Hybrid cloud: What businesses need to know

In terms of industry buzz and discussion, it is unlikely you’ll find a technological concept that’s more popular at the moment than cloud computing. Since it burst on to the scene a few years ago, cloud computing has proven its utility within a huge range of business and consumer markets.

With the flexibility, productivity and cost advantages being delivered by the cloud, it can truly claim to have had a profound impact on the way that we live our lives. However, although “cloud computing” is often spoken about in relatively generalised terminology, it is far from a homogeneous resource.

Public, Private and Hybrid

In fact, there are three main forms of cloud computing in the business market: private, public and hybrid. Each approach comes with its own advantages and disadvantages, so it’s up to each business to identify which solution is most suitable for them. Private cloud is often considered the most secure cloud computing model, because only a single business has access to the particular cloud resources in question.

Although the underlying hardware of a private cloud may vary, and may be located internally or externally, the individual business is still ring-fenced from any others by a combination of security methods. Private clouds still deliver computing resources within a virtualised environment, but they are much closer to the local access networks (LANs) used previously by enterprises. This provides added privacy, security and control for a business, which makes it particularly favourable when sensitive information, such as financial data, is being transferred.

Public clouds, on the other hand, represent the type of cloud computing that consumers are most likely to be familiar with. In this scenario, shared resources can be accessed by a multitude of businesses and individuals over a network connection, most commonly the Internet. Consumers that use Dropbox, OneDrive or Google Drive to store files will have utilised the public cloud, but there are also many business cases. Software-as-a-Service, where an application is accessed via the Internet, is also a public cloud offering, for example. Individual data can still be kept private in a public cloud environment, such as through user identification methods, but the underlying pool of computer resources is shared. This has raised security fears over potential data loss, as well as concerns regarding the amount of control businesses must cede to third-party vendors. However, the flexibility and scalability benefits of the public cloud often outweigh these issues.

Hybrid cloud is an approach that looks to encompass the best features of both the private and public cloud environments. Essentially, an organisation can be said to be using hybrid cloud when it employs both public and private cloud technology in different situations. Generally speaking, for processes that need to be agile, scalable and mobile, businesses will adopt a public cloud, while reserving the private cloud for the applications and data that need the highest levels of security. Ultimately, hybrid cloud lets them have the best of both worlds.

Hybrid benefits

One of the most notable benefits of the hybrid cloud is known as cloud bursting. This is when an application is able to seamlessly transition from the private cloud to the public cloud, without causing disruption to employees or customers. This is particularly useful for businesses that experience variable demand. For example, a retail company could choose to deploy its online shopping infrastructure locally, but have it transition to the public cloud as demand increases, thereby taking advantage of greater bandwidth and other computing resources. This is an example of the greater efficiencies delivered by a hybrid environment. If businesses wanted to cope with demand spikes using solely a private cloud, it would mean leaving a significant amount of resources underutilised for large periods of time.

Another hybrid cloud benefit is the way that it enables businesses to work with flexibility and agility, while still adhering to data compliance laws. Due to regulations surrounding certain types of data, such as financial information or medical records, some businesses are not able to fully embrace the public cloud. By adopting a hybrid approach, they can outsource their non-critical applications to the public cloud, while keeping customer data stored locally in order to meet compliance needs. A hybrid cloud also enables organisations to benefit from the greater cost efficiencies associated with the public cloud, while still keeping security concerns to a minimum. The public cloud, due to its sheer size, can offer much greater economies of scale, which can prove attractive to businesses when compared with private cloud solutions.

The present landscape

According to recent research it seems as though hybrid cloud is fast becoming the favoured approach for many organisations. The 2015 State of the Cloud report from RightScale found that 93 per cent of respondents were using the cloud in some form, and that 58 per cent of those had already moved to a hybrid cloud environment. In practice those businesses could be implementing their hybrid cloud through a number of different methods. They could be integrating public and private services that are leased from several distinct cloud providers, or they could be subscribing to a single cloud vendor that offers a bespoke hybrid package. Conversely, a business may choose to manage their own private cloud for greater autonomy, and integrate it with a public cloud service.

Public cloud providers are extremely well-known, including the likes of Google, Amazon and Microsoft, but suppliers of hybrid environments for the business market are perhaps less so. Amazon Web Services only announced support for hybrid cloud last year, for example, believing strongly that the public cloud was the way forward. Some of the most popular hybrid cloud providers, aside from the aforementioned public suppliers, include VMware, Rackspace, HP and IBM. Ultimately, businesses must carefully assess not only which vendor is right for them, but also whether hybrid cloud itself is suitable. Just because it offers features of both public and private environments, does not mean it can be adopted without due consideration. 

A recent study from IBM recommends businesses need to build a deeper understanding of the cloud and improve their ability to manage complex, multiple cloud environments and meet the associated security and regulation challenges.

There's no doubt that migrating to the cloud comes with its own set of challenges that must be overcome, regardless of whether you choose public, private or hybrid.

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