A growing number of businesses are looking into cloud services for everything from document storage to CRM to BI. Some are choosing to go the private cloud route out of security concerns, while others are being forced into the public cloud since they want to use publicly available, third-party information as part of their BI (like Google Maps or Hoovers data for mash-ups). Hybrid clouds might offer the best of both worlds. Let’s explore each type of cloud a bit further.
The Case for Cloud
The case for moving business intelligence to the cloud often comes down to resources: the physical hardware that stores the data, the staff that has to maintain the hardware, and the money that's spent on all of this. Companies are looking to reduce or reallocate all three of these resources, and cloud computing gives them a way to do this.
However, when it comes to BI, you have a lot of vendors who haven't fully moved to the cloud yet because of the sheer volume of data they're helping to manage. A customer who is using arcplan on top of Teradata has terabytes of data that will never make it into the cloud – it would be too much to move, and likely, a waste of time and energy. Nevertheless we've seen many companies start to make the move to the cloud because of its wide-ranging benefits.
Private vs. Public Cloud for BI
Cloud adoption is increasing in popularity and private clouds are getting a lot of attention; a 2011 Info-Tech survey shows that 76% of IT decision-makers will focus initially or, in the case of 33% of respondents, exclusively on the private cloud (infrastructure operated solely for a single organization, whether it's internally or externally hosted). Some IT teams want to explore cloud computing within their own walls first and see how it goes, though others concede that private clouds aren't really "cloud" at all, especially if they're hosted on-premise (which eliminates the benefits of reduced costs and resources to maintain the infrastructure). If you have a massive data center at your location and you dedicate a portion of it to a particular set of data and applications, like your supply chain BI data & dashboards, then that could be considered a private cloud. The private cloud offers tighter controls and data security that's managed according to your particular company's standards.
True cloud is closer to Amazon's EC2 public cloud. The features and benefits are quite appealing – the ability to quickly scale capacity based on your requirements, back-ups, and attractive pricing, among other features. Salesforce.com touts itself as one of the most widely-used public clouds, providing companies a central repository for customer contacts, pipeline and revenue information that's secure and confidential.
So the toss-up between using private or public cloud services occurs because companies like the agility and convenience of the public cloud, but are still concerned about data security. So why not deploy a hybrid cloud, the best of both models? Keep your critical applications that need tight security controls on a private cloud and applications with less security concerns on the public cloud. In my recent interview with BeyeNETWORK, I pointed out that a lot of our customers are using public clouds to manage data that's not created by a transactional system. For example, this is why many companies are using Salesforce.com for marketing and sales data (though marketing folks would argue that marketing data security is paramount!), while financial applications are kept on-premise/in a private cloud. Your company could go down for compromising financials, but likely not for revealing your email opt-in list. Also, the size of data we're talking about is important. Marketing data is relatively small compared to the transactional data many of us are using in our BI apps. So the volume of the data and where it's coming from matters when it comes to choosing the right cloud model.
When it comes to business intelligence, if you're using Google Maps or Hoovers for mash-ups, that data is already in the public cloud. If you want to use it as part of your BI apps, you can simply access this information in the public cloud, pulling it dynamically into your BI apps that are in a private cloud. The advantage of a hybrid cloud is that your cloud systems are connected in a way that allows easy data transfer between systems. So a great entry point into cloud BI involves pulling data from the cloud into your own internal infrastructure for analysis.
The bottom line is that you don't have to strictly choose a public or private cloud platform for your business. You'll most likely end up with a hybrid environment in order to successfully address your company's needs.
I know this is a confusing topic, so if you have technical questions, leave a comment and I'll respond!