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Private vs. public cloud security: Benefits and drawbacks

Uncover the differences between private vs. public cloud security -- as well as hybrid cloud security -- before deciding on an enterprise deployment model.

Regardless of whether an enterprise's infrastructure operates in a private, public or hybrid cloud, cybersecurity is a critical component. While some cloud architectures greatly simplify security tasks and tool integrations, it often comes at the cost of inflexibility. Let's look at some of the benefits and challenges enterprise organizations face as they compare private vs. public cloud security, as well as hybrid cloud security, in 2021 and beyond.

Public cloud security

Organizations can employ third-party cloud service providers (CSPs) to manage applications and data within their data center infrastructure. Many CSPs also provide built-in security tools to help protect business-critical data.

Public cloud security benefits

Businesses are attracted to public cloud infrastructures for a variety of reasons, including low Capex, service scalability and easing the management workload for in-house IT staff. Public cloud infrastructure security benefits include the following:

  • Lightening the load. Larger CSPs often invest heavily in top-end cybersecurity tools, as well as staff who are highly knowledgeable in their field. This makes offloading cybersecurity tools and tasks from in-house to a third party highly appealing.
  • Addressing the cybersecurity skills gap. The ability to defer to a CSP's security program reduces the need to hire expensive and scarce infosec talent.

Public cloud security drawbacks

Other businesses, especially larger ones with massive IT infrastructures, may find that public cloud security is not the right fit. Potential public cloud security challenges include the following:

  • CSP security is not up to par. In some situations, it may be determined that a CSP's cybersecurity tools, processes and methods are insufficient for protecting highly sensitive data.
  • Inadequate visibility. Larger organizations often require the ability to obtain and analyze logs, alerts and other data down to the packet level. For many CSPs, especially those that deal with SaaS, much of this security information is not accessible to customers. This is because most of the underlying technologies have been abstracted for the purposes of simplifying management from a customer perspective.
Graphic compares security, cost and management factors of private vs. public cloud
Understand how private vs. public cloud models have distinct security, cost and management factors.

Private cloud security

As its name implies, private clouds grant a business private access to dedicated infrastructure resources within a cloud. As is the case for public cloud, there are both advantages and disadvantages with this infrastructure.

Private cloud security benefits

Private clouds are attractive to organizations seeking more granular control over the underlying infrastructure. This commonly includes customer configuration access to the network, OSes and server virtualization platform. From a security perspective, private cloud advantages include the following:

  • Better control. In-house administrators have more flexibility when it comes to implementing and accessing security tools.
  • Complete visibility. With private cloud, the business gains full control and visibility over its cybersecurity posture and can customize it to fit its specific needs.
Graphic lists key features to look for in a private cloud service provider
In addition to enforcing security policies, here's what to look for in a private cloud provider.

Private cloud security drawbacks

By now, the differences between private vs. public cloud security are becoming evident, especially when it comes to control. However, the flexibility of private cloud comes at a cost in two areas: pricing and management.

  • Financial costs. Operating private clouds is often a more expensive endeavor than public cloud options. Businesses pay a premium for granular cloud control and visibility.
  • Managerial costs. Designing and maintaining cybersecurity tools inside private clouds dramatically increase management responsibilities.

For these two reasons, it's critically important that IT decision-makers carefully weigh the cybersecurity benefits of private clouds against the added financial expenses and management overhead.

Hybrid cloud security

Finally, we have organizations that operate within hybrid cloud environments. This is where some business applications and data reside in public clouds, while others are managed inside private clouds or private data centers.

Hybrid cloud security benefits

With hybrid cloud, the whole may be greater than the sum of its parts. Security advantages of hybrid cloud infrastructure include the following:

  • Best of both worlds. Hybrid cloud enterprise architectures combining the best features of public and private cloud can provide the utmost in security.
  • Flexibility. Hybrid models give IT administrators the power to decide where applications and data will reside, such as in a cloud or corporate data center.

Hybrid cloud security challenges

Like in the case of private cloud, the flexibility of a hybrid cloud infrastructure has its downsides. For example, decisions about where applications and data reside are a significant responsibility and require much deliberation. Organizations should consider the following potential disadvantages of the hybrid cloud model:

With these challenges in mind, keep in mind that infrastructure security tools are now largely virtualized. This means the same security tools and policy configurations deployed within in-house data centers and across the corporate LAN can be extended to private clouds to achieve hybrid or multi-cloud security parity. For many security departments, this greatly reduces security complexity from a uniformity point of view.

Graphic displays four types of cloud deployment options
Explore all cloud options before deciding on a deployment model.

How to determine the best cloud security option

When it comes to cloud computing and cloud security, no single architecture is suitable for all businesses. IT architects must gauge the cybersecurity needs for all business applications and data sets. Once defined, the technology services can be categorized and earmarked for deployment in the public or private cloud -- whichever makes the most sense both from a cost and cybersecurity perspective.

Next Steps

Organize a cloud IAM team to secure software-defined assets

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