For the past five years, the DPR survey has routinely asked respondents what percentage of their production workloads were running on physical servers within the data center, virtual machines within the data center, or cloud-hosted, which includes IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS. Collectively, these five reports now represent over 13,000 organizations and span half a decade of survey work with surprisingly consistent insights. As we all know, one of the immediate IT ramifications to COVID-19 was a reimagining of the workforce and the production IT landscape, with an accelerated adoption of cloud-based services. But from 2021 through today, the distribution of “data center versus cloud” and the distribution within the data center of “physical versus virtual” has remained notably consistent for the past four years.
What Is Hybrid Cloud: Benefits and Infrastructure
As a continuing part of the data protection trends 2024 report series, let’s take a look at the hybrid and multi-cloud strategies that 1,200 organizations cited in this year’s research. In recent years, the realm of hybrid cloud infrastructure has proven to be a captivating fusion of innovation and versatility.
Hybrid cloud infrastructure benefits organizations by offering a more balanced approach to computing resources and enabling companies to tailor unique blends of public and private storage solutions to suit their precise needs, such as a private data center or cloud and a public cloud(s). Leveraging a public cloud allows them to expand or contract key offerings as needed and offer access to remote employees 24/7. Workloads can move between the myriad interconnected domains, ensuring hybrid cloud computing is an increasingly important option in modern IT ecosystems.
Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure Defined: Hybrid Cloud vs. Multi-Cloud
The terms hybrid cloud infrastructure and multi-cloud infrastructure are often used interchangeably, but there are differences:
- Hybrid cloud infrastructure always features a private cloud or data center and one or more public clouds
- Multi-cloud features two or more public clouds based with different providers
These are not mutually exclusive strategies and in fact, a hybrid cloud can technically be considered a multi-cloud, but a cloud-based multi-cloud isn’t a hybrid cloud
What do Hybrid Clouds Look Like in 2024?
Specifically for 2024, 55% of workloads operate within the data center while 45% operate within clouds. Within the data center, it is nearly even numbers (28% versus 27%) of physical server workloads versus virtual machine workloads, respectively — with some variation across global geographies, often due to accessibility of cloud bandwidth and distributed workforce. This reveals a few key truths:
- The data center is not “dead” nor is it dying. Organizations may be spinning up new workloads in the cloud, but they are not decommissioning data center centric workloads at nearly the same rate; thus causing (at best) a dilution of data center versus cloud
- Organizations should not be thinking about “migration to the cloud” as a one-way path. They should not be thinking about myriad clouds as a blended platform in the same way they might have historically thought about multiple vendors’ hardware intermixed within a single data center footprint
Hybrid Cloud Use Cases
There isn’t a single vertical industry nor an organization size that is more or less ‘hybrid’ per se — most industries from healthcare, to financial, to public sector all run in hybrid modes, which simply means that they have a mix of physical/virtual within data center(s) as well as other workloads within clouds. It is near impossible to find an organization of any size that is 100% cloud-hosted, nor is there any organization that has uses no cloud services at all.
The real evolution in use cases and methodologies has been IT’s shift from ‘cloud-first’ strategies to ‘cloud-smart’ strategies. Cloud-first used to imply, “if it can run in a cloud, we run it there — and only deploy new workloads on-premises by exception.” The challenge with that approach is that there are real reasons why some workloads ought to run on-premises. And of those, some really ought to run as dedicated physical servers (by exception) or (otherwise) deployed as virtual machines.
Hence the new and improved term of ‘cloud smart’ where one first assesses the performance or operational requirements for a workload, then the economic considerations of cloud vs. datacenter, before determining where each workload should run to best serve the organization. That same exercise should also be applied as organizations may initially deploy within one cloud but then later ultimately run in another, such as:
- Developed on servers within Amazon, but moved to Azure due to 365 usage credits
- Initially deployed as file services or a database within a cloud-hosted VM, but later transitioned to a native cloud-file share or native cloud-database
To hear more about how organizations are composing their hybrid clouds and how that make up has changed from 2020 to 2026, here is a short video:
What to Plan for in Protecting Hybrid and Multi-Clouds in 2024: Strategies for Success
Before implementing a hybrid cloud infrastructure, you must develop a comprehensive hybrid cloud strategy. Much of your strategy will come down to doing your homework and planning. You’ll need to address potential challenges, such as the difficulties in unifying a private and public environment, looking for clouds that are as compatible as possible with each other, and implementing role-based access control (RBAC) to provide employees with appropriate access to sensitive data regardless of location.
A learning related to multi-cloud strategies is the continued maturation of data protection rationales and motivations related to protecting cloud-hosted data. When considering the five years of responses, one can see a very clear maturation curve from early adopters to mainstream users of each of the various cloud-hosted archetypes:
- SaaS protection is the most mature, particularly when considering Microsoft 365. In 2020, only 16% of organizations using Microsoft 365 backed up their data; today, 74% do so. Back then, most organizations erroneously assumed that Microsoft backed up their data for them, which wasn’t correct then and certainly is not correct now. Thus, many mistakenly relied solely on the recycle bin (or legal hold) and later discovered they were woefully inadequate replacements for actual backup. Case in point: in 2020, over 80% of organizations either relied solely on the recycle bin or assumed Microsoft backed up 365 — today, only 7% make that mistake with 3% relying on the recycle bin and 4% who have still not understood the Microsoft Shared Responsibility
- IaaS and PaaS protection are following the same maturation curve but are a few years behind where preeminent SaaS platforms are today. It remains surprising that organizations that would automatically require protection of physical or virtualized servers when on-premises, somehow have not carried that standard IT requirement over to their platforms that are running as cloud-hosted server instances. The approach for PaaS, e.g., file shares or cloud host databases, does show more awareness of and impetus for data protection. One should presume that as those platforms continue to gain mainstream adoption, increasing the mandates for protecting those workloads will also rise.
Best Practices Regarding Containers (Most of Which are in Clouds)?
Strategies and motivations for protecting containers continues to be the least prevalent compared to server-centric or application-centric (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS) with the extra nuance being, by which type of administrator is the container framework itself being managed by? Recent data suggests:
- When the container framework is managed by an application owner, the database contents are more likely to be protected, but not the entire container framework
- When the container framework is managed by an infrastructure admin, the underlying storage components are more likely to backed up, but not the entire container framework
- In only 25% of cases is a purpose-built backup solution that protects the entire container framework being utilized today
The earlier choices are somewhat analogous to if one had protected only one virtual drive within a VM or snapshotted the LUN’s within a virtualization host, but (in neither case) protected the entire hypervisor framework. Those with a datacenter IT pedigree will recognize the flaws in those two approaches that drove the need for holistic hypervisor-centric backup. One can only assume that those same realizations will occur for serverless infrastructures ask containers continue to gain mainstream adoption.
To hear more on what the research shows related to strategies and motivations of protecting cloud hosted data, check out this short video:
Feel free to download the entire Data Protection Trends 2024 report and stay tuned as we continue to delve topic by topic through this industry research.