Large cloud within a data center. Sustainable data computing background.
Image: Negro Elkha/Adobe Stock

Today’s digital transformation era has made businesses increasingly reliant on cloud computing for their operational needs. Cloud computing has three primary types of models — public, private and hybrid — each offering unique advantages and potential challenges.

SEE: Use this hiring kit from TechRepublic Premium to help you find a cloud engineer.

We comprehensively compare these three models to help businesses determine the most suitable option for their business requirements.

Jump to:

Public cloud vs. private cloud vs. hybrid cloud: comparison table

Cloud modelPublic cloudPrivate cloudHybrid cloud
CostLow upfront costs, pay-as-you-go modelHigh upfront costs but can be cost-effective in the long runCombines costs of both public and private clouds
SecurityLower level of control; relies on the providerHigh level of control; ideal for sensitive dataBalances control and cost
ScalabilityHighly scalable; resources are virtually unlimitedScalability depends on in-house resourcesScalable but depends on the design
AccessibilityInternet-based access; available anywhereRestricted access; often limited to the organizationFlexible access, depending on the data and applications
MaintenanceHandled by the providerRequires in-house IT teamCombination of both
ExamplesAWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft AzureOpenStack, VMware vCloud and IBM Cloud PrivateAWS Outposts, Google Anthos and Azure Arc

What is public cloud?

The public cloud is a model where a third-party provider owns and manages resources and multiple users share these resources. These resources, including servers, storage and applications, are delivered over the internet and available on demand. This model is similar to renting a unit in an apartment building; you share the infrastructure and utilities with other tenants but pay only for what you use.

When to use public cloud

Use public cloud when your business:

  • Has variable workloads that require the ability to scale resources up and down quickly.
  • Is looking to minimize upfront IT costs and prefers a pay-as-you-go model.
  • Doesn’t have extensive in-house IT resources and prefers to offload IT infrastructure management and maintenance to a third-party provider.

Benefits of public cloud

  • Cost-effectiveness: With the public cloud, your business only pays for the resources it uses, which can be quickly scaled up or down as needed, minimizing the need for significant capital expenditure.
  • Scalability: Public clouds offer virtually unlimited scalability, which is valuable to businesses with fluctuating workloads.
  • No maintenance: Maintenance of the IT infrastructure is handled by the cloud service provider, freeing up internal IT resources.

Drawbacks of Public Cloud

  • Potentially less secure than other models: Because the public cloud environment is shared with other users, there can be potential security risks, but reputable cloud providers have stringent security measures in place.
  • Potential for unexpected costs: Although the pay-as-you-go model can be cost-effective, unexpected increases in usage can lead to higher than anticipated costs.

SEE: For more information, check out our in-depth public cloud overview.

What is private cloud?

A private cloud is a model where computing resources are dedicated to one organization. These resources can be located on-site or hosted by a third-party provider, but in either case, other organizations don’t share them. It’s like owning a house; you have full control over the infrastructure and utilities.

When to use private cloud

Private cloud is ideal when your business:

  • Handles sensitive data that requires enhanced security and control over the data environment.
  • Operates in a regulated industry, such as healthcare or finance, and needs to comply with specific data handling and privacy regulations.
  • Has unique IT requirements that require a customizable IT environment.

Benefits of private cloud

  • Enhanced security and control: With a private cloud, enterprises have complete control over their data and applications, which can enhance security.
  • Customization: Private clouds can be customized to meet the specific IT requirements of businesses.
  • Improved performance: Unlike public clouds, since resources aren’t shared, businesses can experience higher performance levels in a private cloud environment.

Drawbacks of private cloud

  • Higher costs: Private clouds require significant upfront investment and ongoing maintenance costs.
  • Requires IT expertise: A skilled in-house IT team is required to manage and maintain the infrastructure.

SEE: For more information, check out our in-depth private cloud overview.

What is hybrid cloud?

Hybrid cloud is a model that combines elements of private and public clouds. This allows businesses to take advantage of the benefits of both models, using the public cloud for high-volume, lower-security needs and the private cloud for sensitive, business-critical operations. It’s like having a main house (private cloud) for your core operations and a guest house (public cloud) for additional capacity when you have guests.

When to use hybrid cloud

Consider hybrid cloud if your business:

  • Has diverse IT needs, with some workloads requiring high security and others requiring high scalability.
  • Seeks to enjoy the cost-effectiveness of public cloud with the security and control of a private cloud.
  • Is in the process of digital transformation or cloud migration and needs a transitional step that allows for a gradual move to the cloud.

Benefits of hybrid cloud

  • Flexibility: Hybrid cloud offers the flexibility of private and public clouds, enabling teams to use the public cloud for high-volume, nonsensitive tasks while keeping sensitive data on a private cloud
  • Cost-effectiveness: By using the public cloud for nonsensitive, high-volume tasks, your business can save on IT costs.
  • Scalability: Like the public cloud, the hybrid cloud model is highly scalable.

Drawbacks of hybrid cloud

  • Complexity: Managing a hybrid cloud environment can be complex, as it requires careful management to ensure all components integrate well and that security is maintained across all platforms.
  • Network dependency: The performance of a hybrid cloud model is heavily dependent on the network connection between the private and public cloud components; any network issues can impact the performance and availability of the services.

SEE: For more information, check out our hybrid cloud overview and hybrid cloud cheat sheet.

Which cloud should you use for your business?

The choice between public, private and hybrid cloud depends on factors such as your business’s specific needs, the nature of your data, your budget and your in-house IT capabilities.

The public cloud is an excellent choice for startups and small businesses that need access to high-powered, scalable IT resources without a significant upfront investment. However, it’s worth noting that the public cloud may not be the best choice for handling highly sensitive data due to potential security risks.

On the other hand, businesses that handle sensitive data or have specific regulatory compliance requirements, might see private cloud as a better fit. Private cloud offers enhanced security and control, allowing businesses to customize the environment to meet their specific IT requirements. However, this comes at a higher cost and will require an in-house IT team to manage and maintain the infrastructure.

The hybrid cloud model offers a balance between the public and private cloud and is ideal for businesses that have varying IT needs, with some applications or data requiring a high level of security and others requiring high scalability. However, managing a hybrid cloud environment can be complicated and needs meticulous planning and management.

SEE: You may want to consider a multicloud approach.

Final thoughts

Choosing the right cloud model is a strategic decision that can heavily impact your business’s efficiency, agility and bottom line. By understanding the differences between public, private and hybrid clouds, you can make an informed decision that best supports your business goals. Remember, the best cloud solution is the one that aligns with your business objectives, operational needs and budget constraints.

Subscribe to the Cloud Insider Newsletter

This is your go-to resource for the latest news and tips on the following topics and more, XaaS, AWS, Microsoft Azure, DevOps, virtualization, the hybrid cloud, and cloud security. Delivered Mondays and Wednesdays

Subscribe to the Cloud Insider Newsletter

This is your go-to resource for the latest news and tips on the following topics and more, XaaS, AWS, Microsoft Azure, DevOps, virtualization, the hybrid cloud, and cloud security. Delivered Mondays and Wednesdays