Knowing when to use a hybrid cloud strategy can have significant benefits for businesses wishing to maintain control of their IT infrastructures, foster innovation, and comply with regulatory requirements. But first, it is important to be aware of the potential advantages and disadvantages of a hybrid cloud environment and, in order to do that, it is best to clarify what a hybrid cloud environment is.
Definitions of a hybrid cloud environment vary. Some vendors claim it to mean any environment using multiple clouds of any type. However, the most frequently-accepted definition is that the environment is comprised of one or more public clouds, and one or more private clouds—in most cases, one of each.
It does not matter whether the private cloud is a physical on-premises infrastructure or hosted in a third-party service provider´s data center. Private cloud computing is “defined by privacy, not location, ownership or management responsibility” according to Gartner—although this can confuse the issue in the rare cases an organization uses both a physical on-premises infrastructure and private hosted cloud.
Although the motives for adopting a hybrid cloud environment vary from organization to organization, the advantages remain the same:
Running a public cloud in a data center (yours or a third-party service provider´s) can reduce your Total Cost of Ownership. It can often be more cost-effective to run steady, 24/7 workloads in the private cloud and transitioning to an OpEx cost model when required. This also has the advantage of matching your costs with your revenues. It might be cost effective to start with development and test use cases in public cloud as you understand the cost curves and then introduce production workloads in it.
A hybrid environment allows you to place workloads where they make most sense. You can configure the private cloud to match legacy performance requirements that only dedicated servers can offer, while taking advantage of emerging cloud technology in the public cloud and spinning up additional resources On Demand. This can be a liberating experience for your developers and can speed up innovation.
The ability to spin up servers and containers quickly in the public cloud allows creative developers to test their software and run pilot trials without the processes or time restrictions associated with a private cloud. The public cloud also provides the opportunity for developers to deliver “proof of concept” in a sandboxed environment before the app is launched in the private cloud.
By maintaining your sensitive data in a private cloud—while running non-sensitive applications in a public cloud—you overcome common cloud-related concerns about security and multi-tenancy. With better security, you overcome cloud-related concerns about regulatory compliance as you can choose which servers to isolate or restrict access to.
As hybrid cloud environments have become more popular, the disadvantages have become more apparent. Technology is combating these obstacles, but for some organizations they still remain:
Running two levels of cloud infrastructure can result in compatibility issues, especially when apps and data reside in different environments. Developers may have to adopt new practices in order to ensure resources deployed in the public cloud work with those deployed in the private cloud, for example clustering containers to provide micro-services.
Networking can be a limiting factor when data transfer between public and private clouds is mission-critical. Organizations that deploy large data files on public clouds may suffer latency issues, while bandwidth usage could create bottleneck issues for other apps. When local storage is not the solution (for example, when organizations have multiple offices), dedicated data lines may be the answer.
Is managing two cloud environments twice as difficult as managing one? Not necessarily, but in the past it has been hard to find “agnostic” cloud management solutions to manage hybrid cloud environments. Fortunately, as more organizations have adopted dual cloud environments, hybrid cloud management solutions have evolved to help overcome the management challenge.
Security can be both an advantage and a disadvantage depending on issues such as compatibility (of security tools) and management (total visibility of cloud activity). Furthermore, data in transit between clouds can be targeted by hackers and should be given the same level of protection as data in transit between your product or service and the end user.
Based on the above advantages and disadvantages of hybrid cloud environments, our conclusions about when to use a hybrid cloud strategy can be summed up as follows: