Hybrid cloud: what goes where?


The cloud market has shifted considerably over the past two years. According to IDC’s recent report, business cloud adoption has accelerated, with nearly 68% using a cloud-based approach.

As a result, businesses are now striving to implement cloud strategies that will enable rapid application development and the ability to orchestrate workloads across private and public clouds
that their customers require.

With most ‘cloud-advanced’ UK companies seeing an annual benefit per cloud-based application of £2.3 million in additional revenues and £0.8 million in cost savings, it is crucial that businesses introduce efficient and effective environments and consumption models that will drive digital transformation.

‘It will be the businesses that truly understand their customers and the requirements on their networks that will thrive,’ says Alison Vincent, CTO at Cisco UKI. ‘By focusing on a flexible and agile hybrid model that fosters growth and supports the economies of scale of the cloud, organisations will ultimately be able to evolve and innovate.’

Having thrown many parts of their organisation into the cloud, many businesses are now realising that
some assets and data are best kept on-premise. Generally, everything has been chucked onto cloud storage with little consideration of the risks to the data that is being uploaded.

>See also: The 5 phases of overcoming hybrid cloud data integration

This is less of a problem with infrastructure hosting for virtual machines, where the requirements
are usually well defined. But it does become an issue with services such as Dropbox and OneDrive being used by employees, quite often outside of the view or control of the IT department, with large amounts of sensitive data being placed onto the services so they can be worked on from home.

‘There has been a lack of communication with employees as to what data is suitable to go onto these kinds of services, and quite often a lack of investment in setting up alternatives – on internal infrastructure or using a third party – that allow employees to easily work remotely on their data,’ says David Barker, founder and technical director at 4D.

Underestimating needs

Companies tend not to know what data they hold and what data they generate so often undersize any cloud storage requirement.

Once deployed, the amount of data stored and generated can grow extremely fast – incurring an hourly or monthly ‘cost per GB’ for storage.

This is made worse when a company doesn’t know what data it is generating and how it is being used. Quite often, the data is then stored on the lowest common denominator, such as storing everything on SSD because fast access is needed for one small piece, rather than being tiered appropriately.

‘The large image files that are accessed twice a year can be on slow magnetic disk storage, which is cheaper than using up a lot of space on expensive SSDs,’ says Barker.

While many companies have made a long-term decision that cloud is the future, they have since been
let down by IT manufacturers and suppliers when it comes to the migration process.

Lots of technology providers haven’t made a consciously ‘stepped’ move towards cloud, meaning their older solutions aren’t cloud ready and their newer ones often focus only on cloud.

‘This makes the transition very difficult for businesses, by bringing with it a sudden step change in operations, behaviour and cost model,’ says Alex Raistrick, WEUR sales director at Rubrik.

Defining cloud

So how can enterprise decide what are the best assets, operations and data to put in the cloud to get the best return, and what are best brought back in-house?

Businesses should begin by performing an extensive audit of existing systems and data (how it is generated, used and stored) so that a cloud storage requirement can be properly defined.

They’ll need to look at what type of storage they need, how much storage they need now, how often it needs to be accessed, how they access it and how long they need to retain the data for.

‘It could also be sensible to start using cloud storage for new projects and requirements where you are able to define these from the outset rather than trying to migrate all existing data,’ says Barker. ‘Longer-term existing data could be archived off if it isn’t readily accessed.’

Deciding where to put data will require elements of technology, assessment and a bit of trial and error. There is no silver bullet that will say definitively what is ready for the cloud and what is better suited to on-premise.

It is better to spend more upfront during the planning and proof-of-concept phase than to realise mid-way through a cloud implementation that the service doesn’t suit and then to either fill the cracks or revert back to the original.

‘I believe that hybrid will be the right answer in all cases, with a right place for everything,’ says Logicalis UK’s CTO, Richard Alexander.

For some heavily regulated businesses, especially healthcare and financial services, governance and compliance may drive the decision to keep customers’ sensitive personal information on-premise, where the company can ensure its security personally. But these same industries may still benefit from leveraging cloud benefits for functions such as HR and employee productivity.

‘Another deciding factor is the presence of legacy systems,’ says Rob Karel, vice president at Informatica. ‘The cost associated with managing proprietary infrastructure is often high enough to prompt a migration to the cloud to ensure that business-critical systems can scale at a lower cost.’

Hybrid architecture

Many companies are taking advantage of hybrid cloud strategies to accelerate their digital agenda, become nimbler, innovate more quickly, reduce time to market and create greater value for their customers.

In order to implement a successful hybrid cloud strategy, businesses must first define and assess the current infrastructure landscape and application workload characteristics and determine the right deployment model for each application workload.

>See also: The 10 most common mistakes businesses make when building a hybrid cloud

Another important aspect to consider is the network connectivity and how it interconnects to cloud, which enables a better business continuity, customer experience and disaster recovery strategy and, subsequently, improved business availability.

Thirdly, it is vital to ensure high security and compliance standards, so as to facilitate better business results and brand value.

‘Once these elements are in place, effective governance and organisational change management will be important in order to improve adoption and results,’ says Venu Lambu, SVP and global business
head at Cognizant Infrastructure Services & Cloud. ‘Using automation and cloud management tools can also help businesses to optimise their hybrid cloud strategies and build an agile business.’

Freedom of choice

The hybrid cloud is a tool for any organisation that wants to take advantage of some of the benefits that the cloud provides without having to move everything in their application infrastructure over to a public cloud.

There are two key factors that are driving many companies to have a hybrid cloud to one extent or another. The first is that companies simply want to be able to provision new servers faster than they can in their own data centres. Their purpose for moving to a hybrid cloud architecture is not to adopt particular cloud capabilities, but simply to leverage the cloud as an extension of their own data centres.

This may be to quickly address ongoing growth in production capacity requirements, since public clouds can add capacity at a much faster rate than a traditional data centre can. Or, a company may want to merely spin up temporary application environments for testing and debugging applications.

Compliance is another common driver of hybrid cloud adoption. ‘Some industries have specific geographical compliance requirements that specifically state where data must be stored,’ says Lee Atchison, senior director, strategic architecture at New Relic.

‘Other industries may require data to be geographically distributed – often in data centres at least 100 miles apart – for backup, redundancy and disaster recovery reasons. The cloud can help facilitate the creation of additional data centres to meet these compliance needs.’

To date, many organisations have taken IaaS and SaaS offerings as tactical solutions, and this has created islands of innovation where each different provider requires different tools and skills for proper operation.

The goal of a hybrid IT strategy is to create operational and service consistency across the hybrid landscape – one set of tools and processes, regardless of where the applications or data reside.

‘Good hybrid IT deployments start with creating consistent operational management, service management, automation and security platforms, and sets of policies,’ says Alexander. ‘From there, they lead to the provisioning and moving of services and data around that hybrid landscape through well-defined, highly standardised and fully automated workflows.’

The key lies in the software – the abstraction layers that hide the underlying complexity of the platforms and allow organisations to operate as service providers back into their own business. Getting this right will make or break the vast majority of hybrid IT deployments.

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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