Hybrid Clouds Are Real, But the Future Is Still a Little Hazy

Arthur Cole
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Five Questions to Ask Before Choosing a Cloud Platform Solution

It is the rare enterprise that is not running some workloads on virtual infrastructure, and it’s becoming harder to find the enterprise that is not looking to leverage virtual technology for the cloud.

And lately, the enterprise seems to have settled on what kind of cloud it hopes to build. With the public cloud already popular among users and data center infrastructure gravitating toward cloud functionality, the only logical conclusion to all this is the hybrid cloud. Of course, it’s easy to say you want a hybrid cloud, but getting there is quite different, particularly since the technology to support it, and even the very definition, is still up in the air. More on that in a moment.

According to the latest research, more than two thirds of enterprises see the ultimate goal of all this development as the hybrid cloud. With traditional data center infrastructure too limited in scale and public resources too difficult to manage and secure, a hybrid solution is seen as the best way to offload large-volume back-office workloads while keeping mission-critical apps and data safely behind the firewall. In this way, the enterprise hopes to have the best of all worlds, with an unlimited ability to mix and match the right collection of resources in order to achieve desired outcomes.

Indeed, the hybrid model is gaining support from some of the most forward-thinking IT organizations in the world. The University of Sydney’s School of Information Technologies Centre, which specializes in distributed and high-performance computing environments, has endorsed the hybrid model, praising it as a “scalable, quantifiable solution that can combine the best of both private and public clouds.” By constantly shifting loads between internal and external infrastructure, the group says, the enterprise will ultimately find the equilibrium between cost and scale that has eluded the industry for so long.

The hybrid cloud, in fact, is emerging as the primary means to achieve the long-held goal of “sustainable infrastructure” without breaking the budget, says bodHOST.com’s Paul Lopez. Through cloud-bursting and other techniques, the enterprise will have unprecedented ability to scale resources up and down as needs dictate, eliminating the need to, say, maintain resource levels required for the Christmas rush throughout the year. At the same time, hybrid models allow the enterprise to more quickly develop its own applications and services and tap into the latest hardware developments in support of increasingly sophisticated data environments.

But getting back to the definition of the hybrid cloud: We talk about it as if it were a single platform that can be deployed and managed like traditional infrastructure. But as CloudVelocity’s Gregory Ness points out, two competing versions of the hybrid cloud already exist, and who knows how many more will arise as the market develops? At the moment, most services use the “fence model,” that is, they are provider-driven platforms that are designed to produce short-term productivity gains even while they utilize pricing, processing and other tools to lock customers into perpetual service. Eventually, though, Ness says this will give way to the “bridge model” that features broad interoperability among multiple IaaS providers. The question for the enterprise, then, is whether it wants to take the easy route to the cloud and possibly give up control in the long run, or chart its own destiny by developing sufficient cloud expertise now.

And the fact remains that while we can envision a fully integrated hybrid environment in which data and applications can seamlessly transition between public and private resources, the orchestration and automation tools are not quite up to the challenge for massive enterprise workloads. The expectation is that everything will be in place by the time the enterprise is ready to entrust real production environments to the cloud, but since that day is approaching rapidly, it is possible that we’ll see a fair number of growing pains before the concept can be fully realized.

But that doesn’t mean all hope is lost. Hybrid clouds are the best way to establish a link between the safety and security of home-grown infrastructure and the cost-savings and flexibility of utility-based IT. And even though the end game is still a little fuzzy, we have enough clarity in the cloud to move forward.

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