As the 2020 pandemic caused a swell in business challenges, cloud technologies have been embraced. From sustaining a remote workforce, to supporting global supply chains, and delivering on the need for stability and flexibility, the cloud has become the technology of choice even for the most conservative market players. But as the effects of the pandemic persist throughout 2021, companies will need to plan for the long term and broaden the scope of operations hosted in the cloud, including even the most sensitive of data. So the question is — how can this be done? Enter the hybrid cloud. Bridging the gap between infinite scalability and robust security, hybrid cloud is likely to become a staple technology across industries.
With the promise of interoperability between public and private cloud, the inclusion of legacy software, and the protection of highly sensitive information, the hybrid cloud might well be the next default step across the board.
So here are the practical implications of adopting a hybrid cloud, the unravelling of its architecture intricacies, and understanding of where it’s headed in the near-term.
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What is a Hybrid Cloud?
In essence, a hybrid cloud is a combination of two or more different cloud environments. If a company combines its own private cloud, managed by its IT team, and a public cloud, offered by a third-party provider publicly over the internet, it would have a hybrid cloud in place. Plus, in many cases, a hybrid cloud also encompasses the company’s very own legacy infrastructure.
What would this look like in practice? For example, a company may choose to keep its sensitive data in its private data centre (private cloud) for the sake of compliance and security, while migrating some of less private data to a public cloud, through one of the providers.
This way, the company could cut down on its in-house storage expenses and use cheaper, long-term storage and infrastructure of a well-versed public cloud provider. As a result, hybrid cloud solutions offer the best of both worlds.
Hybrid Cloud Architecture
As we’ve mentioned, a typical architecture comprises:
- Public infrastructure as a service (IaaS), aka ‘public cloud’
- Private-computing service, on-premise data centre, aka ‘private cloud’
- Network connection to both private and public cloud environments. This connection is established through application programming interfaces (APIs), a wide area network (WAN) and a virtual private network (VPN).
Now, given the importance of public and private clouds in the functioning of hybrid clouds, but more importantly their evolving nature over the years, this is a good place to reflect on the public vs private cloud environment.
Traditionally, public clouds have been off-premise, remote computing infrastructures, managed by a third-party company. Today, public clouds offer sensible levels of security and come as a heterogeneous combination of environments, bringing lower costs, wider availability and more robust infrastructure.
Meanwhile, private clouds are usually within the end-users/company’s firewall, built solely for that end-user. And since typically this environment was on-premise, it provided a higher level of security, hence many companies in regulated industries stuck with private clouds, especially in the infancy of cloud technologies. Still, today it’s possible to host a private cloud on a remote hardware infrastructure provided by vendors.
So these are the main tenets of a hybrid cloud. However, it takes more than just these individual components for the cloud to be truly hybrid.
What’s missing here is the orchestration. For a hybrid cloud environment to be beneficial, all the parts, i.e. the public cloud, the private cloud, and on-prem legacy infrastructure need to be tightly interconnected and synchronized, functioning without glitches. Only then does the company make the best use of hybrid cloud deployments.
As such, the hybrid cloud architecture works as a seamless solution that helps balance workload in real-time while removing unwanted tradeoffs from the deployment.
However, this seamless interoperability requires compatibility between private cloud architecture and the public cloud, over which the end-user has no control. The key approach here is then for the private cloud network to be compatible with the target public cloud services.
Hybrid and Multi-Cloud: What’s the Difference?
A hybrid cloud isn’t the only combination of private and public infrastructure, though.
There’s also the multi-cloud. And while these two types of paradigms tend to get used interchangeably, they’re in fact separate types of cloud infrastructure deployment.
In a nutshell, a hybrid cloud combines different types of a cloud environment (private and public), whereas a multi-cloud combines several public clouds but can, in some instances, also include private cloud infrastructure. In other words, where a hybrid cloud can be thought of as a combination of different modes of cloud deployments, a multi-cloud approach combines several cloud deployments.
By combining private and public cloud infrastructure, the hybrid cloud lets companies balance workloads, allowing them to allocate their resources on an as-needed basis, and also letting them fine-tune where their data is kept and how it’s managed.
Through its use of two or more public cloud providers, multi-cloud, on the other hand, makes it possible for companies to avoid relying on a single cloud provider and avoid potential vendor lock-ins. Plus, a multi-cloud strategy ensures the optimal use of available public cloud solutions — one public cloud provider could be used for development purposes, another one for AI or machine learning.
Hybrid Cloud Computing Solutions
With the majority of companies turning to a hybrid cloud strategy — according to Gartner, 75% of SMEs will have implemented a hybrid cloud by 2021 — it should come as no surprise that a handful of vendors are joining the race for market growth.
As it were, not all hybrid cloud solutions are created equal and often serve different purposes, so here’s a quick overview of major hybrid cloud solutions and how they can help companies:
- AWS Outposts. AWS occupies over a third of the cloud market, and its vast, well-established infrastructure makes it easy for organizations to avoid any frictions in workload connections. It’s praised for seamless communication between on-prem and its public cloud assets.
- Azure Stack. If you’re planning on implementing edge computing, Azure’s cloud hybrid solution is a good choice. It offers a unified code base, and improves latency and thus reduces costs, and is well suited for IoT efforts allowing for real-time insights.
- Google Cloud. Google’s hybrid cloud platform, Anthos, streamlines enterprises’ chapplication modernization. It also boasts top-of-the-game security standards and brings applications closer to the end-user via its edge computing capabilities.
- Alibaba Cloud. Alibaba’s hybrid cloud solutions allow for easy integration with Alibaba Cloud Zstack, ensuring scalable and reliable workload distribution, supporting containerized applications and agile product development.
- IBM Hybrid Cloud. IBM’s flagship product, IBM Cloud Pak is praised for supporting business use cases. By relying on IBM Watson, this option goes hand in hand with automating processes and optimizing workloads.
Hybrid Cloud Computing Benefits
By deploying assets, companies can make significant gains on several fronts:
- Cutting down infrastructure costs. Public cloud services are offered by vendors who have a robust infrastructure in place to host company data and compute instances. At the same time, these public clouds are cheaper to deploy than building private cloud infrastructure from scratch.
- Protecting sensitive data and critical applications. With companies need not sacrifice the security of their data. Instead, all the highly sensitive records and applications can remain in the company’s private, on-prem data centres or in the company’s cloud archive. This way, the IT team can safeguard valuable assets, while avoiding the strain on the private cloud — increased workload can meanwhile be carried out on a public cloud.
- Tick off all compliance checkboxes. Stemming from the previous point, by retaining sensitive assets and apps on private clouds, companies can deal with compliance requests more efficiently and have greater control over their data. After all, in case of a data breach, the company, not the public cloud provider, faces the brunt of legal repercussions. With hybrid deployments, such scenarios are preempted.
- Efficient workload balancing. Lets companies draw upon cloud resources and iron out spikes in demand. This provides for uninterrupted execution of ongoing tasks, as well as reduced downtime, all the while the business-critical assets in the private cloud remain functional. Plus, in case of experimental or temporary workloads that the company doesn’t wish to manage in-house, it can easily deploy its public cloud infrastructure.
- Scalability and flexibility. Gives IT teams more granular control over infrastructure and assets, thus allowing them to scale and optimize the spend across public and private assets and infrastructure in tumultuous times. As a result, this leads to higher business efficiency, blending together agility and robustness.
Implementing Hybrid Cloud Platforms: What’s in it for the Business?
Through the orchestration of on-premise and public cloud assets, platforms support various business verticals, from security to innovation efforts to daily customer support.
- Digital transformation. Hybrid clouds support overall business acceleration. When seamless, the combination of private and public infrastructure makes it possible for applications to be delivered faster, products to be shipped to market sooner, and innovations to be implemented continuously.
- Data processing. Compute instances offered by third-party vendors are robust and support large scale data processing, thus enabling companies to address requests and execute business plans fast.
- Disaster recovery. Through automated data redundancy, companies have a readily available data backup, meaning that in the event of a disaster, the chances of significant data loss are minimized.
- Application testing and development. By utilizing abundant public cloud resources, companies can focus on application testing and development without exhausting their business-essential on-prem resources.
What’s in Store for Hybrid Cloud
The past twelve months have accelerated the adoption of cloud technologies, helping establish the hybrid cloud as the new general direction of computing in the years ahead, followed by edge computing as the new paradigm.
Given the lingering aftermath of the pandemic, with companies still in a need of flexible yet secure solutions, it seems that the hybrid cloud will be unchallenged in the near-term. Meanwhile, CIOs favour clouds’ potency to support companies during peak times as its flagship feature that will cement the hybrid cloud position as the go-to solution en route to recovery.
Read more: What Is iCloud?