale they can represent a lower total cost of ownership than public clouds.

5. Performance and Reliability

Public clouds provide high performance and reliability due to their vast network of data centers and optimized, scalable architectures. They offer disaster recovery and data backup solutions, ensuring high availability and data integrity. However, in many cases shared resources, such as virtual machine instances or hosted databases, can have lower performance than dedicated on-premise resources.

Private clouds can differ in performance and reliability, depending on the organization’s infrastructure and management capabilities. While private clouds can be optimized for specific workflows, achieving the same level of global performance and reliability as public clouds may require substantial investment, and the level of performance and reliability will largely depend on the resources allocated.

6. Control and Customization

Public clouds offer less control and customization compared to private clouds. While users can configure services and resources to some extent, they are limited by the options offered by the cloud service provider. However, the major public cloud providers offer hundreds of services, accommodating most common use cases.

Private clouds offer complete control and high levels of customization, allowing organizations to tailor their cloud environment to their needs. This control extends to hardware, software, and network configurations, providing a strategic advantage in optimizing performance and integrating with existing systems.

7. Compliance and Regulatory Requirements

In a public cloud, meeting compliance and regulatory requirements can be challenging due to the shared environment and limited control over the infrastructure. However, major cloud providers are certified against a wide range of industry standards and regulations, helping users comply with legal requirements.

Private clouds are well-suited for organizations with strict compliance and regulatory needs. The dedicated environment simplifies compliance management, as organizations can implement specific controls and policies to meet regulatory standards. This is particularly important for industries such as healthcare, finance, and government.

Private Cloud vs. Public Cloud: How to Choose?

When selecting a cloud deployment, organizations should consider the following factors.

Business Size and Type

Small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) may find public clouds more appealing due to their cost-effectiveness and scalability. Without the need for significant upfront investments in infrastructure, SMBs can leverage advanced technologies and scale resources up or down based on demand. 

On the other hand, large enterprises with complex IT environments might prefer private clouds for their enhanced control, security, and customization capabilities. Organizations that operate in specific sectors, such as healthcare, finance, or government, might opt for private clouds due to regulatory and compliance requirements.

Budget Constraints

Public clouds offer a pay-as-you-go model, which is attractive for businesses looking to minimize capital expenses. This model allows businesses to pay only for the resources they consume, making it an economical choice for startups and SMBs with limited budgets. 

Private clouds require a higher initial investment in infrastructure and ongoing expenses for maintenance and management, making them suitable for organizations with larger budgets that prioritize long-term cost predictability and control over their IT environment.

Security and Compliance Requirements

Public clouds, while offering robust security measures, share resources among multiple customers, which might not be suitable for businesses with stringent security and privacy requirements. 

These businesses may turn to private clouds, which provide a dedicated environment where security controls can be tailored to the organization’s specific needs, offering a higher degree of protection for sensitive data. Organizations subject to certain regulatory compliance standards may find that private clouds make it easier to comply with regulations.

Technical Requirements and Expertise

Businesses with complex IT needs, requiring high levels of customization and control over their computing environment, may lean towards private clouds. This option, however, demands a significant level of IT expertise for the deployment and ongoing management of the cloud infrastructure. 

Public clouds provide a more straightforward and less resource-intensive solution, offering a range of services and resources that cater to diverse technical requirements without the need for extensive in-house cloud management skills.

Is a Hybrid Cloud Right for Your Organization?

A hybrid cloud combines public and private cloud infrastructure, allowing data and applications to be shared between them. This approach provides businesses with greater flexibility and more deployment options. By leveraging a hybrid cloud, organizations can keep each aspect of their business in the most appropriate environment.

Key considerations for adopting a hybrid cloud include:

  • Data security and compliance: A hybrid model allows sensitive data to be stored on a private cloud, while still benefiting from the computational power and scalability of public cloud services for non-sensitive tasks.
  • Scalability: Hybrid clouds offer the ability to scale computing resources beyond the private cloud through the public cloud, providing a flexible infrastructure that can adapt to workload changes.
  • Cost efficiency: Organizations can optimize costs by utilizing public cloud resources for variable workloads while keeping fixed workloads on private clouds, where costs are more predictable.
  • Complexity and integration: Implementing a hybrid cloud increases the complexity of IT infrastructure. It requires robust integration and management strategies to ensure seamless operation across different environments.
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery: Hybrid clouds can enhance business continuity strategies with more options for backup and disaster recovery solutions, leveraging both on-premises and cloud-based services.
  • Innovation and agility: The flexibility of a hybrid cloud setup allows businesses to quickly test and deploy new applications in the public cloud, while maintaining core systems securely in the private cloud.

Cloud Native Security with Aqua

The Aqua Cloud Native Security Platform empowers you to unleash the full potential of your cloud native transformation and accelerate innovation with the confidence that your cloud native applications are secured from start to finish, at any scale.

Aqua’s platform provides prevention, detection, and response automation across the entire application lifecycle to secure the build, secure cloud infrastructure and secure running workloads across VMs, containers, and serverless functions wherever they are deployed, on any cloud.

Secure the cloud native build – shift left security to nip threats and vulnerabilities in the bud, empowering DevOps to detect issues early and fix them fast. Aqua scans artifacts for vulnerabilities, malware, secrets and other risks during development and staging. It allows you to set flexible, dynamic policies to control deployment into your runtime environments.

Secure cloud native infrastructure – Automate compliance and security posture of your public cloud IaaS and Kubernetes infrastructure according to best practices. Aqua checks your cloud services, Infrastructure-as-Code templates, and Kubernetes setup against best practices and standards, to ensure the infrastructure you run your applications on is securely configured and in compliance. 

Secure cloud native workloads – protect VM, container and serverless workloads using granular controls that provide real-time detection and granular response, only blocking the specific processes that violate police. Aqua leverages modern micro-services concepts to enforce immutability of your applications in runtime, establishing zero-trust networking, and detecting and stopping suspicious activities, including zero-day attacks.

The Cloud Native Experts
"The Cloud Native Experts" at Aqua Security specialize in cloud technology and cybersecurity. They focus on advancing cloud-native applications, offering insights into containers, Kubernetes, and cloud infrastructure. Their work revolves around enhancing security in cloud environments and developing solutions to new challenges.