The days of defining cloud computing as just “the cloud” are over. The definition of “cloud” has changed and fractured. Cloud services can now be deployed as public, private or both. One of the more recent models, the hybrid cloud, mixes public and private cloud services.
According to 451 Research, 69 percent of enterprises will have multi-cloud or hybrid cloud environments by 2019, suggesting that the hybrid cloud is becoming the new normal.
Major providers, such as Red Hat, Google and Amazon Web Services, will also beef up their hybrid offerings to embrace an ever increasing hybrid cloud world, and better compete with more entrenched hybrid cloud players, such as Microsoft Azure (read our Azure review).
Most recently, Google rolled out a beta version of its hybrid model, Google Cloud Platform. That highlights the emerging trend of trying to strike a balance between the modern public cloud and the on-premises model. At first, hybrid cloud may sound like another marketing term. Further complicating the problem is that the definition varies, making it even more hazy.
That said, we’re going to dig into it, sift through the marketing speak and, hopefully, unravel the mystery of one of the more recent shifts in cloud services. If you haven’t, you can read our other guides to catch up on big trends in the cloud, such as the one on what is edge computing, in which we talk about fog computing and the network edge.
What Is Hybrid Cloud?
Hybrid cloud is something of a catchphrase. The term is misleading because it was coined by vendors and providers. That term gets even muddier and more vague as major providers, such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft, all approach hybrid cloud differently.
To put it simply: hybrid cloud is a mash-up of public and private cloud deployments, operating as separate entities, with the ability to manage them as one. Hybrid cloud can get more complicated than that — a lot more complicated. That’s in layman’s terms, though. There are multiple ways to build a hybrid cloud, each offering its own pros and cons.
We won’t attempt to detail them here because we could go on about them forever. The good news is that major Infrastructure-as-a-Service providers are making hybrid cloud easier by extending their public infrastructure to better integrate with private, on-premises services (read our piece on the best IaaS providers).
For those interested, a good place to start is to see how your public provider approaches a hybrid cloud architecture. For example, Gartner says “hybrid cloud computing refer to policy-based coordinated service provisioning, use and management across a mixture of internal and external cloud services.”
You could think of hybrid cloud as connecting a public cloud service to your private data center, with the secret ingredient being the management solution that effectively merges the two.
Hybrid vs. Private vs. Public vs. Multi-Cloud
A private cloud is what it sounds like: a cloud service made up of private servers, serving a single user, enterprise or organization. A private cloud can be on-site or off-site, managed independently or by a third party.
A public cloud is the opposite. A public cloud service is a cloud infrastructure offered to the public, even free of charge at times, such as the ones you’ll find in our best free cloud storage article. Public clouds are always off-site because they’re handled by the provider. You can check out some popular public cloud providers in our best cloud storage guide.
A hybrid cloud combines private and public cloud deployment models and, in doing so, crosses the typical use case barriers found in using one or the other. For instance, security or privacy compliance concerns, seasonal capacity demands, cloud migration for legacy applications and so on.
Another term that has entered the cloud computing lexicon is the multi-cloud, which is not to be confused with multi-cloud management. On paper, hybrid cloud and multi-cloud may not appear to be that different. The biggest difference between the two is that a multi-cloud approach relies on a diverse architecture, combining several cloud service providers.
That increases flexibility, security and redundancy because a multi-cloud approach doesn’t rely on a single provider. That goes a long way toward averting outages, disasters, etc. Hybrid cloud, on the other hand, doesn’t so much hinge on a mix of providers, as it does a mix of deployment models (public, private or community).
Hybrid Cloud Benefits
Assuming that a hybrid cloud approach combines the best elements of multiple deployment models, the biggest benefit is flexibility.
The hybrid cloud model is scalable across many use cases. The private cloud component provides the lowest latency and, perhaps, the best security for sensitive information.
Alternatively, when combined with a public cloud component, the extra capacity or compute power is there to remove any burden from the private cloud. That could be during a seasonal spike or with archival data that doesn’t need to be accessed frequently.
In that way, a hybrid cloud helps mitigate cloud bursting, a scenario where cloud storage demands exceed the capacity of private cloud resources.
Another benefit is cost savings, but that depends on configuration and scale. Because a hybrid cloud is scalable, it can be deployed, reduced and redeployed as necessary. That’s ideal for peak times throughout the year, when it’s cheaper to pay for additional cloud services temporarily than invest in a private cloud network that may remain unused in off-peak times.
Lastly, hybrid cloud maximizes control. You get what you want, and you pay for what you want. Hybrid cloud affords you the ability to design a cloud computing approach that fits specific storage, compute and workload needs.
Hybrid Cloud Downsides
Though there are many advantages to hybrid cloud, there are circumstances in which it may not work.
Just as costs can be a positive in some cases, they can be prohibitive in others. The cost of setting up dedicated, private servers isn’t insignificant. Smaller companies may be better suited with a public cloud approach. They may find the public cloud more than adequate when weighed against the upfront costs of private servers, maintenance, time investment, etc.
Security and privacy are also concerns. Hybrid clouds increase security by letting you choose where workloads and data are performed or stored. They also allow for a private cloud to remain behind a firewall and only scale up to a public cloud when needed, limiting data exposure.
That said, hybrid clouds can create a larger attack surface and data traversing cloud networks can be susceptible to the same security risks as public clouds.
Hybrid clouds may not be the best solution for applications that are latency sensitive, either. Data being shuffled back and forth between the private and public aspects of a hybrid cloud can create latency that’s untenable. As we discuss in our latency vs speed: what makes a VPN fast guide, latency is an important metric for performance and the end-user experience.
The most significant downside is the complexity involved in setting up an efficient hybrid cloud. Without a proper way to interconnect the two cloud environments, you’re simply juggling multiple clouds, and that results in a less effective multi-cloud approach, rather than a true hybrid cloud.
Hybrid cloud can be a robust solution that combines the best parts of multiple cloud deployments to fit an ever-changing and complex IT environment. It also allows for leveraging the public cloud when the need arises, but without having to expose most of your data on that public cloud.
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It also provides a path to IT modernization for those looking to ease into cloud migration while limiting data exposure and remaining compliant with certain privacy and security protocols.
Hopefully, we’ve helped unravel what hybrid cloud is and why it’s an increasingly common cloud solution. Are you using a hybrid cloud? If so, tell us about it. Thanks for reading.