7 Limitations of the Public Cloud

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Be sure to understand all of the details (and potential detriments) of public cloud before implementing it for your business.

Outsourcing your IT infrastructure to the cloud may seem like a good idea, but you might want to think twice about a public cloud solution. The real cost of handing over control of your network to external providers may be more than you bargained for. At a time when many otherwise careful companies are entrusting precious information and applications to public cloud providers, some have suffered unforeseen consequences. In an account of “The 10 Biggest Cloud Outages of 2016,” Joseph Tsidulko begins with the section heading “Cloud Outages: Less Common, More Damaging.” He writes that “enterprises, and the population at large, are increasingly vulnerable from downtime.” Are you sure you want to trust your company’s information to the public cloud? What could happen? Have you considered the potential drawbacks of the public cloud?

Loss of Control

When you outsource your technology to the public cloud, it’s out of your hands. Physical and cybersecurity, configuration and other aspects of IT management are left to teams of people who are far removed from the daily operations of your business. Using external technical support has been a standard practice for many companies for years. And with the advent of cloud computing, businesses may consider getting out of the IT business altogether. But the trade-off of infrastructure control for the perceived benefits of the public cloud should be taken into account.

Insecure Data

Trusting your network to outside companies is not without risk. It reminds me of the time I foolishly left my checkbook in a car that I had left at the repair shop, which led to one of the mechanics forging checks all over town on my account. Putting your critical information out there can be just as dangerous. When you entrust your data and applications to the public cloud, you have no real assurances that they will be safe. Everything will be outside your physical control, your information will be managed by others, and you will be susceptible to the changing fortunes of a broadly shared IT environment. (To learn more about cloud security, see Who's Responsible for Cloud Security Now?)

Obstructed View

When you use the public cloud, your visibility is limited. You can only see what they allow you to see. But what’s behind those front-end interfaces? Our cyber world is becoming ever more user-friendly. WYSIWYG and WIMP are ubiquitous, and the command line interface (CLI) is almost a thing of the past. The promise of the cloud now is that it’s all automatic. Just point and click and the underlying technology does all the rest. You don't need to know anything about it. But willful ignorance is not generally an accepted principle for IT professionals who want to properly manage their infrastructure, or for managers who need all the information they can get to make the best decisions for their company.

Generic Options

Public cloud providers tend to have a one-size-fits-all approach. This can be disastrous for companies that have a complex network architecture or complicated application processes. Integrating with legacy platforms or connecting with local peripherals can be a problem. The multitenancy environment of public cloud computing can restrict any customization that may be required for your technical implementation. It’s like being limited to the offerings on a department store shelf; you can only get what’s available. The public cloud may not meet your need for integration of all facets of your IT infrastructure.

Service Reliability Issues

In his 2015 article “Overnight AWS Outage Reminds World How Important AWS Stability Really Is,” Tsidulko discusses a rare outage at Amazon Web Services, the world's largest public cloud provider. “The Elastic Compute malfunction caused increased API error rates for RunInstances, used to launch instances, and CreateSnapshot, which is used to store EBS volumes in S3.” Network providers have been promising the five nines for many years. ISO standards for FCAPs have contributed to extremely high levels of reliability for network connections. But what about your applications? If you have services on a public cloud and it goes down, you’d better hope their experts can resolve it quickly – while you sit and wait.


Outsourcing your IT to the cloud can make troubleshooting more difficult. When you call your cloud provider because your service is down, what happens if they see no problems with your IT infrastructure? It reminds me of the old phrase that rings through the ears of many an experienced network engineer: “I see up, you see down.”

Compliance Issues

It’s no secret that businesses that deal with confidential data are under government regulation. This becomes more challenging when they put their IT infrastructure on the cloud. This is particularly a problem for financial institutions. Services offered may be subject to a wide array of legal and industry rules to ensure security and proper maintenance. That’s why many companies rely on private cloud solutions for their critical applications. (For more on the public vs. private cloud debate, see Public Cloud vs. Private On-Premise Cloud.)

Skyrocketing Costs

Some of us can remember the days of internet access charges. It was a relief when users could eventually get data services for an all-inclusive price. Now public cloud providers are touting their “pay-as-you-go” business model. This can create headaches for the bean counters in the accounting department. What will be the total cost for the purchased services? You will probably have to wait till the end of the month to find out. And if your business is pretty active, you could be in for a real shock.


The advantages of public cloud computing should be balanced against its significant limitations. Turning to a private cloud implementation may be the best solution. New alternatives are making on-premise private cloud implementations more appealing. Superconvergence is shrinking the equipment footprint even more. New solutions like the Ignite platform from Cloudistics give customers the chance to manage their IT through a single pane of glass with a “datacenter-in-a-box” device. Now it’s possible to bring your entire infrastructure back in-house in a secure private cloud environment. Meanwhile, beware the public cloud.


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David Scott Brown
David Scott Brown

Throughout his career, David has worn many hats. He has been a writer, a network engineer, a world traveler, a musician.As a networking professional, David has had a varied career. David started out troubleshooting frame relay and x.25 with Sprint, and soon moved to Global One, the international alliance with Deutsche Telekom and France Telecom. Since then, he has worked for many national and multinational network providers and equipment vendors, including Sprint, Deutsche Telekom, British Telecom, Equant (Global One), Telekom Austria, Vodafone, o2/Telefonica, ePlus, Nortel, Ericsson, Hutchison 3G, ZTE, and Huawei.As a writer, David's portfolio includes technical articles, short stories,…