There is a lot to be said for the hybrid cloud. It blends local control and security with scale-out resources and operational flexibility, all of which are emerging as crucial factors as organizations make the transition to digital business models.
Indeed, if the hybrid cloud were not so effective, no one would give it a second thought. But this does not mean it is trouble-free. And the further along the enterprise goes in the transition to cloud-based infrastructure, the more glaring the deficiencies become.
At the moment, of course, the benefits outweigh the risks in the eyes of most enterprise managers. According to a global survey of 500 IT decision makers, the vast majority say the hybrid cloud is crucial in maintaining a competitive advantage and lowering the cost of data infrastructure. This is manifesting itself in a number of ways, including improved collaboration between IT and line-of-business managers and increased self-service resource provisioning so knowledge workers don’t succumb to the lure of shadow IT. The challenge, however, is to ensure that resources and data sets can be integrated across local and distributed infrastructure, while at the same time building up internal skillsets to oversee this new form of infrastructure and to ensure it does not get bogged down with overly complex management and security systems.
Strange as it may seem, though, hybrid clouds can actually inhibit the ability to change as new risks and opportunities arise. Appian’s Chris O’Connell, writing in Government Computer News, notes that while it is easy to push data onto the public component of the hybrid cloud, it is not always easy to get it back out. This lack of portability puts government agencies, and by extension commercial enterprises, in a bad position when it comes to compliance and other regulatory requirements, which often arise with little or no thought given to the technical challenges of meeting the new demands. Open solutions will help in this regard, but again, integration challenges remain even in broadly federated open platforms.
Much of the disconnect within disparate hybrid infrastructure is on the network layer, naturally. As Business Insider’s Andrew Meola notes, few organizations can successfully navigate the plethora of protocols, formats and other connectivity issues that stand in the way of a fully integrated data ecosystem. And this is only going to get more difficult as Big Data and the Internet of Things push infrastructure over a wider and wider area. The solution is to foster a network of providers who can accommodate the connectivity needs of the enterprise and their fellow providers, but this is more easily said than done. A single provider with global scale, coupled with a single wide area network provider, also with global scale, would do the trick as well, although there are drawbacks to placing all of your cloud eggs in one basket.
But if a fully integrated cloud environment is not in the cards today, what can be done now to ensure one in the future? According to Panzura’s Barry Phillips, there are a number of best practices to enable top-level functionality over the long term. One is to maintain a unified network architecture from the data center outward, so as to avoid the very issues described by BI’s Meola. As well, high levels of automation and orchestration will be needed to oversee resource allocation and other issues in highly dynamic work environments. Colocation of data and applications is also crucial to keep them as close as possible to the people who actually use them. And there is no reason to federate authentication tools like Active Directory when existing implementations behind the corporate firewall work just as well.
One thing is certain: The hybrid cloud is here to stay. Even organizations that push 99 percent of their infrastructure onto public resources will still need to coordinate workflows to and from local resources, rudimentary as it may be.
But like all things data-related, the hybrid cloud is a work in progress, and already it is providing key benefits for the modern data-driven enterprise. It should only get better from here.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.