What’s a True Hybrid Cloud?

IT experts explain how hybrid cloud is evolving to deliver on its promise of application and data mobility across infrastructure borders.

By Joanie Wexler

By Joanie Wexler October 6, 2020

In year-over-year research, businesses worldwide have consistently identified hybrid cloud as their ideal IT operating model. They cite workload flexibility, cost control and security as factors driving aggressive plans to deploy a mix of privately owned and publicly operated clouds.

But their intentions come with a big if: they must be able to deploy, manage and secure all their applications and data seamlessly across separate cloud infrastructures and to move those workloads between environments at will.  

While off the charts on the buzz meter, hybrid cloud hasn’t matured fast enough to meet demand. More than two-thirds (69%) of respondents to Nutanix’s global 2019 Enterprise Cloud Index (ECI) survey, for example, said their organizations were on-board with hybrid cloud in theory, but that their IT vendors didn’t yet provide the right solutions for building and managing a hybrid environment.

What’s in a Name?

Another issue slowing hybrid cloud adoption – or at least skewing hybrid cloud growth measurements – has been inconsistent industry definitions. What does hybrid cloud really mean, and how is it measured in the market? Digital transformation has evolved dramatically, but the industry has lacked uniformity in answering these questions.

For example, while some research firms reported that hybrid cloud deployments grew globally from 36% to 58% penetration from 2018 to 2019, global respondents to the Nutanix 2019 ECI survey indicated nearly 6% deployment drop, from about 19% to 13% penetration, during that period.

The disparity is likely attributable to the loose definition of “hybrid cloud.” Some see hybrid clouds as the simple coexistence of on-prem infrastructure and one or more public cloud services. The Nutanix ECI, however, defines hybrid cloud specifically as a combination of private and public cloud environments with a level of integration between them.

Even the private cloud component has become open to interpretation. For example, it’s not uncommon for any provider of data center hardware or software to market its gear as a “private cloud.”

“Anything running on-premises is now the analog for a private cloud, no matter if it can do cloud things or not,” according to cloud expert David Linthicum from Deloitte Consulting, in an article he wrote for InfoWorld.

Many businesses, then, think that if they have on-prem equipment marketed as a private cloud and also subscribe to a public cloud service such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud Platform (GCP), they’re running a hybrid cloud, even if the environments function independently. A true hybrid IT environment, however, uses software that allows applications and data to move easily across the disparate infrastructures and for the combined environments to be managed and secured holistically.


Smoothing the Pathway to Hybrid and Multicloud

Expanding Definitions

The National Institute of Standards and Commerce initially defined a hybrid cloud as “two or more distinct cloud infrastructures (private, community or public) that remain unique entities, but that are bound together by…technology that enables data and application portability (e.g., cloud bursting for load balancing between clouds)."

Linthicum and others have since suggested that true hybrid clouds also offer common management, security and orchestration among them.

Linthicum defines a “private cloud” as privately owned hardware running standard, open-source cloud computing software, such as the OpenStack platform, that supports tenant management, self-provisioning, and auto-provisioning. In his opinion, private clouds should also support similar features to public cloud services such as AWS, Microsoft Azure and GCP. Using more than one of these public clouds could be considered a hybrid cloud or a multicloud.

Further stirring the pot, many public cloud providers are moving their cloud-native technology into enterprise data centers as a managed service option. This means that a business could feasibly be running the technology of one or more of these providers on private hardware, in facilities that it owns or otherwise manages, as well as in the public cloud portion of its infrastructure.

When enterprises run the same cloud-native technology stack in both private and public clouds, it’s known as a hybrid cloud that is “homogeneous,” according to Linthicum. If it’s running different cloud computing software stacks in different clouds, it’s running a “heterogeneous” hybrid cloud.


Cloudifying and Simplifying Databases

Layered on top of these many and varied cloud foundation options are hybrid cloud services, said Norbert Thier, Senior Sales Manager at Nutanix.

“True hybrid cloud services introduce innovation into the mix, offering additional value beyond just distinct clouds with common management,” Thier said.

True Hybrid Services

Global enterprises consistently indicate they’re striving for the freedom to run workloads in the infrastructure best suited to them based on fluctuating criteria. The “best” location could be dynamically dictated by cost, compliance requirements, time-to-market pressures, occasional bursts of compute activity that require extra, temporary resources and other variables.

The desired location could be on-prem or off and enterprises want the agility to move workloads as requirements change, according to Thier.

“Together, on-prem and public cloud infrastructures able to support this fluidity can be considered true hybrid cloud infrastructure,” he said.

By extension, true hybrid cloud services – such as disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) and virtualized desktop as a service (DaaS) offerings – operate seamlessly across the amalgamated infrastructure, with consistent access, security, and management functions delivered by a common interface.

“True hybrid cloud services make the cloud divide almost invisible,” said Thier.

“You don't want to tell business users that they have to change the way they work because you’ve moved to the public cloud, which operates differently,” he said. “You want to completely blur that line.”

Pulling It All Together

New line-blurring technologies are becoming available. One is Nutanix Clusters on AWS and Azure. Customers can use Nutanix Prism interface to manage their private cloud and move virtual machines (VMs), licenses and applications seamlessly across public cloud environments, including Nutanix, AWS and Microsoft Azure, according to Manjul Sahay, Senior Director of Product Management at Nutanix. 

Another example is Xi Leap, a disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) offering built into the Nutanix Acropolis Operating System. Sahay said this built-in technology and service allows IT teams to fail over their on-premises systems to a public cloud using the same interface that controls their private cloud. 

“These developments are starting to fill the workload portability and integration gaps that keep businesses from getting the most from their public cloud investments,” said Sahay.

Digital transformation, big data, remote workspaces, Internet of Things and other digital aspects will drive enterprises to multiple public clouds to quickly manage spikes in demand for IT resources or leverage new services. Increasingly, businesses are turning to new technologies like Nutanix Clusters, DRaaS, database as a service DBaaS, desktop as a service and other services that can run on and off premises.

“When companies can run and move these tools across private and public cloud infrastructure, they provide better customer experiences and operational efficiencies,” said Sahay. “Hybrid cloud is helping businesses build resiliency and agility to handle what comes their way in the future.”

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

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