Hybrid Cloud: How Do You Get There from Here?

With their eye on greater IT resource control and business agility, enterprises consistently report ambitious plans to deploy hybrid private/public clouds. Yet adoption remains low. What’s holding things up?

By Joanie Wexler

By Joanie Wexler January 29, 2021

Hybrid cloud has been a front-and-center strategy for global IT departments for years. In consecutive surveys sponsored by Nutanix in 2018, 2019, and 2020, 85% to 91% of global IT pros have agreed that hybrid cloud is the ideal operating model for their organizations. They’ve also reported aggressive plans to swap out older data center technology for new hybrid models.

Their stated motivation is to gain the ability to easily move workloads around the converged private-public cloud in response to fluctuating costs, compliance requirements, market pressures, dynamic capacity requirements, and other variables. They indicated that such freedoms would give them better control over IT resources and provide the agility to respond to business demands at the fevered pace of today’s digital expectations.

Another goal is to gain diverse environments for data backup and recovery, said Drew Plaster, senior network systems administrator of IT Infrastructure at Moda Health in Portland, Ore., in the U.S. He operates several private backup facilities for his organization throughout the state of Oregon.

“We have big data,” he said. “It’s very costly to store backups in the public cloud, but the advantage would be to gain an additional failover location to protect against a great catastrophe that might affect the whole state.”

However, doing so would require organization-wide education to make sure Moda Health used the public cloud in compliance with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) legislation. He said such education was a sticking point that slowed hybrid cloud adoption at his company.

Getting Hybrid Off the Ground

Moda Health isn’t alone in hitting hybrid roadblocks. The average global hybrid cloud adoption rate among the 3,400 Third Annual Enterprise Cloud Index (ECI) respondents in 2020 currently sits at a mediocre 12% across countries, industries, and company sizes.

Figure 1. State of Global Hybrid Cloud Deployments
Current (Mid-2020) Penetration Within 12 Months** In 3 to 5 Years** Expected Net Percentage-Point Change in 5 Years**
12% 21% 49% + 37
*Percentage of 3,400 global ECI 2020 respondents saying they exclusively run or plan to run hybrid cloud.
**Predicted

Why the disconnect between enthusiasm and action?

“You don’t exactly go out and buy a hybrid cloud,” explained Deepak Mohan, research director for infrastructure systems, platforms, and technologies at IDC. Instead, he said, hybrid clouds evolve in enterprises as separately procured private and public cloud infrastructure components that eventually become integrated. All this generally happens alongside the decommissioning of older technologies and depends on emerging standards, APIs, tools and skill sets to make cloud integration possible.

As such, building a hybrid cloud is more of a journey than a defined purchase decision, and the necessary tools and skill sets are only just now starting to come into their own, Mohan said.

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Still, ECI respondents have indicated significant progress with foundational steps: establishing private clouds, upping public cloud infrastructure use, and beginning to invest in hybrid cloud solutions, all while reducing their dependency on non-cloud-enabled data centers. These steps set the stage for individual private and public clouds to ultimately become integrated into a commonly managed and secured hybrid environment with seamless application and workload portability across private/public cloud borders.

Much of the new investment in 2020 occurred because of COVID-19, which forced IT shops to quickly establish cloud infrastructure to serve throngs of workers suddenly working from home (Figure 2).

Figure 2. New Cloud Investments as a Direct Result of COVID-19* % of Global ECI 2020 Respondents
Increased investment in public cloud 47%
Increased investment in hybrid cloud 46%
Increased investment in private cloud 37%
Made no new cloud investments because of the pandemic 10%
Source: Nutanix Third Annual Enterprise Cloud Index, 2020, N = 3,400
*Percentage of 2020 global ECI respondents who selected each answer.
Percentages are rounded to the nearest whole number.

Also, nearly two-thirds (65%) of ECI 2020 respondents said they’re running more applications in private and public clouds this year than they were last year, actions further helping to lay hybrid foundations.

Integration Amid Scarce Tools and Talent

Cloud integration and data center transitions don’t happen overnight. As IDC’s Mohan noted, a lack of hybrid tools has stifled adoption until recently, but the supply is picking up, which bodes well for hybrid progress in the coming year.

However, “there’s still a ways to go with [cloud integration] tools,” said Dominic Maidment, technology architect at Total Gas and Power Ltd in Red Hill, Surrey, England.

“I’m not convinced anyone could roll out one tool that works for our whole business, but they can provide open standards. For example, REST APIs have open standards around them, and that shows me there’s some good faith in approaching product development in a consistent manner.”

And skill sets that span private and public cloud domains hardly grow on trees just yet. More than a third of global ECI 2020 respondents (37%) reported being short on the IT skills necessary to manage hybrid cloud environments, and a third (33%) said they lacked skills in cloud-native and container technology, such as Kubernetes – tools that simplify bridging the technical disparities between private and public cloud technology.

“It would be simpler if things were all cloud-native, but that’s not the case,” said an infrastructure architect at a worldwide chemical company who asked not to be named. 

“We looked into rebuilding legacy apps [to be cloud-native] a few years ago. We found it would be difficult because some software vendors are no longer around and we’ve also lost staff with those skills and knowledge over the years.”

However, 85% of ECI respondents said they’re investing in reskilling their IT teams and new technologies to keep pace.

For example, “We need to take a look at containers for our legacy applications,” said the infrastructure architect. “They take the core functionality out, containerize it, and let us move an app to another cloud platform.”

New Terms for Where Apps Should Run

Many issues, including security, privacy laws, and cost, are also giving enterprises pause about where certain applications and workloads should run. Nearly three-quarters (73%) of respondents to the Second Annual ECI study in 2019, for example, brought some applications and data back from public clouds to on-prem environments. In 2020, Nutanix ECI asked them why.

Security concerns with the public cloud was the reason mentioned most often by 2020 ECI respondents. Many also said faster data access to local apps compared to having to access the cloud over a wide-area network link. Also, cost dynamics are always changing, and it’s becoming common for applications to move back and forth as price points and app predictability changes.

“Applications that have been around a while with known behaviors become more cost-effective to run on-prem,” according to Joe Kaplovitz, CTO of Kaplan Companies, a real estate company in Highland Park, N.J., in the U.S. Kaplovitz provided a mathematical example:

“To install an on-prem scalable infrastructure, you’re likely to spend at least $150,000 for the requisite servers,” he explained. “However, the future [on-prem] costs over time are low once the initial investments are made.”

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Kaplovitz said that costs might range from $1,000 to $3,000 per month for a terabyte of data when deploying public cloud infrastructure. If the company grows, costs will likely rise to $10,000 per month or $120,00 per year.

“Over time, of course, you continue to spend more, and you’re getting close to that $150,000 that it would have cost for your scalable infrastructure,” he said.

Many companies turn to the public cloud to get to market quickly, according to Madhukar Kumar, vice president of product and solutions marketing at Nutanix. “But over time, your costs to continually pay by the hour in the cloud are far more expensive than buying a server for $10,000 that lasts for two to three years. At some point, it becomes more economical to bring that application back on-premises.”

Together, integrated on-prem and public cloud infrastructures that support this fluidity will deliver the agile infrastructure businesses want, Kumar said.

For now, enterprises continue to plow through issues associated with depreciating legacy infrastructure, getting new paradigms to work with old, and finding cloud-native skillsets and technologies to ensure that their outcomes with integrated private and public clouds are as expected. 

So far, ECI respondents have made great strides with cloud-enabling their datacenters, using more private and public clouds, and investing in hybrid management tools, which indicates that they’re already well along the path to hybrid success.

Joanie Wexler is a contributing writer and editor with more than 20 years’ experience covering the business implications of IT and computer networking technologies.

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