Though many companies are abandoning the data center with gusto, not all are ready to relinquish their on-premises infrastructure. In these instances, organizations are seeking the best of both worlds: security and ultimate control over their deployments, alongside 24/7 availability from anywhere.
Accordingly, the hybrid cloud will become a reality for 78% of businesses this year — urged onward by the switch to telework and budgeting concerns. While keeping sensitive information close to the vest is critical, productivity surges when essential applications live in the cloud. It’s also important to note the distinction between different clouds. Though a company can maintain their data center, they can leverage both a combination of public (shared) and private clouds. Hybrid infrastructure gives organizations plenty of options.
In this starter guide, we’ll break down the ins and outs of hybrid cloud infrastructure — including benefits, strategies, popular providers, and security. This information is key to understanding the hybrid cloud’s place in today’s computing realm.
What is hybrid cloud computing?
While hybrid cloud computing is a two-pronged approach to computing, it exists under one unified environment. Companies keep some of their data or applications in the data center — chiefly accessible on site — while relegating others to the cloud. There’s a fundamental split of services that remains manageable.
Accordingly, today’s modern applications are commonly containerized — running on virtual instances that are isolated yet utilize the same OS. These rely on resource delegation to function properly. Containers have their own memory, disk, and CPU allocations to ensure they run smoothly. They’re also inherently scalable, since it’s so easy to automatically create new containers in response to demand.
Today, 53% of administrators are running these containers both in the cloud and on premises. Even companies that deploy the latest microservices architectures can do so from their home bases. While these applications may appear separate, it’s crucial that they can communicate and share data in a hybridized environment. Silos aren’t firmly established.
Additionally, the computing share in a hybrid environment doesn’t have to be equal. Companies can choose, for example, to run most of their application workflows from the data center. When computing demands become too great (requiring expansion), companies can automatically scale using cloud resources. They may also scale down when needed.
How to build a hybrid cloud architecture
Deploying a hybrid cloud architecture might seem challenging to companies looking to make the leap. However, the number of big-picture moving parts required is quite small. Three key components are needed:
- A public cloud infrastructure service (often referred to as an IaaS), like Amazon AWS, Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform. Public clouds provide automatic scaling while leaving hardware procurement, maintenance, security, and computing resource availability to the vendor.
- An on-premises environment (or private cloud), in the form of a data center
- A reliable and fast network connection, linking both pieces of the infrastructure
These components coexist atop the same operating system. You’l have to determine the best public cloud solution for your applications and workflows. Choosing a preferred cloud OS is another consideration.
Hybrid clouds are great for organizations that can afford them. After all, maintaining physical hardware and hiring staffers to oversee it is expensive — minus the building costs and power costs.
Developing a strong hybrid cloud strategy
Once you’ve got your pieces aligned, developing a cohesive hybrid cloud strategy is critical. You have to take a look at your applications and decide how they’ll be distributed. It’s possible to host most in the cloud or most on premises — knowing the resource capacity of your data center (and average user activity) can help determine this.
Much of your hybrid cloud strategy will be spent addressing potential challenges you might encounter. For one, it’s impossible to completely unify both a private and public component. Since they’re running atop different technologies — and backends are separated from frontends — hiccups can occur. For example, the data center might not respond as quickly to a query as the application would a user request. It’s necessary to choose clouds that at least compliment each other, with as few glaring compatibility issues as possible.
Sound data-handling mechanisms are also needed. Data isn’t always at rest. It will traverse the network continuously while remaining fully available. Safeguarding this data in transit is via encryption key to ward off external threats. You want data to remain in its appropriate environment. Otherwise, mounting transfers can incur hefty usage fees.
Regulating access is somewhat straightforward for on-premises deployments, but it becomes even more important in the cloud. It’s possible to view accounts and tap into company resources from any location. Establishing group or individual roles in an organization is essential. Role-based access control (RBAC) helps ensure that employees near and far have the proper privileges when requesting sensitive data.
How to manage a hybrid cloud
Managing hybrid cloud components can quickly become overwhelming, since they might be numerous and diverse. Additionally, these pieces of your infrastructure are spread across different platforms and locations — impacting your ability to oversee them.
While you might enjoy fine-grained control over local hardware, that control over public cloud resources is comparatively lacking. There are two sides to that coin: you juggle fewer maintenance tasks, yet the ways in which you manage your infrastructure are more limited.
However, there are ways to wrestle back some control. Establishing clear guidelines for access control, resource configurations, and tooling can help immensely. Cohesive policies are always better than fragmented ones which cause confusion. Speaking to tooling, leveraging a solution geared towards hybrid cloud management can streamline those tasks. Automation is a benefit of those software products.
Maintaining a centralized metrics dashboard, full of visualizations and reports, can help teams stay on top of issues across their deployment. These tools make issue remediation much easier — often through AI and ML-based suggestions. Furthermore, IaaS tools like Ansible and Puppet have garnered immense popularity thanks to their management prowess.
Given that hybrid cloud computing is commonly container-based, don’t leave out options like Kubernetes for improved orchestration.
Examples of multi-cloud
While there are a host of hybrid cloud options out there, some have risen above the rest. Amazon and Microsoft command the market when it comes to hybridization — the latter having a rich enterprise history.
AWS Hybrid Cloud (or Hybrid Cloud for AWS) is a popular platform blending AWS infrastructure, tools, APIs, and VMware Cloud to enable hybrid computing. The service also combines AWS Outposts (for on premises) and AWS Wavelength, which is geared towards 5G application development. AWS is known for its global reach and data residency tools pertaining to the hybrid cloud.
Additionally, Azure Hybrid Cloud focuses on bringing Azure services anywhere, while streamlining management through one dashboard. The vendor also offers Azure Arc — supercharging server, Kubernetes, and application management for hybrid deployments. Because Azure Active Directory is baked in, you can manage permissions and policies in a relative snap.
Hybrid cloud vs. multi-cloud
Multi-cloud differs significantly in one key way from hybrid cloud: no on-premises component is required. Multi-cloud infrastructures leverage two or more clouds. Meanwhile, while a hybrid cloud solution might incorporate one or more platforms, it doesn’t need to. Companies adopting a hybrid strategy require their own physical infrastructure, which forms the private cloud component of the system.
Furthermore, it’s not often possible to control multi-cloud deployments from one centralized location. Each cloud has to maintain some degree of connectedness, but they live much more independently from each other. The communication occurs primarily between apps and distributed databases.
Hybrid cloud security
Security is often a strong point of hybrid infrastructure. Companies have direct control over roughly 50% of their deployment — outlining configurations, policies, and cohesive security procedures. Furthermore, your data is inherently more secure when you can keep much of it in-house. Compare that to a multi-cloud deployment, where data resides in multiple locations and providers. Are all data services trustworthy? Platforms like AWS and Azure offer centralized control planes which highlight vulnerabilities throughout your ecosystem.
This has major implications in industries governed by compliance regulations. Healthcare, finance, and education are a few where sensitive data cannot typically leave company hands — at least to the public cloud. Private infrastructure is better equipped to handle threats.
Let’s also talk hybrid cloud data protection — which includes access and hybrid cloud backups. Hybrid clouds can reliably maintain a high level of uptime, which ensures that important resources are accessible to authorized employees. Companies also have direct access to physical tapes and disks. This makes 3-2-1 backups that much easier. Keeping multiple physical copies of critical data is easier, as is sending off a copy to your cloud database of choice.
Hybrid cloud benefits
As you might see, there are many hybrid advantages. Hybrid clouds are undeniably more flexible and scalable than pure, on-premises infrastructures. There’s no need to buy more hardware and expand a facility’s footprint to accommodate it. Meanwhile, virtual machines and cloud-based containers are highly expandable at will, as application resource demands grow. This allows companies to scale up or down accordingly.
Other hybrid cloud benefits revolve around compliance. It’s much more prudent to store sensitive data on premises wherever possible, instead of publicly exposing it to attackers. Otherwise, companies can offload less-critical tasks to the public cloud — those not governed by strict regulatory provisions.
Finally, hybridization can be cost effective. Hardware costs are lowered, and many public clouds allow you to pay only for your total usage (as opposed to tiered resources and storage). This allows businesses to trim some fat. You can shift your workloads accordingly to save on operating costs.
Overall, the hybrid cloud is immensely capable for the right workloads. By drawing up a holistic strategy, your infrastructure may be well-equipped to handle whatever you throw at it.