The cloud has had a significant impact on the IT market over the past few years. From its beginnings as a niche term that few people had even heard of—much less understood—the rapid rise of the technology from initial hype to mainstream acceptance has been extraordinary.

The interest in these tools means growth in this sector is far outpacing the IT industry as a whole. Gartner estimates that by 2016, the bulk of new IT spending will go into this area. Meanwhile, IDC has observed that the technology is now “business as usual” for Chief Information Officers and line-of-business managers.

But there are still several key questions that may be confusing to companies that missed out on early adoption of the technology, and are now striving to catch up. Chief among these will be how to make sure they choose the solution that’s right for them. With so many different cloud models and services available, this isn’t an easy decision.

Defining the terms

The primary question for many companies will be “public cloud” versus “private cloud.” What exactly does that mean?

On a basic level, public cloud refers to services that are hosted remotely by an external provider, using the partner’s data centers and infrastructure to deliver the services. Companies going down this route often look to take advantage of the high level of maintenance and support that comes with this model.

Private cloud, on the other hand, involves keeping all a business’ data, applications and infrastructure in-house, protected by the firm’s firewalls. This means there’s no sharing of resources or data centers with other companies, but also leaves much of the responsibility for managing the solution up to the IT department.

Choosing the wrong solution can have serious impacts on a company’s operations—and ultimately, its bottom line. So what are some of the key questions you need to ask before making a final decision?

A matter of control

One of the key issues when choosing cloud tools is the balance between control and convenience. Generally speaking, the support offering by public clouds means you do not have to worry as much about paying close attention to routine maintenance tasks, but it often comes with a more limited selection of options.

For companies that have highly unique requirements and stringent accountability demands, the private cloud will often be better. With private tools, you get to define exactly how everything works, how the tools integrate with each other and select the vendors you want to work with.

The security question

The fact that private clouds are housed completely within a company’s firewall is an important consideration for companies working with highly sensitive materials. This option means they can have much clearer reassurances about who is able to access and collaborate using the system, while there are also no governance issues surrounding where the data is kept, or what happens to it at the end of a contract.

These aren’t necessarily guarantees that public cloud options will be able to provide, so it will be important to think closely about the type of data and applications you intend to store on the cloud. If you really can’t afford to have it exposed, is the public cloud really the best option?

Will you be able to scale?

Scalability and flexibility are often cited as some of the key advantages of public cloud offerings. Because businesses can simply add capacity by paying a little extra, without having to worry about extra hardware, it’s easy for them to respond to changing situations, manage short-term spikes in activity or plan more effectively for longer-term growth.

While this can be achieved with the private cloud as well, it may require a little more close attention in order to get the best results.

Managed options

Another key decision is whether you want to take care of every aspect of your cloud deployment yourself, or opt for a managed cloud partner that can help ease some of the burden. Taking on everything yourself can provide the peace of mind that everything’s under your direct control, but it can also be a huge drain on your resources.

Therefore, companies may want to consider a managed solution. This is available for both on-premise and off-premise option and allows firms to delegate many of the day-to-day administration and support tasks to their provider. Under this model, companies can instead focus on the benefits of their cloud solutions and how they can turn them into real-world results, instead of becoming sidetracked by maintenance issues.

Making the right choice

Figures from a recent survey by Cloud Pulse reveal a split in the thinking of companies, with 40 percent of respondents opting for public solutions and 22 percent for private. However, 39 percent said a combination of both—known as hybrid cloud—was the way forward for them.

The growing popularity of the hybrid option indicates that there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to the cloud. If fast deployment, easy scalability and less hands-on management is what organizations are after, public may be the most attractive option. However, for companies that demand tight control and high security, private solutions have the advantage.