Our 5-minute guide to virtual private cloud

Learn about the benefits and limitations of a virtual private cloud, and how it can be used in your business

Virtual clouds with padlocks floating above an illustration of the earth

Most IT professionals are familiar with the three primary cloud options; public cloud, private cloud and hybrid cloud. Businesses all around the world are using the cloud in different ways to streamline processes, improve collaboration and communication, and save money on expensive infrastructure, while still getting the benefits of cutting-edge technology.

But as the cloud and the services around it evolve, so do the ways it can be tailored for individual business' needs. Awareness is now growing of the potential of virtual private clouds, so here, we explain what a virtual private cloud is, why organisations are using them, and what the advantages and disadvantages are.

What is a virtual private cloud?

A virtual private cloud is a private network running within shared public cloud infrastructure, using virtualisation to isolate the resources being used specifically for each user. It ensures the same levels of security that private cloud offers, but virtualisation enables users to run applications, services and a variety of workloads on shared resources, allowing users to benefit from the flexibility of a public cloud. It also offers organisations and their IT staff the ability to isolate select applications and services within the cloud even if they are sharing the same underlying physical hardware as other apps and workloads.

Implementations of virtual private cloud vary, but often operate like a private cloud running on dedicated hardware but that runs from inside a multi-tenant environment.

In most ways, virtual private clouds operate very much like private clouds, where businesses pay depending on what level of performance they require. But virtualisation allows delivery of virtual, software-defined infrastructure within a shared hardware infrastructure, before making that available to customers through the internet.

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With a virtual private cloud, teams can spin up their own virtual machines, test apps, and innovate. Businesses can pool their resources to get a better understanding of benefits and costs. As well as this, private clouds improve availability by making workloads portable, and adding in more options to scale outwards or recover in a crisis.

Why use a virtual private cloud?

Not all companies will need a virtual private cloud, and for some businesses, public clouds offer everything they need at a reasonable cost. But for others, either a private cloud or a hybrid cloud system is the best one for their organisation.

Common reasons for using a virtual private cloud include:

  • Needing a consistently high level of performance on business-critical applications. Whereas the public cloud can handle heavy workloads, private cloud offers more control over compute and storage performance for applications where speed is essential.
  • Minimising downtime on the business. With more control and allocated resources, private cloud can help ensure availability, and many private cloud services have service level agreements and uptime guarantees as well as more visibility into any issues that occur.
  • More control over security. A private cloud isn't necessarily more secure than a public one as much depends on where the physical services are located as well as the steps taken to secure them, but businesses have much more control when it comes to access and building defences around data. Some private cloud services also allow more granular control over network security and patching.
  • Being bound by regulatory frameworks around where and how data is processed and stored. GDPR has had an impact in this area, not necessarily because public clouds aren't compliant, but because private clouds can make compliance that bit easier.

Pros and cons of virtual private cloud

When compared to public cloud, virtual private cloud gives users more control, and often more consistent performance. There's no contention for compute, storage or network resources, and a reduced risk of noisy neighbour' syndrome, where another user on the same host hardware keeps processor or storage bandwidth.

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There are also advantages to operating in a virtual rather than a physical environment, given that it makes it much easier to scale compute and storage demands upwards or downwards depending on business demand. If more or less CPU cores, RAM or storage resources are needed, these can be easily added and removed.

Because of the way virtual private clouds work, the workloads themselves are still hosted outside the organisation's own data centre. This can potentially cause issues in industries which have strict regulations around where and how data is processed, and which applications can be run in a virtual private cloud.

Virtual private clouds often work out as being more cost-effective than investing in servers and infrastructure, especially when operating and maintenance costs are factored in. When compared to public cloud however, virtual private cloud is often a more expensive option, but is usually more affordable than a fully private cloud.

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