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Can you have the best of both clouds?

Public and private clouds have been rapidly adopted by businesses around the world over the past few years. However, the debate over the pros and cons of each model has led to the emergence of a new type of cloud that allows businesses to avoid making compromises. The hybrid model enables organisations to enjoy a combination of the scalability and flexibility of public offerings with the manageability and security of their private counterparts, so it's unsurprising to see them becoming so popular. Indeed, Gartner predicts that by 2017, half of large enterprises will use hybrid cloud. So what makes this model so attractive for businesses, and what does the future hold for the hybrid cloud?

Evolution of the ultimate cloud

Naturally, the public and private elements within a hybrid cloud each have their own limitations. For example, the security of public clouds has limited widespread adoption in many enterprises. On the other hand, large-scale private deployments can be very costly, so whilst they offer a higher level of security than their public counterparts, the cost-savings that businesses hoped to achieve by migrating to the cloud can be negated.

As time moves on, innovative security technologies are being implemented for the public cloud, which is leading to an increased consensus about moving non-critical applications there to save costs. The trouble is that although most reputable providers have top-of-the-line security to protect users' data, experts say there is no such thing as a completely safe cloud system. Public cloud providers typically mention security as a joint responsibility, which has led most organisations to err on the side of caution when it comes to entrusting them with business-critical data. Because of the lack of guaranteed security in public environments, private clouds will always remain a necessity. These factors combined have given rise to the emergence of the hybrid model.

Emergence of hybrid concerns

Despite the pros of adopting a best of both worlds approach, there are still a number of challenges associated with hybrid cloud adoption. One of the biggest hurdles is to determine what types and portions of applications and what data sets are the best fit for each type of cloud. Some workloads and data can easily be done in private deployments for a simple reason; service customisation and greater control. Public cloud adoption on the other hand is primarily governed and dependent on aspects as specified or supported by the service provider. Generally speaking, public cloud storage is turning out to be a cost-effective option for any long-term archival of non-sensitive data.

Cost of procurement, implementation, operating management tools and billing are also governing factors in the decision over which type of cloud is best suited in each instance. Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are also a grey area on public offerings, which becomes a limiting factor for enterprises thinking of moving mission-critical or business-facing workloads to the cloud. There are also limitations around mapping organisational security policies over the hybrid model. These considerations have led to a large level of concern over the management of hybrid cloud deployments.

The rise of the hybrid cloud broker

To alleviate some of these challenges, cloud brokers are becoming increasingly prominent. They essentially fulfil the task of reducing the complexity associated with integrating all the offerings, services and standards that are brought together in a hybrid cloud. Brokers help in unifying the different services, standardising the implementations and taking care of governance, risk and compliance. They can also provide support and expertise that may not necessarily exist within the organisation, such as managing the use, performance and delivery of cloud services.

Brokers also take care of vendor and licence management, in addition to providing various supporting services such as integration, aggregation, service management, governance and assurance. These services add value to any cloud implementation, and help organisations to build an agile and compliant environment. As a result, the role of the cloud broker will become mainstream as the adoption of a hybrid model continues to gain momentum.

The hybrid cloud of tomorrow

As organisations continue to develop hybrid clouds, the IT landscape will become increasingly fragmented. One of the biggest challenges that organisations will face will be how to ensure these diverse systems talk to each other. This is one area that is emerging in the application programming interface where companies are providing connectors and adapters to integrate several cloud applications with one another and with legacy and on-premise applications. This equally applies to data; for an enterprise to work effectively and efficiently, easy and seamless movement of data between sources is a must. While these data sources can be on different environments – the movement and integration between private and public clouds is what will bring out true value of the hybrid model.

Cloud computing has undoubtedly paved the way for businesses to become more agile and responsive to modern market demands, but the emergence of the hybrid cloud is set to reinvent IT environments once again. Not only will we see entirely new and unique IT architectures continue to develop, but we will see the emergence of completely new IT challenges that are associated with them.

Kalyan Kumar is SVP & chief technologist, HCL Technologies.

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