“In the cloud” is more now than just a phrase that describes a feeling. Although the cloud began as a vision, over the past decade it has become an integral part of everyday business decisions, even being evaluated for an enterprise’s most critical high-value operations. Thanks to the public cloud, many startups find it quick and easy to set up their initial operation and product-development cycles. Some, such as Uber and Airbnb, even go to market entirely in the cloud.
Like most other technologies, however, the cloud is evolving. According to the new Worldwide Semiannual Public Cloud Services Spending Guide from the IDC, worldwide spending on public-cloud services will grow at a 19.4% compound annual growth rate (CAGR)—almost six times the rate of overall IT-spending growth—from nearly $70 billion in 2015 to more than $141 billion in 2019. One size doesn’t fit all, and some business models and workflows are better suited to a private-cloud environment. Cost/benefit and risk analysis are a crucial component of all business decisions. The cloud is no exception, so we’re on a journey to a hybrid cloud.
What Are the Various Cloud Platforms?
A public cloud is just your Internet with a bunch of IT services residing on someone else’s hardware. Public-cloud service providers use the Internet to make resources, such as applications or SaaS (software-as-a-service) and storage available to the public. Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), IBM’s Blue Cloud, Sun Cloud, Google AppEngine and Windows Azure Services Platform are some common public-cloud service providers.
For most users, public clouds provide the most viable option. They are inexpensive to set up because the provider covers hardware, application and bandwidth costs. It’s a pay-per-use model similar to a utility, and the only costs are based on the capacity used. The public cloud may not be the right fit for all users, though. It restricts configuration, security and SLA specificity, making it less than ideal for services using sensitive data that’s bound by regulations, such as health care and finance.
Private clouds are data center infrastructures owned by a single company that provides flexibility, scalability and automation with monitoring. They’re usually on the premises of the company or in a colocation facility run by a provider such as Equinix, Digital Realty or QTS. The purpose of a private cloud is to gain the benefits of cloud architecture while still maintaining control over the data center.
Private clouds can be expensive. They’re seldom the best option for a small to medium-size companies and are mostly used by business giants. Private-cloud operators must be especially mindful of security, compliance, offsite data replication and keeping data assets securely behind a firewall.
A hybrid cloud is a blend of a public-cloud provider and a private-cloud platform. The public and private clouds function independently but talk to each other through a variety of protocols.
The cloud has evolved into a hybrid mode, bringing back “old-school” private data storage. Unlike even a couple of years ago, when the cloud was considered the magic bullet to all organizational storage challenges, the emerging trend is the hybrid cloud. It combines the best of both public and private cloud storage. According to RightScale’s 2017 State of the Cloud Report, hybrid clouds have become the preferred strategy at 85 percent of enterprises.
By using a hybrid approach, companies can maintain control of an internally managed private cloud while relying on the public cloud as needed. For instance, during peak periods, individual applications or portions of those applications can be moved to the public cloud. Doing so will also be beneficial during predictable outages: hurricane warnings, scheduled maintenance windows and rolling brown/blackouts.
Maintaining an off-premises disaster-recovery site is impossible for most organizations owing to the cost. Although there are lower-cost alternatives, the ability to recover data drops rapidly. Cloud-based disaster-recovery (DR) and business-continuity (BC) services allow organizations to outsource recovery to a managed-services provider that maintains multitenant infrastructure and specializes in getting business back online quickly.
Here are some of pros of the hybrid-cloud approach:
- Cost-effective: The hybrid model lets you cut operating costs, as not all your data need reside in the cloud. A sizable part of it can reside in your own data center on premises or in a colocation facility.
- Secure: This huge advantage is probably the deal maker in industries such as finance and health care, where sensitive data must be on premises, accessible and protected. The separation of public- and private-cloud environments allows organizations to store privileged data on a private cloud while retaining access to resources in the public cloud, enabling them to run applications that rely on this data. This approach keeps data exposure to a bare minimum because these organizations aren’t storing sensitive data long term in the public cloud.
- High speed: A hybrid-cloud model with a private data center that's directly accessible greatly reduces access time and latency compared with the public cloud.
- Backup ready: A hybrid cloud provides on-premises computational infrastructure for your business and the ability to leverage the public cloud for failover if the workload exceeds the computational power of the private cloud.
- Customizability: Hybrid clouds enable hardware customization. You can choose all the hardware for your data center, unlike in a public cloud where the provider selects the basic features and decides which feature upgrades you receive. You can even customize the security.
- Flexibility: You can choose the speed/grade of the servers in accordance with your business needs. You can scale up or down on the basis of your operational needs.
Where Is the Hybrid Cloud Used?
Hybrid clouds are predominant in the financial sector, particularly when proximity is important physical space is at a premium, such as a trading floor. Reducing latency is crucial for data security. Assembling a private cloud to handle a standard workload, with burst compute offloaded to the public cloud, can be a long-term budget-friendly arrangement.
The hybrid-cloud model is widely used in the health-care industry, as the need to relay data between health-care providers and insurance companies for hundreds of thousands of patients is a huge task. The industry must comply with HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) rules, and hybrid clouds allow greater control for data sharing/storing as those rules require.
Law firms use hybrid--cloud infrastructures for the same reasons: to protect sensitive data from loss, theft, hardware failure or a natural disaster.
Retail sales and e-commerce also employ hybrid-cloud services. Transporting sales information and the analytics derived from that data is a computationally intensive task. Many retail businesses want to avoid the public cloud to protect their sales analyses.
Why Hybrid Clouds Are a Great Idea
A hybrid cloud can boost connectivity in the workplace. Companies have different functions and operations to run their day-to-day business. In addition to operating CRM systems, they must integrate with other processes such as internal messaging, scheduling and analytics. The public cloud alone doesn’t integrate with on-premises hardware. Devices such as printers, scanners, fax machines and physical-security hardware—including security cameras and fire detectors—don’t talk to the public cloud. Instead of creating silos around these mission-critical devices, a hybrid cloud can mesh all your business operations seamlessly.
A hybrid cloud can be a smart strategy for a range of businesses that want to implement tighter security and meet physical-presence demands. The up-front cost for your data center may be high, but the control that IT teams can wield over customizable hardware and system design can be invaluable for performance and cost optimization.
Hybrid clouds use the potential of the public cloud without offloading all their data to a third-party data center. This approach adds to the flexibility in computing tasks, storing the most vital data behind the company firewall.
The cloud isn’t the final answer to all the storage challenges, as some once thought. In the dynamic data-consumption landscape, businesses are still figuring out what works best. Budget, security and performance override all other criteria, but the hybrid-cloud cocktail can work in most cases.
About the Author
Ed Moll Lee, fondly known as “Ed, the storage expert,” is the Director of Storage Solutions at Rahi Systems. He joined Rahi in 2014 and handles all aspects of storage, from maximizing storage products and services revenue to business planning, marketing, go-to partner definition and deal management. He strongly believes in customer-centric storage solutions. Ed was cofounder of Stellar Experts, a consulting company providing enterprise deployments in database and storage. He offered end-to-end innovative storage solutions from assessment and service to installation, configuration, deployment, management and data migration.