What is a public cloud and how does it work?

A public cloud is a type of cloud computing in which third-party cloud service providers offer computing services, such as computing power, storage, databases, machine learning, AI, networking, security, and analytics. These services are available to anyone who wants to purchase or use them, both freely or on demand, as subscription-based or pay-as-you-go services. The cost depends on the storage, bandwidth, or CPU cycles consumed.

Public clouds are a historic shift in enterprise computing - eliminating the need for businesses to bear the costs of expensive hardware infrastructure like servers and data centers. With cloud computing, companies can instead pay for only the resources they consume, allowing them to lower costs in both upfront investment and maintenance.

"Cloud services are a boon for small startups bootstrapping a new product,” says Warren Marusiak, a senior technical evangelist at Atlassian. “They can get started in the cloud for a low upfront investment and more easily scale as they grow. The same startup might need more financial resources to buy tons of hardware and hire people to maintain it in an on-premise setup."

This guide will cover what a public cloud is, how it compares to a private cloud, and practical use cases.

What is a public cloud?

A public cloud is a type of computing where third-party providers host and manage resources, such as storage, applications, and develop-and-deploy environments, and more. They make it available via the Internet to individuals and companies.

Shared computing resources (or multiple users of software applications utilizing the same infrastructure concurrently) are fundamental to the design and operation of a public cloud. DevOps features such as the effective sharing of resources, multi-tenancy, economies of scale, and accessibility make a public cloud the perfect complement to Agile project management—an approach to managing projects that emphasizes collaboration and flexibility—and agile teams.

How a public cloud works

The infrastructure of public cloud computing is the underlying hardware and software components that deliver cloud computing services to users over the internet. The cloud provider designs its infrastructure to be flexible, scalable, and supportive of various services and applications.

There are several key steps to access and utilize a public cloud resource. The first step is to choose a cloud service provider to deploy and manage your resources. Consider pricing, available services, uptime, integration, security, and compliance. 

"Many cloud providers provide ways of interacting with their services programmatically,” says Warren Marusiak. “For example, AWS provides a command line interface (CLI) and an application programming interface (API) in various languages. Programmatic access to cloud resources is necessary to implement Infrastructure as Code (IaC), a component of agile software development."

After selecting a provider, access their console or dashboard and create your resources. 

Finally, use monitoring tools to keep track of your resource utilization and other performance metrics while optimizing your resources to control costs and improve efficiency.

Public cloud service models

Three categories of cloud computing services offer different levels of management responsibilities: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS).

IaaS provides virtualized computing infrastructure over the Internet. In this model, users have control over the infrastructure and can configure it according to their needs. The most common example of this is Amazon Web Services.

PaaS provides a platform to build, deploy, and manage applications and databases. Users can focus on application development without worrying about the underlying infrastructure Heroku and Microsoft Azure App Service are standard PaaS providers.

SaaS delivers software over the internet on a subscription basis. In this model, there is no interaction with the underlying infrastructure. Users only interact with the software application; the provider hosts, maintains, and updates it. Examples include Bitbucket (source code repository and collaboration platform), Jira Software (project management and issue tracking), and Confluence (documentation and collaboration tool).

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Advantages of a public cloud

The benefits of DevOps are significant, and few DevOps tools bring the wealth of benefits that a public cloud does. Using a public cloud can help companies across various industries in many ways. Some of the main benefits of a public cloud include:

Lower costs

Companies can eliminate the need for significant upfront investment in maintaining physical infrastructure. In addition, with a pay-as-you-go model, companies can enjoy lower costs by only paying for the resources they use.


With on-demand access to computing resources, companies can easily scale their infrastructure by quickly adding or removing resources to match demand. This ensures optimal performance during peak times and brings savings during low times.


With data centers distributed globally, remote teams can conveniently access their resources from anywhere in the world with an internet connection. This makes a public cloud a convenient model for teams needing global access.

Improved security

A common misconception of public clouds is that they are insecure. Reputable public cloud providers invest heavily in security measures and certifications. They have dedicated security teams and advanced technologies to protect data and applications.

Innovation and agility

A public cloud facilitates innovation through rapid deployment. It provides an environment that supports quick and flexible provisioning of computing resources. Companies can gain agility by leveraging cloud services such as on-demand access, scalability, automation, and global accessibility to innovate at a faster pace.

Public clouds vs. private clouds

Public and private clouds are distinct cloud computing services with different deployment models, use cases, and characteristics. The ideal choice comes down to security and compliance requirements, control preferences, and budget.

Third-party providers deploy a public cloud over the internet and make its services available to the general public. The providers own and operate the infrastructure.

Larger companies often host private cloud services on-premises or have them set up exclusively by a third-party provider. A startup or small business may benefit from the scalability and agility of a public cloud. An established enterprise with specific requirements may lean toward a private cloud.

Providers and users share the responsibility of security with a public cloud. Reputable cloud providers invest heavily in comprehensive security measures. Private cloud environments give companies more direct control over security measures, making them ideal for industries with strict compliance requirements (such as finance or healthcare).

Use cases for a public cloud

There are several scenarios in which the versatility of a public cloud is beneficial.

Data storage is one area in which the scalability and cost-effectiveness of public cloud services can benefit companies. Scalable storage solutions can easily accommodate changing data volumes, allowing companies to scale up or down based on needs. And with a pay-as-you-go model, companies gain cost-effectiveness by paying only for the storage they use.

The scalability of a public cloud is also helpful in application hosting. It ensures efficiency during varying levels of traffic and demand.

Quick provisioning in a public cloud in development and environments supports continuous delivery, with efficient development and testing cycles without needing on-premises infrastructure.

Embrace a public cloud with Open DevOps

Every software team should choose their tools and IT model without sacrificing the ability to collaborate across the company. Using a public cloud enables companies to use the computing services of third-party providers to scale their technologies while minimizing infrastructure costs.

Cloud deployment allows teams to connect their tools from end to end, making monitoring all parts of the pipeline easier. Comprehensive monitoring is another key capability for companies practicing DevOps because it allows them to address issues and incidents faster.

By combining a public cloud with Open DevOps by Atlassian, teams can enhance their development processes by making a diverse toolchain feel like an all-in-one resource. Software teams can work however they want and with the tools they want without sacrificing coordination.

Open DevOps also works with Bitbucket, a Git repository management solution that provides a central place to collaborate on code. Additionally, cloud-based CI/CD, such as Bitbucket Pipelines, allows teams to build, test, and deploy code automatically without worrying about managing and maintaining the CI infrastructure.

See Atlassian's cloud offerings

Public cloud: Frequently asked questions

How does a public cloud differ from a hybrid cloud?

Third-party providers host and manage public cloud services and make them available to the general public. Hybrid clouds utilize on-premises infrastructure (a private cloud) with a public cloud. This allows users to share data and applications between them. Key differences between these DevOps tools include ownership and management, infrastructure, scalability, deployment model, and costs.

What are some challenges of using a public cloud?

While there are many advantages to using a public cloud, it also comes with challenges. For one, there are security concerns. Storing sensitive or regulated data in a public cloud raises concerns about data privacy and the risk of compliance with industry or regional regulations. Another challenge is a dependency on internet connectivity, as outages can impact the availability of services.

How does a public cloud benefit Agile teams?

Public clouds align with the Agile methodology by enabling teams to adapt to changing requirements more efficiently. The on-demand resources, flexibility, and scalability of a public cloud’s infrastructure and services allow Agile teams to be more adaptive and collaborative.

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