In part two of our three part “Your Guide to Navigating the Cloud” blog series, we evaluate the benefits and key considerations of adopting a hybrid cloud environment and how it enables organizations to scale at a pace that works for their budget and growth plan. If you missed Part 1: Azure vs. AWS, check it out here.
Most business and technology decision makers know enough about the cloud to recognize its advantages. Whether it has to do with organizational efficiency, better deployment of resources, or lower overall costs, the cloud can dramatically improve how companies manage and deliver data to stakeholders. Yet, even well into the 21st Century, a complete adoption of the cloud isn’t the right path for every enterprise. Due to existing investments in legacy solutions, the state of transformational evolution, cost, or a variety of other reasons, some enterprises are better served using a combination of public and private clouds, and opt for a hybrid cloud approach. Hybrid cloud enables organizations to combine on-premise, private cloud, and public cloud components into a seamless IT infrastructure, where they can store, access, and transact their data in the environments that work best for business and technology requirements.
While public clouds continue to grow in popularity, many maintain some level of a private infrastructure within their IT domain. Gartner predicts that “…most organizations will have hybrid architectures for the foreseeable future”, and it’s easy to understand why. A hybrid cloud strategy can help organizations evolve their technology and business strategies at a pace that’s consistent with budgets and growth plans, and it allows them to intelligently leverage their existing technology investments.
A recent Forrester report clearly makes the case for the current and foreseeable future of hybrid: “Hybrid clouds are the future state of compute and storage for enterprises in the age of the customer. Hybrid cloud storage can now blend on-premises storage infrastructure with public and hosted cloud services.” The key to understanding hybrid is in its ability to map, without major disruption, to an enterprise’s existing IT footprint, but continue to grow within it’s own architecture. While most organizations seek some level of digital disruption, going “all in” for the cloud may not make economic sense.
Public Cloud vs Private Cloud vs Hybrid Cloud
In terms of functionality, most people “get” the basics of what is involved with the cloud. Removing back-end and IT operations management translates into a more effective deployment of internal resources for an organization. With no physical assets to manage or concerns about availability or scaling issues, enterprises can get technology and business people together to rapidly deliver innovative, digital solutions that meet strategic organizational goals.
But in terms of overall cost, management, and future-proofing, there are many differences among private, public, and hybrid environments which need consideration:
- Public cloud advantages and challenges: This is supposed to represent everything an enterprise might need in terms of technology resources and economy of scale. However, in the public cloud there are restrictions to how much customization is allowed for security, availability, and security, which requires a great deal of management on the part of the customer.
- Private cloud advantages and challenges: In this case, an organization can plan and create what they want to do with all the benefits of a cloud architecture behind them. It’s expensive, however, and can be inflexible in terms of scale.
- Hybrid cloud advantages and challenges: While this approach may appear to be somewhat piece-meal, it actually offers the most flexibility and benefits for organizations that want the technology benefits of the public cloud, but with the business control of an internal infrastructure. Companies can transfer workloads as scale and availability require between public and private clouds, and can maintain greater control over security requirements and application configuration.
When to Consider Hybrid Cloud
Consider the requirements for migrating all application and data repository assets to the cloud. It’s an intensive effort for which some organizations are not prepared. In some cases, it also simply doesn’t make sense to eliminate perfectly adept existing systems that have proven their ability to accomplish data and application transactions tasks. From a business standpoint, enterprises may find that reworking their IT architecture will disrupt processes and business goals. Technology is supposed to be an enabler, and trying to sell a vision of digital disruption will fail if it is too disruptive. The typical drivers of a hybrid cloud approach include:
Business Drivers for Hybrid Cloud
- Cost: A hybrid model can allow an organization test cost structures so they can evaluate what will ultimately work best for them. There is less risk while simultaneously enabling incremental transformation and adoption of new technologies that will work best for them.
- Physical assets: Organizations can phase out assets over time as they depreciate, with minimal disruption.
- Integration: In a hybrid environment, business processes based on third-party integrations can be phased out or migrated to new platforms over time.
- Minimal disruption: Hybrid-Cloud does not slow down business opportunity due to long-project times and technology changes
Technology Drivers for Hybrid Cloud
- Migration: IT teams can develop strategic plans for new architecture that maps to business and resource goals.
- Flexible approach: Allows for a controlled, flexible and dynamic design to ensure that infrastructure and services are stable and predictable in costs/uptime/availability.
- Smart transformation: An aircraft carrier cannot turn on a dime. Similarly, it is smart for enterprises to take a judicious approach to transformation, automation, and process orchestration.
- Enablement: Allows developers to ensure that security, scalability, and performance needs are met while enabling cloud functionality.
Enterprise Agility in Hybrid Cloud
For those who are deciding among private, public, or hybrid approaches, it is worth noting the advice of Gartner in their report, 2017 Planning Guide for Cloud Computing: “Cloud-first should not be interpreted as cloud-always.” The hybrid offers the strongest argument for enterprise agility and it provides options for how an organization can approach digital transformation. For example, many enterprises have already invested considerable amounts on their IT resources – they want to continue using them and are happy to combine and integrate data and applications in the public cloud with these legacy systems and their options available in a private cloud.
The notion of all teams within an organization following a comprehensive IT and business strategy sounds great, but hardly ever realistic. For one thing, it doesn’t always make sense for all groups to follow the same plan; some innovate at different rates, and some just have different needs based on their role. To be a truly effective organization, different teams should be able to implement, migrate, and deploy all within a secure environment, but at a pace that is consistent with their needs.
There’s also an argument for organizational agility. Latency and outages are a normal part of operating in the cloud, but it’s a negative consequence of all the cloud’s advantages. It doesn’t mitigate the fact, however, that you and your customers need your data when you want it. Organizations using a hybrid approach can overcome availability issues by using internal assets that are shared with the cloud, but not solely living in the cloud.
A hybrid approach also works for organizations that might be using some applications only sporadically. Access to them at all times is unnecessary, and so is paying to have them available at all times.
Security Advantages of Hybrid Cloud
The general model for security in a public cloud is that cloud service providers manage security OF the cloud, but customers are responsible for their data IN the cloud. This notion of shared responsibility means that your organization must adhere to the security requirements and protocols, which is fine if there is a good match between your collective security goals. A hybrid approach, however, provides the flexibility to secure the different layers of the cloud stack which provides greater control over security policies.
Another very real issue facing digital enterprises is the cybersecurity skills gap. A report by security company McAfee, Building Trust in a Cloudy Sky: The State of Cloud Adoption and Security, claims that the reality of the lack of skilled workers means many enterprises are delaying full cloud adoption in favor of a hybrid approach. This gives them time to maintain a cloud strategy that is consistent with the skill set already within their IT organization.
Choosing the Right Cloud Environment
Creating a hybrid cloud for your enterprise can provide significant technology and business advantages for your enterprise, but it certainly requires some effort. It’s encouraging, however, that the hybrid approach necessitates collaboration among IT and business teams because they will need to negotiate and decide, based on their own needs, the most optimal ways to serve, store, and process the data that resides enterprise applications. And as security is a company-wide concern, it requires thinking from across the organization to determine the best way to manage access and configurations for security issues.
With the right internal mindset, enterprises can use a hybrid architecture to get the advantages of public clouds with the additional control of private infrastructures so they can deliver to stakeholders their best version of their digital enterprise.