The pros and cons of building a hybrid cloud for your enterprise

The growth of cloud computing over the last decade has been unprecedented. From a relatively unheard-of concept, the cloud has become a key part of the boardroom conversation amongst CIOs and IT directors at companies across industries, sizes, and revenues for its promise of organisational transformation.

A large amount of enterprises have already built their own private cloud networks, hosting essential applications and providing anywhere, anytime access to mission critical data for employees scattered across the world. In many cases, the effort pays off, resulting in increased productivity, reduced costs and ease of access.

And there’s no shortage of companies that have built public cloud offerings to leverage this trend - tech giants like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Oracle all having entered into the market in the last few years, not to mention the thousands of smaller service providers offering more niche solutions. These services can be cheaper alternatives to building a private cloud infrastructure, or provide a necessary extension to the limits of a private cloud, allowing for occasional bursts in computing capacity.

The biggest trend however is to blend the benefits of both private and public cloud offerings to create a hybrid cloud infrastructure. These hybrid clouds exploit the control and security of a private cloud, along with the flexibility and low cost of public cloud offerings. Together they form a powerful solution to meet the demands on IT from the rest of the organisation.

Cloud computing has a seemingly endless list of reasons for why companies should adopt it: cost savings, improved security, enhanced agility, greater accessibility and flexibility, among many others. Considering changes in the IT infrastructure always poses risks and challenges that must be taken into account and built into the plan for rollout. For that reason, we’ve put together this guide with best practices for building a hybrid cloud.

Hybrid Cloud – the benefits

Cost savings - One of the foremost benefits of implementing a hybrid cloud is of not having to spend the money and build infrastructure to withstand occasional bursts in system usage that only happens a small fraction of the time. Instead organisations can leverage public cloud offerings to offload some of the heavy usage, and only have to pay for it when they need it. With less money spent on infrastructure, more funds can be devoted to other critical projects that help move the business forward.

Improved Security - While the perception that the cloud is insecure is a persistent one among members of traditional IT teams, many believe that customers of service-provider environments actually suffer from less attacks than on-premise users do. The myth that cloud computing is less secure than traditional approaches can lend itself to the fact that having things stored off-premises feels less secure, however this does not reflect reality.

Enhanced organisational agility - By leveraging the public cloud in times of heavy usage, organisations can experience fewer outages and less downtime. For developing and testing new applications, the hybrid cloud also offers an attractive option for hosting them - buying time until a decision is eventually made as to where to host it permanently.

Greater accessibility - With employees becoming increasingly mobile, greater accessibility to business-critical applications is a necessity for any 21st century enterprise. Gone are the days when employees only need to access their email when they’re at their desks, or only need to update a spreadsheet or access an application during business hours. Today, Business happens 24/7 and for companies to compete effectively, the cloud offers the advantage of anywhere, anytime access.

Hybrid Cloud – the challenges

Tools and skills - To effectively operate a hybrid cloud solution, it takes tools and skills. Not everyone has these skills, and it can be costly to get them. If your organisation has recently decided to move to the cloud, it might be necessary to look for outside talent that has the necessary skillset to accomplish the transition. Moreover, the team implementing the project will probably need additional training to learn the systems, and all of this costs time and money; bringing us to our next point…

Cost - As always, cost is key. It plays a major role in planning to execute a hybrid cloud strategy. While the public cloud can offer an attractive option for its flexibility and relatively low cost to operate, building a private enterprise cloud requires significant expenditure and can become expensive very quickly with all the physical hardware necessary. At the same time, heavy use of public cloud resources can rack up unexpectedly high usage bills that may not have been planned for.

Security - It’s at the forefront of everyone’s mind when they think of the cloud. While we’ve already seen that cloud computing is not inherently any less secure than traditional computing, and in fact faces fewer attacks, there are still considerations to take into account when building out a hybrid cloud. The proper precautions must be taken to ensure data is properly protected and that the right people maintain control. Additionally, depending on the industry, there may be regulatory requirements that prohibit data from being stored off-site, which would prevent the use of a public cloud entirely.

Data and application integration - This is a particular challenge when taking the move to a hybrid cloud into account. Applications and data exist in a symbiotic relationship, with each one being useless without the other. Oftentimes they’re chained together. So when considering where to store each of them, it’s essential to ask whether the infrastructure they’re placed on matters. For example, if an application lives in a private cloud and it’s data lives in an on-premises data centre, is the application built to access the data remotely? Technologies like copy data virtualisation can decouple data from infrastructure and make this problem less of a headache.

Compatibility - Across infrastructure, compatibility can prove itself to be a major issue when building a hybrid cloud. With dual levels of infrastructure, a private cloud that the company controls, and a public one that the company leverages, the chances are that they will be running different stacks. Can you manage both using the same tools, or will your team have to learn a new set in order to effectively oversee them?

Networking - Another important factor to consider in hybrid integration is designing the network around it. For instance, will very active applications be living in the cloud? It’s necessary to consider the bandwidth usage that this could take up on the network, and whether or not it could cause problems in bottlenecking other applications.

Like every IT project, building an enterprise hybrid cloud brings many benefits and some challenges. When properly accounted for during planning, organisations can minimize these difficulties and maximise the value they bring for the company.

Ash Ashutosh, founder and CEO, Actifio

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Aliwak