As customers demand more flexibility, IT infrastructure must keep up. That is why, each year, more businesses are opting for a hybrid cloud environment. This type of cloud environment combines the benefits of both the public and the private cloud. It is ideal for expanding your existing on-premises data center and making it more powerful.
Learn about the components that make up a hybrid cloud, the advantages and disadvantages, and which use cases are most common.
Five steps to hybrid cloud
Would you like to learn more about implementing a hybrid cloud approach for your organisation? Then download our free guide, “Five steps to hybrid cloud.”
Definition: What is a hybrid cloud?
A hybrid cloud combines several types of cloud environments. One of these environments is typically a public cloud, and another is typically a private cloud. However, various other elements, like on-premises data centers or edge devices, might also be included.
Combining a public cloud with a private cloud comes with a wide array of benefits. You can store sensitive data securely in your private cloud while simultaneously using the scalability of public cloud environments, especially for less sensitive data.
The private cloud component also allows you to manage who can retrieve your data. So, it’s not just good for storing sensitive data, but also for sensitive access control. This can help you to meet local sovereignty requirements. For example, in the EU, certain data must not be accessed by foreign governments.
The different cloud environments must be tightly integrated to qualify as a hybrid cloud. The goal is to create a single, seamless pool of resources. Tying in existing on-premises legacy infrastructure is often a prime concern.
There are various use cases for hybrid clouds, from data center consolidation to risk reduction.
Hybrid clouds have grown significantly in popularity in recent years. For one, they allow for easy integration of already existing infrastructure. Many organizations prefer that over a tabula rasa approach.
Another reason is security. Some IT executives still have reservations about “pure” public cloud solutions. It feels like too much control is lost when all your data is with AWS & Co. A hybrid cloud removes these reservations.
The elements of a hybrid cloud
Each of the following cloud environments might be part of a hybrid cloud.
This environment is maintained and managed by a public cloud provider. Well-known vendors are AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.
A public cloud environment offers cloud computing at scale. Numerous clients share the same servers, but each has an individual login. To guarantee business continuity, several data centers in different geographical locations are linked up.
Hosted private cloud
With a hosted private cloud, servers are located off-premises and run by external service providers. However, unlike a public cloud, each business gets its own dedicated servers — server capacity is not shared.
This also explains why hosted private clouds tend to be relatively more expensive than your typical public cloud. The upside is that the hosted data is more secure. Should a data breach occur on one server, only one business will be affected, not several. There is no risk of collateral damage to your business.
Shared hosted cloud
With this type of hosted cloud, hardware resources are shared between customers, but the servers are still located within the EU — unlike your typical public cloud. This ensures that data sovereignty and location requirements are met.
An example of this would be the Proact Hybrid Cloud (PHC). Here, local PHC data centers are available in several European countries; your data never leaves the European jurisdiction. At the same time, you get to enjoy the convenience of a managed cloud solution.
On-premises private cloud
With this type of private cloud, the servers are hosted locally (on-premises). Typically, it is the responsibility of the business that owns the servers to manage and maintain the infrastructure. However, there are also service providers who will manage a local private cloud on behalf of your business. This frees up the in-house IT team to focus on other projects.
Hybrid clouds often integrate legacy infrastructure, i.e., pre-cloud infrastructure hosted on-premises. These systems run legacy applications that cannot be moved to the cloud. Together, they form a local area network (LAN), which can only be accessed while users are at their workstations, not from anywhere online.
To many businesses, retaining their existing systems is one of the major appeals of a hybrid cloud. Also, it keeps subscription fees for cloud services down.
Hybrid cloud vs. multi-cloud
A hybrid cloud typically combines a public cloud environment with a private cloud environment. This way, you get the advantages of the public cloud’s scalability with the security features of a private cloud.
A multi-cloud, on the other hand, combines different public clouds. For example, a business might fuse together public cloud services from AWS and Microsoft Azure.
This allows businesses to access different features from different vendors. If feature A is only available from AWS, and feature B is only available from Google Cloud, you can now use them both.
Pricing is another reason companies implement multi-cloud solutions. You can shop around for the most competitive rate.
Hybrid clouds and multi-clouds are not mutually exclusive — they can be combined. When the public cloud portion of your hybrid cloud contains several public clouds from different vendors, you get a hybrid multi-cloud.
Hybrid clouds come with a number of benefits.
Security and scalability
With a hybrid cloud, you experience the best of two worlds — security and scalability. This is the prime appeal of a hybrid cloud.
Specifically, you can hold sensitive data in your private cloud, which might be a requirement if you are in an industry that handles lots of personal information, like finance or the medical sector.
At the same time, you also benefit from the advantages of a public cloud, namely scalability and price. You can easily store large amounts of data without worrying about whether your current infrastructure can keep up, and you can do so at a relatively low price point. Another great benefit — a public cloud allows you to choose from a wide range of services while keeping commitment low.
A hybrid cloud allows you to move a workload from cloud A to cloud B. This comes with increased flexibility — you can choose the most appropriate environment for each workload. The rationale might be to increase options, save money, or avoid lock-in with a particular cloud vendor.
Better protection against attacks
Contrary to what some IT executives believe, cloud solutions are often easier to defend than your on-premises data center. This is because of features like automated data redundancy, advanced disaster recovery tools, and high overall uptime.
Hybrid clouds are ideal for self-service. With automation, you can easily spin up new services and infrastructure in your public cloud environment. At the same time, certain applications and services that are better suited for a private cloud can also be provided.
A typical use case would be offering your developers quick access to virtual machines and new containers. This will unburden your IT team and allow them to focus on more innovative projects.
With a hybrid cloud, your business can easily mix and match different environments for better performance. For example, you might want to speed up a specific business-critical application. Or maybe you want to provide your team with easier access to data for an important project. These performance gains will give you an edge over competitors who are holding on to a pure on-premises data center approach.
Better business continuity
Combining clouds enhances your business continuity. You create fallback options by not putting all your eggs in one basket. Should one cloud get compromised, you can quickly move to another — the systems are already in place.
Dealing with peaks
A great way to use a hybrid cloud is to plan for seasonal peaks. For example, e-commerce businesses tend to have a much higher demand for computing power and storage right before Christmas.
In this scenario, your business will rely on its data center or private cloud for most of the year; it’s the go-to option. However, during these peak phases, your organization can easily expand into a public cloud. Once that peak is over, you scale back to your regular solution.
Opting for a “pure” private cloud solution can get expensive, especially if you host the necessary infrastructure on-premises. This will require you to buy all the hardware yourself as well as manage and maintain it.
Adding a public cloud to this setup can reduce these costs. You can transfer some of your data and processes to this cheaper environment and only host the core functionality on your private infrastructure.
More use cases
By integrating different clouds, you can cover more use cases. For example, if you need more computing power because of a peak in business activities, you use your public cloud. If you want to share sensitive data within the company, you use your private cloud.
A hybrid cloud is a great jumping-off point. If you decide at any point that you want to pursue only a public or a private cloud solution, you can easily do so. Since you have experience with both models, the transition will be smooth.
Like every technology, a hybrid cloud also has potential drawbacks. But if you know them, you can plan for them.
Multiple attack vectors
Using more than one type of cloud can make you more susceptible to attacks.
If you just use one cloud, it is easier to defend that system. The number of attack vectors is limited.
But if you add another cloud environment — e.g., a public cloud — you have now significantly increased your overall attack surface. Defending all these different threat vectors becomes much more complex; thus, an attacker is more likely to get through.
However, if you know about this issue, you can plan for it. By putting a security strategy for your hybrid cloud in place before adding new elements, you can significantly minimize the risk of an attack getting through.
Also, make sure to train your users. Often, it is more about sensitizing them than about technical solutions. Your users knowing how to behave in each cloud environment — what to do and what not to do — can go a long way in preventing security issues.
To make your different cloud environments work together optimally, you have to put the right connectors in place. However, this adds an extra layer of complexity. Your IT team will need more time to install and maintain this setup.
A great solution is to partner with a specialized hybrid cloud provider. These providers have created similar solutions for hundreds of other businesses before. This will save your in-house IT team time and improve the overall system, as well as the overall security posture; advanced network controls are a very effective defense against security breaches.
Different backup processes
Different clouds require different backup processes. For example, with a private cloud, you can choose your preferred backup method. With a public cloud, you are bound to the process the public cloud provider has in place.
However, there are solutions to automate and even sync these different approaches, so you won’t have to bother with them continuously. For example, Cloud Backup Service by NetApp delivers seamless backup capabilities for protecting cloud and on-premises data across distributed hybrid cloud environments.
Finally, audit your backup process at regular intervals to ensure that everything is still working as it should.
With a hybrid cloud, users might have to use different processes and login data to access various cloud environments. That can negatively affect user experience and productivity.
However, this can be automated using one of several third-party IAM tools on the market. A specialized hybrid cloud provider can help you pick the best solution.
With a hybrid cloud, consistency issues might arise. It can be more challenging to enforce congruent security and compliance policies across multiple platforms.
In the same vein, using different tools for different cloud environments can result in unintended silo structures within an organization.
To prevent this, do a thorough initial assessment. Ask yourself what tools and processes you use in your regular data center and if you can extend them to your new cloud platform. Your users will much prefer this scenario over juggling multiple tools.
Here are seven common use cases for a hybrid cloud solution.
1. Digital transformation
Many small and mid-sized businesses want to transition from their on-premises data center to a more flexible public cloud solution. However, that transition might present a challenge, as many business-critical processes still depend on legacy infrastructure.
The solution is to go with a hybrid cloud. Here, easy-to-transfer workloads are immediately relocated to the public cloud. Other workloads are kept on-site for the time being, with the option of moving them over later.
In essence, a hybrid cloud allows you to modernize at your own pace.
2. Disaster recovery
Another common use case for hybrid clouds is better disaster recovery. The goal is to make sure the business remains running in case of a disaster like a cyber attack, an earthquake, or a power outage.
A hybrid cloud allows you to uphold critical business processes, even if the organization’s physical resources should be destroyed. On top of that, you can redirect data and workloads among different cloud environments, should one of your clouds be compromised.
Developing projects in a public cloud environment can be more convenient, as your programmers can easily access various powerful development tools. This is especially useful if the requirements for your projects change a lot, as is often the case with agile development frameworks.
At the same time, you can keep sensitive project data in your private cloud. This might even be a requirement in specific industries, e.g., if you work as a government contractor.
4. Seasonal business models
Some industries will experience a higher demand during certain times of the year. For example, many e-commerce businesses are affected by this dynamic, as is the hospitality industry.
A hybrid cloud will provide a more cost-effective solution for these businesses. When the demand is exceptionally high, public cloud resources can complement their data center or private cloud.
But once the demand returns to its usual volume, the public cloud resources can also be scaled back again.
Businesses in certain industries must comply with regulatory requirements, e.g., in finance or health care. This might affect where data can be stored or where apps can be run. A pure public cloud solution is usually not an option for such businesses.
The workaround is to go with a hybrid cloud. Here, you can place sensitive workloads in your private cloud but outsource less critical workloads to a public cloud.
However, this strict division only works if the users go along with it. It’s crucial to sensitize them to what workload belongs in which environment.
6. Unwieldy workloads
Sometimes, a hybrid cloud can be a matter of convenience. You might have certain applications or mainframe systems that are simply too troublesome to move from your on-premises data center to the cloud. In this case, you keep the unwieldy workloads where they are and just move what can be easily moved.
7. Low-latency requirements
Certain industries have low-latency requirements, for example, telecommunication providers. A hybrid cloud is an ideal solution for these businesses, as it combines well with edge computing.
Both of these approaches aim for short distances. With edge computing, the objective is to keep the computing platform near an IoT device that generates data. With a hybrid cloud, the goal is to keep the data in your private or public clouds as close to the application as possible. In both instances, the business benefits from lower latency.
How to implement a hybrid cloud
If you are thinking about implementing a hybrid cloud solution for your business, consider the following best practices.
1. Define your vision
Don’t just get busy — develop a clear vision for your hybrid cloud first. This will save you a lot of headaches down the road.
It is crucial to involve all relevant stakeholders in this process, not just your IT team. Don’t just think of your hybrid cloud as a technical solution but as a way to drive business value for your organization. By getting everyone at the same table, you can make sure these different angles are considered.
When formulating your vision, make sure to address the following questions:
- Why a hybrid cloud? How does a hybrid cloud serve us better than other cloud models?
- What specific use cases are we trying to solve by implementing a hybrid cloud?
- How much or how little do we want to integrate our existing infrastructure into our hybrid cloud setup?
- What is the timetable for implementing this solution? When should it be ready?
- Who is responsible for overseeing the project? Whom can we talk to if problems arise?
- Which external providers do we want to work with?
Codify your vision, and write it down. The vision must be crystal clear so all stakeholders can work together to make it happen.
2. Place your workloads
Understand that not all cloud environments are equally suitable for a specific workload. Cloud A might be better suited for workload X, and cloud B might be ideal for workload Y.
To address this, you should create a complete list of your workloads. Then, discuss with your team what workload should go to which cloud environment. Things to consider:
- Are there regulatory or compliance issues we need to pay attention to?
- Does this workload require a high level of scalability?
- How easy or difficult is it to move the workload from its current home to a new location?
- How will moving the workload affect our business continuity?
- How difficult or easy will it be to defend the workload in its new environment against external attacks?
- How difficult or easy will it be to back up the data in the new environment?
There are some great tools for managing your workloads. For example, ONTAP and Cloud Manager by NetApp allow you to move data flexibly from
on-premises environments to the cloud or between clouds. This way, you can complement data center resources with on-demand cloud computing resources.
3. Choose your architecture
Depending on how you want to organize your workloads, you should next choose an appropriate architecture.
Some common options are:
- Tiered hybrid architecture. Here, you place existing frontend applications in the public cloud while keeping data-heavy backend applications in the private cloud.
- Hybrid multi-cloud. This architecture combines different public clouds from different vendors with a private cloud solution.
- Analytics hybrid and multi-cloud. For this model, you place transactional workloads from interactive applications in the private cloud while analytics workloads are placed in the public cloud.
- Environment hybrid. This model aims to keep the production environment in the private cloud but transfers all non-production workloads into the public cloud.
Please note that this is not an exhaustive list. There are many more ways to organize your hybrid cloud’s architecture. This is where having an experienced hybrid cloud partner comes in handy.
4. Find the right partner
While building your hybrid cloud alone is possible, it is often not ideal. Your team is probably busy as it is, and setting up new IT infrastructure will pull resources away from business-critical processes.
Also, your in-house IT team will not have the same level of experience as a specialized hybrid cloud provider. These experts have dozens, if not hundreds, of previous hybrid cloud projects under their belts. They will notice things you are missing and quickly develop the perfect solution for your use cases.
To choose the right partner for your hybrid cloud project, pay attention to the following criteria:
- Does the provider have a proven track record of setting up hybrid cloud solutions for other businesses?
- Does their list of customers include businesses that operate in the same industry as you?
- How personalized is the provider’s approach? Will you get a designated consultant who stays with you throughout the project, or will you constantly have to talk to new people?
- What training does the provider offer? The best technical solution won’t help much if your users hesitate to engage with it.
- What other services does the provider offer? It can be helpful to work with someone you can partner with again in the future, e.g., regarding cloud security concerns.
Implement your hybrid cloud with Proact!
Are you considering a hybrid cloud solution for your business’ IT needs?
Then you should talk to our team of experts at Proact. We have a tried and tested process to implement your hybrid cloud quickly and efficiently.
The first step is always to sit down with you so we can better understand your exact business requirements. During this phase, we work closely with your in-house IT team to align ourselves with your goals.
During the second phase, we will develop an in-depth strategy for structuring your hybrid cloud. Our goal is not just to develop the ideal technical solution. We also aim to drive business value at every step of the process.
Finally, we implement your hybrid cloud solution for you. But we don’t stop at setting up the systems. We also offer support, monitoring, and management services. We aim to be your go-to resource for all of your hybrid cloud needs.
Sound interesting? Then contact us today for a free consultation. We are excited to hear from you!
Five steps to hybrid cloud
Would you like to learn more about implementing a hybrid cloud approach for your organisation? Then download our free guide, “Five steps to hybrid cloud.”