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Is it simply a marketing gimmick, or does the hybrid cloud truly represent a middle road between the risks associated with public services and the limited flexibility and scalability of private infrastructure?
More and more, it seems that the hybrid cloud is emerging as a viable third option in cloud circles, although there are still questions as to whether it can truly satisfy the needs of today's rapidly changing data environments. The typical hybrid cloud consists of local resources and management governed by an automation system that can also shift data loads to third-party infrastructure should the need arise.
The entire concept got a big boost from IBM this week with the acquisition of Cast Iron Systems, which specializes in integrating local systems with cloud-based resources. With that technology in hand, IBM plans to develop a full hybrid platform capable of integrating all manner of online applications from Amazon, NetSuite and others with traditional data center fare from the likes of SAP and J.D Edwards.
It sounds impressive, says CTO Edge's Mike Vizard, but will it really provide the level of scalability that has come to define the cloud? If the plan is to simply leverage Cast Iron's appliance-based approach, then the answer is probably not. If the company's integration coding is really the prize, that will help IBM in the short term, but eventually it may just end up as another name in the ever-growing WebSphere middleware collection.
Still, the hybrid model seems to appeal to a growing number of vendors and users alike, if only for its ability to split the difference between the public and private approaches. It's telling that Microsoft, which favors the public cloud, and Oracle, which has been pushing the private, both intend to pursue hybrid technology as the market evolves.
At the moment, however, many of the supposed advantages of hybrid clouds are illusory at best, according to F5's Lori MacVittie, because most people are only looking at the network side of the connectivity equation. The next step is to implement effective run-time architectures that would conjoin application-layer functions like access control and request distribution. Gaining this level of integration will take quite a bit of engineering, and there's no guarantee that it can be done without losing either the control or the flexibility that the hybrid model is supposed to provide.
Nonetheless, the sheer amount of interest in the hybrid cloud almost guarantees that it will play a role in initial cloud deployments. The question remains, however, whether it has enough staying power as the broader cloud market matures.