Hybrid Cloud – is it really the future of enterprise IT?

Cloud computing continues to evolve at an unprecedented rate and plays an important role in most modern organisation’s technology strategy in one way or another. As the momentum of cloud continues, there is one question that still remains unanswered – is hybrid cloud really the future of enterprise IT?

Hybrid cloud is not a new term and has been existent since the early inception of cloud computing as we know it today, but its use is often oversimplified and misused by those big industry marketing machines to offer a safe house between old and new world orders. Essentially, the most widely accepted definition of hybrid cloud computing is based on the combination of both private and public cloud deployment models that remain distinct, but are bound together to provide a flexible computing and versatile platform within the same organisation. The primary aim is to satisfy a diverse range of use cases and complex deployment scenarios.   

Many technology evangelists and industry leaders believe a ‘second wave’ in cloud computing is on the horizon and that hybrid cloud is an integral part of the next revolution. It’s no secret that the leading public cloud platforms, such as AWS and Azure, have dramatically changed the technology landscape by making cutting-edge computing capabilities extremely accessible to the masses. The fact that any business can simply ‘sign up’ and use a feature-rich Machine Learning platform or even a collection of advanced Data Analytics tools in a matter of minutes without a significant upfront investment and create a new, innovation application is testament to the success of cloud computing as we know it today – what is considered by many as the ‘first wave in cloud’. 

This model alone has disrupted the enterprise technology marketplace, with a number of established hardware and software vendors left scratching their heads and wondering what to do next as a result of declining product sales. However, the reality is that right now there is still a need to support traditional enterprise computing models as many organisations still maintain a sizeable on-premise estate that consists of aging technology, sensitive pools of data or heavily coupled legacy applications that simply can’t be easily migrated to or replaced all together by public cloud. As cloud computing has matured, the gap between the old and new worlds has started to widen. Hybrid cloud offers a potential solution, enabling enterprises to bridge that gap between the long-standing, traditional enterprise IT model and modern cloud-based architectures while remaining practical, effective and most importantly achievable.   

Is there really an appetite for hybrid cloud today? 

Industry analysts and researches have been skirting around the topic of hybrid cloud for a long time, particularly as adoption of public cloud has become increasingly more established and mainstream in the last few years. The reality is however, that many enterprises now find themselves in a state of incertitude as a result of the disruption that public cloud has caused. Business leaders are now often fighting a common dilemma – deciding on a practical and effective technology strategy that doesn’t restrict an organisation’s ability to adapt quickly to changing demands and encourages innovation. 

It’s clear to see that the appetite for agility and flexibility in the enterprise IT arena is increasing dramatically. Just like virtualisation revolutionised the traditional data centre over a decade ago, cloud-based technology is driving a dramatic shift in how enterprise organisations design, deploy and manage IT services today. IT professionals now expect the on-demand, robust and consistent characteristics of cloud-based platforms to exist across the entire IT estate they carefully manage and the services they consume. End-users and consumers expect fast, reliable and accessible services without any real appreciation for the technical complexities involved in delivering new applications that meet these demands. Business leaders want to see increased productivity, greater security and a better return on investments as a result of adopting new, modern cloud-based technologies. Balancing the needs and expectations of every stakeholder is never an easy task, and the explosion of cloud has made this even more difficult to achieve in rapidly changing business environments. 

This is where hybrid cloud can help, as it has the potential to satisfy a greater number of requirements and demands through adopting a more flexible and optimised approach to the delivery and operation of enterprise IT services. The main uses cases for adopting hybrid cloud architectures are beginning to become more prominent among larger enterprises, as the need to overcome technical complexity, drive operational efficiency and increase business agility becomes ever more important in a highly competitive and global marketplace.   

But hybrid cloud is just a buzzword that doesn’t really mean anything? 

In the early years of cloud computing, it was safe to say that hybrid cloud was nothing more than an ambitious concept than a practical reality, perhaps a buzzword. However, this is no longer the case - as cloud technology continues to rapidly evolve, the enterprise-ready solutions that are available to fulfil this once ambitious concept have evolved in equal measures too. 

Microsoft’s recent release of Azure Stack highlights the continued evolution of cloud computing by shifting the spotlight in the direction of on-premise environments and traditional private infrastructure. The concept of seamlessly deploying a fully-functional and purpose-built infrastructure package that behaves and operates just like Microsoft’s proven and respected public cloud platform, Azure, is a major milestone in hybrid architecture. Azure Stack is in fact an extension of Microsoft’s public cloud platform that offers total flexibility and control without the need for complex management and integration tools. 

Virtualisation titan VMware has also renewed its commitment offering cloud-capable technology by embracing the hybrid cloud model as a result of changing customer demands, having recently announced support for running its own hypervisor and management tools on top of AWS’ platform to bridge the technology gap between on-premise environments running VMware technology and public cloud. VMware is no stranger to this concept, having targeted the hybrid deployment scenario for many years with a brief spell in offering its own public cloud platform, vCloud Air. Much like Microsoft’s Azure Stack offering, vCloud Air was launched in 2013 in an attempt to extend a customer’s existing virtualised estate into the cloud by connecting both private and public domains seamlessly using VMware’s proven on-premise management stack. Unfortunately, it was an ambitious prospect at the time and it wasn’t quite the success story VMware hoped for but it definitely opened the door to a new vision in hybrid cloud architecture that the industry hadn’t quite seen before. 

In the meantime, the open-source project OpenStack is quietly gaining momentum in the background as a comparable and scalable alternative to both Microsoft’s and VMware’s private cloud ecosystem by offering a greater level of autonomy, flexibility and control without vendor lock-in. This includes the ability to create a dynamic and fully integrated architecture across both private and public cloud platforms. There are a number of notable contributors to the OpenStack project, including Red Hat, IBM, Intel, AT&T and Rackspace.   

The tools and technology available today to manage the cloud lifecycle are becoming increasingly more hybrid focused, with the ability to manage and interact with a range of both private and public cloud platforms. The ability to automate and orchestrate operational tasks across a range of platforms consistently from one toolset is becoming increasingly more important in the fast-paced and dynamic world of enterprise IT operations and management. The demand for management tools that support multiple cloud platforms is acting as a major catalyst for the adopting of hybrid cloud and the more recent, emerging trend of multi-cloud environments. 

Are there practical benefits of adopting a hybrid cloud strategy? 

In short, yes – there are a number of practical benefits that shouldn’t be overlooked by business and IT leaders who are considering hybrid cloud as the next step.   

First and foremost, flexibility and versatility are both top of that list. Adopting a hybrid cloud strategy allows for the optimal placement of workloads, applications and IT services depending on your specific criteria. For example, deploying an application that requires greater accessibility, or would benefit from high-intensity computing power on an ad-hoc or elastic basis is best placed on a public cloud platform. Alternatively, an application that requires close proximity to another back-office application that handles sensitive data may be better placed within the realms of an organisation’s private estate for the purpose of both performance, security and potentially regulatory compliance.   

Optimal placement of workloads, applications and services can result in greater cost efficiency by essentially deploying computing resources in the most cost-effective domain. Managing capacity becomes a more simplified process, as the need to maintain a sizable capacity overhead on premise (thus unutilised capacity) is significantly reduced with the added benefit of computing resources being readily available, on demand, by leveraging public cloud. 

Security remains a hot topic of discussion, with organisations becoming more security conscious in response to the growing cyber security threat that businesses face today. While the security capabilities of mainstream public cloud offerings are extremely advanced at a platform level, consideration should always be given to the nature of the data being stored, the criticality of operations and architectural design of applications and services that reside in public cloud. An effective hybrid cloud strategy can offer greater control when trying to overcome many security challenges and managing risk, particularly when deciding the placement and potential exposure of sensitive data and digital assets.   

In contrast, adopting a hybrid cloud strategy can present a challenging prospect for many larger organisations with a sprawling and complex landscape. Avoiding the creation of a fragmented and disparate estate is of paramount importance when embarking on a path to hybrid cloud. Ensuring efficient and consistent management, maintaining reliable networking and roust connectivity while reducing overall complexity are just some of the obstacles that need to overcome early in the journey. Developing a practical strategy that identifies the needs and future demands of the business is the key to successful hybrid cloud implementation. 

The era of digital transformation is driving significant change in how organisations use and rely on technology – there is no doubt that cloud computing will continue to fuel advancements in the enterprise arena for years to come. Hybrid cloud is the next major leap in the evolution of enterprise IT.

Pierce Lynch, Managing Partner and Director of Technology at Prodera Group 

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