Cloud computing has been the latest rage for several years, becoming more and more popular as distributed systems and easier access to services becomes the norm. Demand for cloud services has grown quickly, but many IT directors have expressed concerns over public cloud security issues and have instead moved towards private clouds, which are generally far more restricted and less distributed than are public systems. This means losing many of the advantages of the public cloud in the switch.
A solution that has emerged is the hybrid cloud, which are often now the focus of IT management as they work to balance user needs, data access requirements, and security. A January 2011 survey by Unisys showed that 21 percent of IT organizations are focusing on hybrid clouds and a Sand Hill Group survey just before that showed that IT managers believe hybrid cloud use will continue a fast growth. That 2010 SHG survey predicted growth would triple, which has already happened.
So what is the hybrid cloud, how does hybrid cloud computing work, and will it work for your organization?
Hybrid Cloud Architecture
The hybrid cloud is a mixture of private and public cloud systems; hence its name. The private cloud can be self-hosted by the company (common in enterprise) or hosted by a paid third-party virtually, but kept private for the company’s own use (common in smaller systems). The public cloud, of course, is public and off-premises.
Users connect to the private cloud separately from the public one. Often, the setup has the public cloud hosting software, data and services that are non-critical with the rest on the private cloud. Many firms use the public cloud as a development test bed as well. In a small business setup, for example, the private cloud may hold valuable customer data and sales metrics while the public cloud hosts the company’s virtual phone network and communications system. In an enterprise, as another example, the public cloud may host the beta version of the company’s proprietary in-house software for tracking and analysis with key test data (all dummies created for the testing) included. The private cloud hosts the actual software and data and will be upgraded once testing in the public cloud is complete. This saves valuable network and hardware resources for continued enterprise use while allowing the IT department to fully vet software-in-progress before going live and without fear of harming the current network.
Some large networks have multiple private-public cloud mixtures, though is is generally only common in large enterprises with geographically global data centers and offices. Many financial institutions, for example, use multiple private-public cloud mixes. It is more common for enterprise to have a single private cloud and multiple public clouds for various services.
The Pros and Cons of Hybrid Cloud Computing
The hybrid cloud allows IT to take advantage of the benefits of the private and public cloud. Some of the risks associated with these systems are also included, however, so the mixture is not always just positives. The challenge for the IT manager is to find the proper balance between the risks and rewards to craft a hybrid cloud that works well for the corporation’s needs.
The benefits of the hybrid system are:
First: Public clouds allow for a low investment hurdle to activate and can be cheaply scaled to more or less servers and network connections as needed. In a hybrid cloud, this flexibility is retained for all services put onto the public cloud, giving a lot of operational flexibility.
Second: Private clouds have fewer security concerns and the enterprise retains control over the data center and its contents. In the hybrid cloud, this remains so.
The downsides to the hybrid cloud are:
First: The flexibility of the private cloud is very limited and the up-front costs and continued maintenance requirements can be expensive. Management will have to budget for needs as well as the occasional unforeseen downtime or outage.
Second: Mismanagement of the two systems can lead to cross-contamination, with data from the private (secure) cloud being ported to the public cloud. This is mitigated with intelligent SOPs.
Addressing the Challenges of Hybrid Cloud Systems
The goal of a hybrid cloud system is to provide as many of the benefits of the public and private cloud as possible while not incurring the risks associated with them. Most of this will be done in the design and implementation stages, of course, and proper API between the two (if any connections are to be had at all) will be critical in that process. Since the primary concern in a hybrid cloud is the accidental crossing of critical data from private to the public, having no or very few and tightly controlled connections is important.
Generally speaking, the hbyrid cloud will increase the complexity of a network environment. The benefits, however, often outweigh this issue of complexity and are enough to override the initial planning costs.