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Does anyone really want hybrid cloud?

What is hybrid cloud? That’s part of the problem - there’s confusion about what it is, and what it isn’t. A search for “hybrid cloud solutions” turns up a mix of private cloud platforms, virtualisation software, enterprise hardware solutions, managed service providers, and system integrators.

Vendor hype says it means you have two clouds, maybe public and private, so you have hybrid. But they’re not connected. What’s hybrid about that?

Let’s start with a definition of hybrid cloud. This one is from TechTarget, so it’s independent of any vendor marketing: "Hybrid cloud is a cloud computing environment which uses a mix of on-premises, private cloud and third-party, public cloud services with orchestration between the two platforms. By allowing workloads to move between private and public clouds as computing needs and costs change, hybrid cloud gives businesses greater flexibility and more data deployment options.

It’s a reasonable definition. At the same time, most companies don’t start with a private cloud and add public cloud (or the other way around). They likely have a primary datacentre and regional or branch offices with a mix of infrastructure that’s been built out over 10 or 20 years. So any hybrid cloud effort has to tie in to this.

Almost every company has a cloud initiative, or is developing one. Many are drawn to the idea of a hybrid cloud, but the reality is, a hybrid cloud often ends up meaning multiple, isolated clouds. If you’ve been struggling to consolidate IT infrastructure across sites, you’ll feel like you’re back where you started - islands of infrastructure that you have to manage, only this time, the infrastructure is in the cloud.

Hybrid should mean things work together

Companies don’t want “hybrid cloud” specifically. They just want cloud platforms that work with what they already have in some way, or want a way to connect the pieces together easily. The idea of orchestration sounds great, but puts a huge burden on the IT staff. They have to become experts in cloud platforms that don’t work the same way as the systems in their datacentre. Most IT people will tell you they’re too busy keeping things up and running to to become an expert in a few different cloud platforms.

You can call the on-premise portion a “private cloud” or just your “virtual infrastructure.” It’s hybrid if you can make public cloud an extension of it, so it feels like it’s just another part of your datacentre. So a “hybrid cloud” really needs to work as an extension of your infrastructure. Otherwise, it’s still just a platform people use for development and test, archive and backup, or “born in the cloud” services use as their service infrastructure.

How should you think about creating a hybrid cloud that works with your existing infrastructure?

It’s a networking problem first

Connecting your enterprise network to the cloud is challenging for a few reasons:

  • You need to connect separate networks. Plugging your internal network directly into a cloud instance can be difficult and expensive. You can’t just extend your IP addresses and DNS into the cloud. You have to set up a VPN network, and potentially pay to co-locate some of your servers in a facility close to the cloud datacenter.
  • Separate environments. Cloud gateways let you connect some of your storage to the cloud – mostly to simplify backup and archiving. But from an operational standpoint, your datacenter and the cloud are different environments with islands of storage, virtual servers, and applications that aren’t tightly connected.
  • User directory integration. Since the cloud is effectively an island, there’s no easy way to tie your internal user authentication into an application running in the cloud.

The bottom line: Authentication, networking, Active Directory, and DNS configuration in a hybrid cloud environment are very hard to solve. Your networking and security teams won’t like the idea of extending services into the cloud, either.

It’s also a data problem

There’s a lot of vendor talk about moving data to the cloud to save money and reduce storage requirements. But most of the time, they’re talking about your archive and backup data. You’re still stuck with production file data sitting in on-premise silos.

The problem: it’s hard to keep data consistent and provide fast access to users in different locations. If the data is stored in the cloud, latency becomes a problem. Access to files slows down, particularly for application data.

For hybrid cloud to work, data needs to be close to the users when they need it, but kept consistent across all sites and the cloud, and even across different clouds. You want a system that uses the same namespace everywhere, and also uses the cloud as an authoritative source for file data, but it also needs to:

  • Keep active data cached close to users, either on local devices or in a close-by cloud instance
  • Make sure data is immediately consistent across the system
  • Use a file locking mechanism that works across sites to prevent data corruption

A connected hybrid cloud has several advantages:

  • You can truly “cloud burst.” Services like indexing or anti-virus can run against the same consistent data in the cloud, eliminating the need for excess datacenter capacity.
  • You can put the same data next to users at your offices and your apps in the cloud without any performance issues.
  • Your file data capacity is effectively unlimited. The cloud gives you a bottomless bucket.
  • You can eliminate the need for traditional backup and disaster recovery. Since the authoritative data is stored in the cloud, it’s protected by the cloud provider.
  • Global file locking ensures data integrity. If you have file locking and a global name space, users in different offices see the same files, but the system prevents them from writing over each other’s work.

People do want a hybrid cloud. They just want one that’s actually connected together. What’s your experience with the hybrid cloud? What does it mean to you? Have you been able to make it work?

Barry Phillips, Chief Marketing Officer at Panzura

Image Credit: Shutterstock/Aliwak