Moving to True Hybrid Cloud

The quest for seamless interoperability between public and private cloud is shifting IT's focus from infrastructure to applications

By Elissa Gilbert

By Elissa Gilbert May 3, 2019

We’re in a new era of hybrid cloud computing, where IT managers regularly use a mix of private and public cloud services to scale up their computing capabilities whenever needed.

“With more companies moving to hybrid cloud, I expect a lot of new stuff to happen in enterprises that's never happened before,” said Rajiv Mirani, CTO of Cloud Platforms for Nutanix.

Over 90% of companies surveyed in the Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Index said that hybrid cloud is the ideal IT model. This matches with the results of other surveys, too, like the IDG report, which showed that 42 percent of organizations are using multi-cloud, either with or without hybrid cloud, to reap the benefits that include increased availability and more flexibility.

While the hybrid cloud model is relatively new, some IT pros remember the term hybrid cloud bursting — when an application runs in a private cloud or data center and “bursts” into the public cloud as the demand for computing capacity spikes. The rise of public cloud services has proven to be tremendously useful and disruptive. The pay-as-you-go model as well as their reliable performance and cutting-edge agility attracted droves of application makers and businesses. Many even saw public cloud as the end of private data centers.

Back in 2016, Forbes asked whether cloud would make corporate data centers obsolete. Even last year, ZDNet reported that cloud would replace traditional data centers by 2021.

Now, however, the reverse is true. Companies are moving more applications from public clouds back to their own data centers, according to Michelle Bailey, research fellow for data center and cloud market research firm IDC. At the 2019 IGEL Disrupt conference in San Jose, Calif., she projected that companies will repatriate 50 percent of their applications from public cloud back to company-owned and managed IT infrastructure. Some see the movement as even larger: Michael Dell, CEO of Dell Technologies, told CRN that 80 percent of workloads are being repatriated due to cost, security, and performance.

Graphic showing different applications inside a cloud in a data center

Businesses, particularly young ones, turned to public cloud services because they were easy and relatively affordable, according to Mirani. But, as businesses grew, so did their costs. Then, they became concerned about vendor lock-in.

“Once their (AWS) Amazon Web Services bills start getting very big,” Mirani said, "people eventually want to move things back into their private data centers."

But, there’s a hitch. Bringing things off of public cloud and putting them back on premises can be a big challenge.

“They have no way to easily make the move,” Mirani said. “It requires massive amounts of investment, re-architecture and refactoring applications to move them back into there."

Avoiding that effort is driving IT leaders to modernize their infrastructure to make it more cloud-like while keeping it on-premises. When they don’t, they are increasingly at the mercy of public cloud providers, according to Steven Kaplan, vice president of customer success finance at Nutanix.

“The public clouds of today are cul-de-sacs,” said Kaplan. “You get into AWS or Azure and it's difficult to move between them. You write to the APIs for that specific cloud. You use their specific tools. You get used to their procedures and methodologies. There's no easy way to switch workloads, especially when you talk about all the governance, security, and compliance that goes along with it. Ultimately it has to change because we live in an IT world that increasingly demands interoperability."

Moving Towards True Hybrid Cloud

Companies can bring public cloud services into their data centers by using Amazon Outposts or Microsoft Azure Stack, but those can lead to even deeper vendor lock-in. To keep their freedom of choice, many are building cloud-like capabilities in their own data centers.

"Hyperconverged infrastructure is the basis for building a private cloud," Mirani said. He said virtualizing all of the elements of conventional IT hardware systems into software-defined infrastructure eliminates inefficiencies and reduces the total cost of ownership for data centers.

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"But you still need things on top of that" to create a private cloud experience, he said, referring to products like Nutanix Calm, Flow, Era and Files as examples of tools that help companies operate hybrid cloud services on premise.

“With hyperconverged infrastructure, we are getting to the point for the first time when your private data center actually looks like a cloud,” Mirani said. “It gives you pay-as-you-go scalability and makes infrastructure a lot simpler to manage. It brings agility of operations that public cloud gives you."

Inside a data center with a cloud graphic to indicate private cloud computing on premises.

The next step is to build public cloud services that run new and legacy applications. “That’s when real hybrid cloud becomes possible,” said Mirani.

He said having true hybrid cloud would look and operate differently than the accidental, haphazard, multi-cloud systems many businesses use today. It means building a real cloud in the data center and refactoring on-premises applications to run in the cloud. It means bringing in tools, automation and products to make managing applications in multiple environments simpler. It means hiring and retaining staff to support them.

“All of this isn't easy for any IT department,” Mirani said.

"You can't mask the underlying complexity by painting the walls,” he said. “Foundations have to be laid right."

Despite these challenges, hybrid cloud is the way of the future. The Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Index showed that hybrid cloud better meets the needs of IT professionals than relying on a single public cloud. That's because true, interoperable hybrid cloud will allow companies to focus on applications rather than infrastructure, according to Mirani.

"The moment you can get out of the care and feeding of everyday operations and free up time for people to work on new initiatives that directly impact the business, you could see a lot of innovation happening," Mirani said.

Elissa Gilbert is a contributing writer with experience as a software developer and project manager.

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