Are Hybrid Clouds Just a Fear of Commitment?

Hybrid clouds are a popular cloud computing option.  Because it’s neither a commitment to private cloud nor a commitment to public cloud, it becomes a convenient option for enterprises that have not yet declared a path.

While there is a great deal of talk around using hybrid cloud computing, the numbers of true hybrid cloud systems are few and far between.  This is due largely to the complexity of the technology, including the fact that public clouds have yet to provide good support for leveraging private clouds.  Private clouds, in many instances, are merely software versions of public clouds, with synergy being an afterthought.

Indeed, those moving to hybrid clouds have to work through a number of issues, including the ability to move processes and data between private and public cloud instances.  Or, having public and private cloud computing systems communicate seamlessly.  Finally, there are issues around security, management, and governance.

Hybrid clouds, at least in concept, are becoming more popular as cloud matures for a few key reasons:

  • Hybrid clouds provide a clear use case for public cloud computing.  Specific aspects of existing IT infrastructure (say, storage and compute) occur in public cloud environments, and the remainder of the IT infrastructure stays on-premise.
  • Using a hybrid model is a valuable approach to architecture.  You can mix and match the resources between local infrastructure, which is typically a sunk cost but difficult to scale, with infrastructure that’s scalable and provisioned on demand. You place the applications and data on the best platforms, then span the processing between them.
  • The use of hybrid computing acknowledges and validates the fact that not all IT resources should exist in public clouds today — and some may never exist in public clouds. Considering compliance issues, performance requirements, and security restrictions, the need for local infrastructure is a fact of life.

There are two directions that enterprises are moving: From private to public, and thus hybrid, or, from public to private, thus hybrid.  Each just adopts public or private clouds and calls it “hybrid.”  This, despite the presence of a public cloud if you’re moving to a private cloud, or a private cloud if you’re moving to a public cloud.  In short, everyone has a hybrid cloud strategy, but not necessarily a hybrid cloud.

There are exceptions.  The game maker Zynga decided to make the move from AWS to their own private servers, creating a hybrid cloud.  This flipped 80% of their Public Cloud usage to specialized Private Cloud servers, which Zynga dubbed ‘zCloud.’  In this case, they made the move to have more control over their infrastructure, but still have a public cloud as an option.

However, most enterprises are not an aggressive technology company such as Zynga, and most are moving in the other direction.  They first begin with a private cloud, and then migrate portions of the processing and data to a public cloud over time, just not now.  Thus, the early interest in private cloud platforms, such as those from the OpenStack players, or private cloud versions of Azure, and the AWS-compatible Eucalyptus.

The intention is to move from private to public, or perhaps to hybrid.  However, initially, it’s about having the cloud computing bragging rights, and maintaining control of the infrastructure and applications.  I suspect that many of these enterprises have no intention of leveraging a public clouds at any point, but will certainly tell you they are moving to a hybrid cloud computing platform over time.

The trend is to go public or private cloud, with the intention of moving to hybrid cloud computing.  The hybrid portion is never truly fulfilled.  Making the move to cloud computing is not the problem.  The technology has a lot of maturing to do, with the integration of public and private cloud computing falling on the enterprises.  For instance, while there are technologies and standards that span both private and public clouds, such as Eucalyptus, Azure, OpenStack, and others, the actual integration of the private and public clouds falls largely on enterprise IT.

As the technology emerges, true cloud computing operating systems or platforms should begin to emerge that will provide the drag-and-drop interoperability between private and public clouds.  For now, the technology is immature, and the process of migration is laborious and risky.

If you’re promoting a hybrid cloud strategy, the truth is that you’re putting off leveraging either private or public technologies for as long as you can.

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David S. Linthicum

SVP Cloud Technology Partners

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  1. In my experience, people are choosing to use apply the benefits of the cloud (very fast provisioning and real-time scalability) to solve the very specific problem of adding short term capacity. However, they are making significant performance trade-offs. The application is processing video files and the I/O penalty of moving the video to the cloud is significant. Since these short term capacity needs are caused by unpredictable events, it doesn’t allow for preemptive scheduling of the file transfers. Therefore, the typical response has been to select the work for which there is enough time in the schedule for migration to the cloud, and to process the more urgent work on premise.

    My impression is that the technical teams in the media companies don’t view the cloud as a single solution to their needs, but instead are selecting specific capabilities that can’t be found elsewhere as as additional arrows in their quivers for solving specific technical, capacity or workflow issues and apply them as needed.

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