One of the hottest topics in computing today, by way of fast innovation and controversy, is whether or not to rely on the public cloud. Lured by the convenience and cost-effectiveness of these services, some computer users and business owners put their applications and data into the cloud without a moment’s hesitation. For the most part, they entrust their data to complete strangers, using hardware they have no access to, from a base of operations they often don’t even know the location of. Without an educated understanding of the cloud, they count on it without ever having to see it, just as children believe in Santa Claus. As long as the presents keep coming, who can blame them?

For many, the cloud is a quick and easy solution to many infrastructure and platform challenges. Engineers can focus entirely on application development without ever having to worry about stability and scalability. The control over their infrastructure is surrendered for freedom from full responsibility. That lack of access to their hardware is not missed until a problem occurs, like an outage. At that point, they can’t do anything about it. They have to wait for someone else to.

How are public cloud services provided to end users: by who, from where, and using what equipment? It’s common to not give these questions any thought. Before the cloud, everyone always knew where their data and applications were physically located. They understood the infrastructure behind the platform. They either built their own data center, or rented space from one with trust. Either way, this required an in-house maintenance team providing on-site or remote administration.

In all fairness, this occurs with public cloud computing as well. Your data and applications still sit on a server (or multiple servers) in a data center. They are connected to the Internet by network engineers: people you may never meet but will appreciate nonetheless, being available 24 hours a day to deal with any potential problems. This doesn’t mean, however, that every system in the cloud will always run without trouble. Outages are not unusual, even with top-tier providers, and when such issues arise, it can be frustrating not knowing what’s being done to resolve or prevent them.

It’s important to remember that, while typically more robust than stand-alone servers, public cloud services are still subject to the same frailties as any other network system: human error, crackers, crashes and outages. It’s also important to remember that not all applications are fit for the public cloud, and private clouds or hybrid solutions are great alternatives for those on the fence. While some applications are better hosted internally, others are nicely buoyed and flourish under the multi-faceted support the cloud offers. Its recent popularity, after all, isn’t due entirely to its catchy name.