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Hybrid Clouds: Best of Both Worlds

By October 6, 2010Article

In a typical enterprise today, one finds a heterogeneous mix of modern and legacy platforms of many vintages. With the emergence of a variety of cloud service models (IaaS, SaaS, PaaS) and an array of deployment models (private, public, and community), we will most likely see a heterogeneous mix of cloud environments in the enterprise of the future. Furthermore, cloud computing may be a great fit for some applications and workloads, but there will always be some data, processes, and applications that will remain on-premises for reasons of regulatory compliance, mission-critical or classified data, control, and cost.

While the trend toward cloud computing is inevitable, security, privacy, lock-in, and performance continue to be major obstacles for accelerated public cloud adoption. The lack of standards is another barrier as one CIO of a large insurance company said during our research:

“The big topic we are discussing is if we are not happy with the SLA of an existing vendor, how quickly can we re-outsource? Lock-in, interoperability and standards are big issues for us. I can’t move my workload easily between clusters due to incompatibilities between vendors and between virtual machines. We have to think about compatibility of compute, storage, and network virtual resources.” – CIO, insurance company

Because there aren’t established industry standards just yet in cloud computing, most enterprises remain wary about getting locked into a single vendor architecture and API. As adoption increases, however, open standards will naturally emerge. While premature standards can stifle market innovation, CIOs believe proprietary standards can be worse (and history has proved that the half-life of such standards tends to be very short).

The nature of the beast is such that customers need to consider using multiple cloud providers to meet their specific scalability, security, flexibility, and functionality needs. One Fortune 500 financial company CIO we interviewed as part of our “Leaders in the Cloud” research study said their company will move 20 percent of their application portfolio to specific clouds that meets the workload characteristics of their applications in the next three to five years. With a typical large enterprise application landscape of between 10,000 and 15,000 applications, that 20 percent translates to 2,000-3,000 applications! The numbers are staggering when you scale that out to the Global 2000 companies.

Our study surveyed more than 500 IT executives and indicated that the biggest growth will be in hybrid clouds (from 13 percent now to 43 percent in three years). These executives are looking for ways to seamlessly migrate/interoperate their data and applications (both legacy and new) between clouds and their data centers based on their own business needs, risks, and architectural considerations.

We will see a number of use cases and variations of the hybrid approach. Enterprise customers will pick and choose applications and their IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS (*aaS) vendors based on their business needs thus creating a diverse and heterogeneous cloud environment. One healthcare company CIO emphasized that this is actually their preferred adoption model and explained the reason for it:

“Rather than stick to one [cloud] product that meets all of our needs, we have taken the approach of using multiple [cloud] vendors and solutions. Even though this may increase the integration complexity, we find that we get the most innovative solutions with the least amount of expenses and the fastest time.”

Examples of hybrid clouds include: bursting out from an internal to a public cloud when needs required more capacity; running logic and processing in the cloud and leaving the database in the data center; and performing highly parallelized database processing in the cloud combined with other logic processing in the data center and on. We will also see many storage-related use cases where companies and organizations of all sizes will augment their on-premise storage with cloud storage (potentially from various vendors) in a hybrid model deployment.

Some of the unique aspects of heterogeneous clouds working in concert with on-premise infrastructure include:

  • Managing federated identity and security
  • Migrating data, workloads, and applications
  • Creating/buying and maintaining integration or “glue” applications to connect the clouds and to manage workflow and business processes
  • Managing metering, billings and relationships with multiple cloud vendors

Hybrid models can increase complexity due to interoperability issues and the need to deal with different tools, APIs, and management frameworks. Customers would like to use their familiar existing technologies, tools, and user interfaces to handle hybrid cloud scenarios seamlessly and securely.

The ideal scenario is when applications in the cloud look and behave exactly like their counterparts within the datacenter. This can be challenging if you are dealing with multiple cloud vendors and a variety of cloud architectures.

In a recent interview, Ellen Rubin, VP of Products at CloudSwitch discussed how they are delivering technologies which will enable companies to use all of their existing infrastructure tools, networking architecture, security policies, active directories, firewalls, CDN systems, identity management systems, load balancers, and so on to interoperate seamlessly — and securely — with the applications in the cloud as if they are running locally.

Because of the existing heterogeneous infrastructure and the emergence of multiple clouds within and without large enterprises, cloud management technologies are becoming increasingly critical. A cloud management layer provides abstraction and governance capabilities and an adapter architecture enabling a “single pane of glass” for managing all the physical and cloud sub-environments.

Our survey data suggests that small and midsize enterprises (SMEs) are adopting the hybrid and external cloud model much more quickly than others and are also the most likely to be the ones to use multiple cloud vendors in an integrated way.

What I’m generally finding is that individual business units and departments in midmarket and large enterprises are using a bottoms-up strategy and deploying cloud services in isolated pockets to solve specific and tactical problems. According to Ellen Rubin, CloudSwitch is seeing hybrid adoption taking place among the early adopter enterprises (Fortune 1000 and even Fortune 500) as the dominant model.

Kamesh Pemmaraju heads cloud research at Sand Hill Group and he helps companies — enterprises and technology vendors — accelerate their transition to the cloud. Follow him on Twitter: @kpemmaraju.

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