What is a Hybrid Cloud?
In the loosest definition, a hybrid cloud combines on-premises IT (traditional infrastructure and private cloud) with off-premises resources or services from a public cloud—such as Google Cloud Platform (GCP), Amazon Web Services (AWS), or Microsoft Azure—or at a cloud service provider (CSP).
In a stricter definition of hybrid cloud, it is a service built from a combination of different clouds that could include both private and public clouds as well as CSPs. In a three-tier application stack, the presentation service might be on a public cloud, the application service might reside on a managed private cloud, and the database service might reside on-premises.
The arrival of cloud computing to enterprise IT brought much more than new business value and end-user utility. An entirely new set of terms was created to describe the many varieties of virtual data storage and transmission. First, we learned about private clouds, or virtualized environments that were created so that users within that organization could access servers and other resources needed in an on-demand fashion to support their organization’s workloads without any sharing of those resources outside their organization. Private cloud infrastructure like this is usually, but not always, created utilizing resources within a company’s own on-premises data center. Then as time progressed, someone told us about public clouds, or clouds that are publicly accessed and consumed. This means that all hardware-based networking, storage, and compute resources are owned and managed by a third-party provider like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Though workloads are partitioned for data security, these resources are shared by the customers of a particular public cloud provider. The big advantage of public clouds was not having to manage the resources yourself and much more agility than you could get in your on-prem environment.
With now two types of clouds to account for, we would naturally need terminology to describe the transmission of applications and data between public and private clouds. This architecture is what we define as a hybrid cloud. As an encrypted highway of sorts, hybrid cloud allows operators to perform a single task leveraging two separate cloud resources. However, keep in mind that most hybrid cloud environments utilize two separate private clouds. The key to remember is that a hybrid combines the resources of two different clouds or a mix of both. If you were to visualize a Venn diagram, and assigned an on-prem private cloud on the left and a cloud hosted private on the right, a hybrid cloud would entail the sum of both parts. The overlapping space in the middle represents the hybrid layer.
This middle ground between clouds provides a vital bridge for data transmission. It allows organizations to leverage cloud capabilities without compromising productivity or security.
What about environments that utilize both public and private cloud infrastructures but data may or may not be shared between them? How do we categorize this scenario?
This term associated with this new hybrid cloud architecture is called a “multicloud environment”. These types of cloud environments differ from hybrids, as they suggest the presence and usage of many clouds without the guaranteed interoperability between them. Utilization of this emerging architecture is growing as it provides access to several service models within the cloud.
One common misconception when comparing hybrid and multicloud infrastructures is that the two are mutually exclusive. The explicit definition of a multicloud environment, more than one, suggests that a hybrid cloud model is also indeed a multicloud model. However, the inverse is not always true. A multicloud configuration can be hybridized but it can also exist without the need for individual clouds to talk to each other.
The most obvious reason for this siloed approach is data security. Despite having data encryption and other threat prevention capabilities, cloud operators still fear the exposure to risks associated with moving data in between clouds. That doesn’t mean however, they won’t need to use many clouds at one time. Organizations from both the public and private sectors are increasingly presented with business justifications for managing workloads amongst several cloud providers. In these instances, the clouds are running multiple tasks. Clouds aren’t sharing data or computational power for a single output like in the case of the hybrid environment. Aside from security, many organizations literally stumble into a multicloud environment as they don’t have a business justification for sharing apps or data between clouds.
Flexibility and agility
By far the most important benefit of a properly architected hybrid cloud is increased business agility. You have ready access to resources to support new applications, accommodate development and testing projects, or to quickly address unanticipated needs. In an ideal world, workloads can be moved quickly between on-premises and cloud locations, and leverage resources from multiple locations. (Unfortunately, API and architectural differences between different cloud providers make this challenging).
Many industries experience big variations in resource demand. One clear example is retail, where activity spikes before the December holidays. A hybrid cloud model gives you the ability to respond elastically to resource demands. In a similar vein, many individual applications have big fluctuations in resource demand. Such applications need to run in an environment where they can grab resources when they are needed and release them when they are not, reducing overall expenses.
A well-designed hybrid cloud can allow IT users—such as developers and line-of-business managers—to gain access to IT infrastructure and services through a self-service portal. This not only gives them immediate access to services, it reduces the burden on IT since it no longer has to serve as the middleman.
Faster delivery of new products and services
Hybrid cloud can help you deliver new products and services more quickly by eliminating barriers that slow your business and development teams down. New digital services become easier to create and deploy, and developers and test engineers can better access the resources they need when they need them.
A hybrid cloud model lets you run every application as efficiently as possible, while adopting a pay-as-you-go model that reduces your capital investments in infrastructure and datacenters. Designing datacenters to accommodate peak loads only to have infrastructure sitting idle much of the time is a poor choice versus adding cloud resources when needed to accommodate peak periods.
Avoidance of lock-in
If you adopt a cloud-only model, it’s almost impossible to avoid getting locked into one or two cloud vendors. It can be cost prohibitive to get your data out of the cloud, so you need to exercise caution before you move data from datacenters into the cloud.
Access to the latest technology
In today’s competitive business environment, enterprises cannot afford to find themselves in a situation where they are unable to gain immediate access to technologies that could provide a business advantage. One example of this is AI. The large public clouds are innovating rapidly and offering competing services. A hybrid cloud model gives you the flexibility to use the best technology to seize opportunities.
In a recent analyst report on cloud strategy leadership, several industry leading analysts concluded that the security posture of major cloud providers is as good as or better than most enterprise data centers. Security should no longer be considered a primary inhibitor to the adoption of public cloud services. However, it is not as simple as moving on-premises workloads to the cloud. Security teams should look to leverage the programmatic infrastructure of public cloud IaaS. Automating as much of the process as possible will remove the potential for human error — generally responsible for successful security attacks. Keeping track of security controls needs to be programmatic for ensuring complete cloud compliance.
While a hybrid and multicloud strategy has many benefits, it creates a real risk that your enterprise data becomes fragmented. Lack of visibility can make it very difficult to identify and track data resources, including where they are and whether or not they’re adequately protected. Reports of data left unprotected in the public cloud add to enterprises’ concerns about storing critical data there. In many cases these data sets were exposed simply because operators weren’t familiar with the security model and tools in a given cloud. To ensure that you have the proper visibility and security over your clouds—public and private—make sure you enforce a “security-first” model that maintains continuous monitoring and management of cloud security risks and threats. This model will leverage innovative tools and automation that detect security threats in real time, act on those threats, and measure security and compliance results. Evaluate and add tools that monitor cloud security and governance continuously, performing automatic health checks on a regular basis, and understand that in a public cloud world security is a “shared responsibility” between the user and the cloud vendor.
A variety of evidence points to hybrid cloud as the preferred model for the enterprise. According to the RightScale 2017 “State of the Cloud” report, hybrid cloud is the preferred enterprise strategy; 85 percent of enterprises have a multi-cloud strategy in place, up from 82 percent in 2016.
Regionally, the Americas reported greater use of hybrid clouds now (22%) and within 12 months' time (31%). However, the two-year outlook has EMEA (43%) surpassing the Americas' hybrid plans (39%) and APJ (39%) catching up.
More hybrid cloud users reported that all their needs were being met (49%) as opposed to those using a single public cloud (37%).
Despite an earlier reluctance, major IaaS vendors have in recent years embraced integrating their public cloud infrastructure with customers’ on-premises resources. Vendors are creating tools that work across these environments, and they’re partnering with companies that have strong ties in enterprise datacenters.
In today’s digital innovation era many organizations need to operate their applications and data in a hybrid environment spanning on-premises private clouds and public clouds. It does not need to be difficult. Expanding from private to public cloud can pose challenges, including the need to manage complex networking, re-architecting applications, managing multiple infrastructure tools for various clouds, security and more. There is a pressing need for a single platform that can span private, distributed and public clouds so that operators can manage their traditional and modern applications using a consistent cloud platform.
Nutanix delivers the industry’s first hybrid and multicloud platform with the flexibility, simplicity and cost efficiency needed to run applications in private or multiple public clouds. Nutanix extends the simplicity and ease of use of Nutanix hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) software as well as the full Nutanix stack to public clouds like AWS and, soon, also on Azure. Using the same platform on private and public clouds, Nutanix dramatically reduces the operational complexity of migrating, extending or bursting your applications and data between clouds. Operators can use a single management plane to truly manage both their private and public cloud infrastructure managed and operated as a single cloud.