By Mike Herrington

There are many different types of cloud offerings on the market today and the plethora of options leave many business owners scratching their heads over which one is the right fit for their business. There are public, private, hybrid and boutique cloud solutions. Support is also a differentiator to look at, as many cloud providers sell infrastructure but leave you on your own for support.

Public cloud offerings are built to be accessible to everyone over the Internet. They typically leverage a virtualized environment and are built using shared physical resources to provide services to multiple clients using the same infrastructure.

When most folks think about public cloud, they think of providers like Amazon, Azure and Rackspace. These services use a utility-based model where you pay for CPU, memory, bandwidth, storage and sometimes additional factors. They are almost always completely self-managed, so businesses that leverage them need to be aware they will be on their own for support.

Private cloud is a type of cloud computing that is typically implemented within the corporate firewall and managed under the control of an internal IT department. A private cloud is designed to offer the same features and benefits of public cloud systems, but removes several objections. Most private clouds are built and managed with security and control in mind. They are a good fit for businesses with robust IT departments that are highly regulated by governmental organizations for security compliance.

Hybrid cloud solutions typically refer to businesses that leverage some or many cloud services while continuing to maintain servers and infrastructure in-house as well. Many businesses will decide to leverage solutions such as Office 365 Hosted Exchange or other SAS software.

These same businesses frequently have other needs such as graphic-intensive design software or heavy database applications that don’t perform as well in the cloud. To strike a balance and get the best of both worlds, they take advantage of the cloud offerings that make business sense while maintaining functions that are difficult to move to the cloud in-house.

Boutique cloud solutions are a newer player in the market. They’ve identified the gaps that frequently exist, specifically in allowing small and medium businesses to leverage the cloud. The main points that boutique cloud services pitch are their ultimate customizability and their premium support offerings.

Many small and medium business have a distributed workforce and would love to leverage cloud solutions to meet their needs for flexibility and scalability. They also have very specific computing needs that don’t always fit into a public cloud box such as Amazon. In addition, these businesses frequently don’t have internal IT resources sufficient to manage a cloud environment. They need someone to offer a fully supported, customized cloud solution and that is what boutique cloud offerings strive to offer.

The cloud, in all its forms, can offer many benefits to business owners. They leverage it for scalability, flexibility in computing environment, capital expense savings, the ability to work from anywhere and potential security benefits. However, for businesses to get the most out of the cloud they need to look at their specific needs and situations. A business case should be built that allows them to identify the key features and benefits they want to receive from the cloud and then weight the associated costs.

More businesses are realizing that although “cloud” is a huge buzzword in the industry right now, moving their entire network infrastructure to the cloud might not be the best solution for their specific business needs. Hybrid and boutique cloud solutions have gained enormous traction in the past year for this exact reason. They offer businesses the ability to pick and choose which parts of the cloud are the best fit for them. These solutions can also include the needed technical resources that are a great fit for small and medium businesses that don’t have an in-house IT staff to manage this service.

The cloud can be a powerful solution for businesses and can offer many benefits as well as potential cost savings. Business owners should carefully evaluate the different cloud options to see which are a fit for their specific business needs and consult with a professional for sound advice on how to best move forward.

Mike Herrington is the manager of business development at i.t.NOW.