Those in charge of making IT decisions for medium- and large-scale companies are probably tired of the questions and the debate by now: “Should we be on the cloud?” Why haven’t we moved to the cloud?” “How can we stay safe if we’re on the cloud?”
Cloud computing certainly has major advantages. Most are budgetary; they include smaller workforces which can more easily be based overseas (and paid lower wages), big reductions in infrastructure and other capital expenses, and lower software license costs. Other advantages are increased global access to data, easier project monitoring, and cheap storage. There are several possible downsides, though, with the one most often heard involving the security of data that’s hosted on the Internet instead of in-house.
Enter the hybrid cloud, a “compromise” which can often satisfy both the financial and IT security sides of the all-too-common debate over the cloud.
What Is the Hybrid Cloud?
In a nutshell, the hybrid cloud is a combination of public and private cloud platforms. They function independently of each other, but communicate via an encrypted Internet connection.
What’s most important is that the “private” side of the equation isn’t just a company’s Internet server (or servers). It’s a true cloud system which is run on software designed for the purpose. Reputable providers like Microsoft (Private Cloud), VMWare (vCloud Suite), OpenStack (OpenStack Private Cloud) and Joyent (SmartDataCenter) all offer software suitable for the purpose, as do many others. It’s also necessary that all data and applications be portable between the clouds.
Advantages to Using a Hybrid Cloud
A hybrid cloud can provide the best of both worlds for companies and organizations which have been reluctant to trust their sensitive data to the public Internet via cloud computing. It adds an important level of security while providing many of the cost benefits available through the use of the cloud.
The basic IT infrastructure for a firm using the hybrid cloud model remains in-house, so privacy concerns are greatly mitigated. None of the company’s important data storage is relegated to the cloud, since storage is done on the firm’s servers and accessed by employees through the private cloud platform. That protects both the security and integrity of data which might be otherwise vulnerable when exposed on the Internet via public cloud.
The hybrid cloud also allows an organization to fully utilize the existing in-house computing resources it’s already paid for, since day-to-day operations are conducted mostly on the private cloud. The public cloud is utilized primarily as a secondary or backup resource, called into play when the company’s internal infrastructure is working at full capacity and more resources are required. This maximizes efficiency from a budgetary standpoint, guaranteeing full utilization of existing computer installations while only requiring the company to pay for actual public cloud usage. It is an even greater advantage for seasonal businesses which can design their IT installations to handle average monthly usage, while offloading the extra computational demands of peak seasons to the public cloud.
The encrypted connection between clouds greatly increases the security of any data being exchanged, and relying primarily on the company’s private cloud means that the latency and access time issues commonly seen when using the public cloud are minimized. This will be an even bigger advantage moving forward, since the future stability and reliability of the Internet may be threatened by the controversy surrounding net neutrality and the impending consolidation of many existing ISPs.
One important consideration when establishing a hybrid cloud is redundancy. Utilizing a public cloud provider is a big advantage to this model, but if the public cloud does not provide multiple connection paths in order to avoid critical single-point connectivity failures, several public clouds should be utilized so that downtime can be prevented.
The final major advantage to the hybrid cloud model is flexibility. When the bulk of important work is being performed on company servers and the private cloud, new functionalities can be introduced much more than quickly than when depending extensively on the public cloud.
Disadvantages to a Hybrid Cloud
The hybrid cloud model isn’t right for every company. Here’s a look at the potential downsides of the hybrid cloud for some firms.
First, it isn’t cost-effective for many smaller organizations. For large companies, the hybrid cloud maximizes utilization of existing in-house equipment while lowering the overall cost of using public cloud services. However, smaller organizations will still find that buying large amounts of company-owned hardware to handle the bulk of their operations (as well as purchasing the private cloud software) will remain much more expensive than relying primarily on the proven efficiencies of the public cloud model.
Second, there are still security issues to consider, particularly if the public cloud will be utilized to crunch large amounts of sensitive data housed in the private cloud, or if companies are using the public cloud for storage of encrypted data. Transmitting data between clouds via encrypted connections may minimize the danger, but companies which are handling extremely delicate information, those using the public cloud for applications which use extensive amounts of that data, or those which will only settle for zero external risk, may be better off avoiding even the minimal security dangers of a hybrid cloud.
Finally, there are still the considerations of network latency, especially for applications which require two-way movement of data between the private and public clouds. The example often used is based on very public objections to the hybrid cloud from Japan’s Meteorological Agency, which relies on lightning-fast transmission of weather pattern data in order to be able to predict tsunamis. The Agency has said that involvement of the public cloud would most likely delay data so much that its predictions would not be workable.
Hybrid Cloud Availability
Large companies with dedicated IT staff and in-house installations can set up a private cloud and implement a hybrid setup on their own. However, as more firms realize the cost savings and greater efficiency possible with this model, cloud service providers are moving to make hybrid services available to clients. Some, like Google and Amazon, simply provide access to cheap, shared infrastructure in their hybrid packages. But a number of reputable providers have started offering high-end hybrid cloud services as an alternative to their existing packages, including managed dedicated servers with private cloud software in addition to public cloud access. This market will unquestionably continue to grow.