Data Center Infrastructure: On-Premises vs. Cloud

Updated on May 27, 2019 by

Nowadays buzzwords like cloud computing and data center seem to be dominating tech conversations. Is the cloud more reliable than on-premises data centers? Do they differ in terms of data center infrastructure? These are some of the questions that keep bothering enterprises. Let's take an objective look at the similarities and differences of on-premises and cloud data centers in data center infrastructure.

Key Concepts

Data Center Infrastructure

Data center infrastructure refers to all of the physical resources and components that comprise and support a data center. A data center infrastructure may include servers, computers, networking equipment such as routers or switches, security such as firewall or biometric security system, storage such as storage area network (SAN) or backup/tape storage, and data center management software/applications. This category can also include non-computing resources like power and cooling devices such as air conditioners or generators, physical server racks/chassis, and cables, as well as internet backbone.

data center infrastructure

Physical Components of Data Center Infrastructure

Physical components of data center infrastructure refer to the touchable or physical parts, also the most important component for designing data center networks. In this sense, they include components that are core to the operations of the facility, such as computers, switches, and servers, and infrastructure in place designed to support that core IT infrastructure, such as cooling equipment, electricity, foundation, etc.


An on-premises data center or on-prem refers to a private data center that companies house in their own facilities and maintain themselves. To put it simply, a company’s software is installed and controlled locally on its own computer servers. Please notice that an on-premises data center is not equal to a private cloud, because the latter can be on premise or hosted in a third party’s data center. It means that on-prem infrastructure can be used to run private clouds where computing resources are virtualized in much the same way as those of public clouds. But private clouds can also be run on third-party cloud providers.

Cloud Computing

When people speak of cloud computing, usually they’re referring to traditional or public cloud, a model in which a third-party service provider hosts computing resources for a company. Public cloud, as its name suggests, is a multi-tenant environment, meaning that these computing resources are shared by multiple individuals or companies, with the data of each secured by state-of-the-art encryption.

cloud computing

Similarities: Mission-Critical Applications in Both

Both on-premises and cloud data centers have physical facilities that organizations use to house their critical applications and data. The design of a data center, on-premises or cloud, is based on a network of computing and storage resources that support the delivery of applications and data. The key components of both on-premises and cloud data centers include physical components like routers, switches, firewalls, storage systems, servers, and application-delivery controllers.

Differences in Infrastructure: On-Premises vs. Cloud

There are a number of fundamental differences between an on-premises data center and a cloud one with regard to data center infrastructure. Which is the best route for an enterprise depends entirely on its specific needs and what it is looking for in a solution.


Deploying software into a cloud or on-premises data center is relatively the same, but it's drastically different for hardware-based resources. For an on-premises environment, the deployment is done in-house using the company’s infrastructure. So hardware infrastructure, including servers and all the associated physical components are running within the boundaries of the company. Cloud hardware resources, such as storage and servers, are deployed and operated by third-party cloud service providers and delivered over the internet.


Cloud providers deal with most of the management tasks of data center infrastructure. Thus cloud users don't need to do much other than monitoring hardware-based resources and making adjustments through a management dashboard or software tools. While an on-premises data center requires hands-on hardware maintenance such as replacing drives, managing configurations, maintaining the network, handling power and even upkeep of the buildings that house all the infrastructure.


Cloud security is a shared responsibility. Under this model, cloud providers take on most security responsibilities at the infrastructure level in a shared cloud model, but it's up to users to properly configure and secure apps and data. Working with cloud server providers means that you are entrusting the management of your infrastructure to another party. Hence you run the risk of unauthorized access to your data.

In an on-premises deployment, the organization has total ownership over security, which means the onus lies solely on IT teams to configure security applications and networks. Unlike cloud storage, on-premises solutions are not accessible or vulnerable to third parties, thus may ensuring better security.


In cloud-based deployments, users pay for the fraction of the infrastructure they use, which means that cloud storage just requires monthly operational expenses and no upfront costs. However, costs can increase unknowingly when users scale up services or servers. In this case, enterprises must carefully configure and monitor their cloud usage to avoid consuming more services than they need. By contrast, on-premises pricing is fixed, mostly coming from purchasing, installing, configuring, and managing your own on-premises infrastructure. However, investments in additional hardware to scale up capacity may take years to become cost-effective.

To conclude, on-premises and cloud data centers have something in common in terms of data center infrastructure, as they are all complete with mission-critical physical components of a data center. But they do differ a lot when you factor in infrastructure deployment, management, security, and budgeting. Whether it’s an on-prem or cloud data center that you’re looking to deploy, make sure you’ve done your research and choose the one that works best for your business.

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