Hybrid cloud is a trendy topic, but how can you know if it’s right for your business? As you’d expect from any genuinely disruptive new technology, the potential benefits are highly compelling and early adopters have claimed significant business advantage. But there’s a sting in the tail. Get it wrong and the complexity of managing such an ambitious transformation could work against your goals.

Hybrid cloud – a quick definition

A hybrid cloud features elements of both private cloud and public cloud architecture. These forms of cloud computing offer contrasting benefits to organisations; more control and protection for private cloud implementations and greater scale and flexibility in public cloud services. 

In the real world, embracing both approaches can often be the product of evolution or even accident, rather than strategic design.

Ideally, an organisation will plan for hybrid cloud adoption as part of a larger digital transformation so that the management of inevitable complexities and integrations does not compromise the intended benefits. 

Hallmarks of hybrid cloud management include a high degree of automation, virtualisation and software-defined elements. Once in place, hybrid cloud infrastructure can be used to adapt to prevailing business objectives and drive value into the organisation. 

How do hybrid clouds actually get deployed?

Any IT-as-a-Service deployment can qualify as a hybrid cloud when it features some combination of private and public cloud elements. However, this doesn’t mean ‘job done’ and the benefits will come flooding in. Many hybrid clouds do not constitute a desired final state and fail to deliver their intended objectives because they have not been appropriately planned or implemented.

There are four principal ways in which hybrid clouds are realised:

Adding public cloud services to a private cloud environment 

Most organisations pre-date the ubiquitous availability of public cloud services and have started their cloud migration journey from the position of ‘private cloud only’. Many of these will take an active role in managing the private cloud on premise or in hosting environments.

The ready availability of public cloud services may have led their IT department to take a strategic interest in individual SaaS applications or IaaS platforms, or the move may have been driven by non-IT specialists in positions of authority. 

In many instances there is evidence of so-called ‘Shadow IT’ whereby public cloud services have been derived under the radar of the IT department by individual users or groups of users frustrated by the lack of productivity and agility delivered by private cloud based IT services. 

These embryonic steps toward hybrid cloud invariably place IT leaders on the back foot. They must not only find ways of making the private and public cloud instances work together in a time-efficient, compliant and economically sustainable way as part of a coherent strategy, but they may also need to start this process with limited understanding of exactly what public cloud components their hybrid cloud actually contains.  

Adding private cloud infrastructure to a public-cloud based approach

This approach is rarer than its opposite (above) but has increased in prevalence since the widespread availability of public cloud services and their adoption by fast-moving, dynamic startup organisations. 

Unlike their older counterparts whose starting point is largely or totally private cloud, these newer organisations have been ‘born digital / born-in-the-cloud’ and may have no private cloud infrastructure whatsoever.

This may not be an ideal situation, as governance and compliance requirements drive them to adopt tangible, accessible cloud infrastructure assets. The result is a hybrid cloud, much like that described above but from the opposite direction of travel. The principal difference is absence of any Shadow IT or related phenomena.

Integrating private and public clouds from multiple providers

Organisations that have embraced both private and public cloud services may have relationships with a number of cloud providers but the data and applications deployed are effectively siloed. 

Each provider should be acutely aware of the importance of enabling their customers to create hybrid cloud architecture. 

Therefore, whether through formal partnerships or the accepted use of open APIs, these providers act upon their shared mutual interest in supporting organisations as they transition to a fully hybrid approach. Achieving this with minimal management overheads is a key challenge.

Buying a complete hybrid cloud solution from a single provider

Considered the cleanest and most straightforward form of hybrid cloud deployment, this approach offers a simplified view of the provider landscape but may not in fact make the prospect of managing a hybrid estate any easier, unless great care is taken. What’s more, there are many reasons why services from multiple, specialised cloud providers may offer greater benefit than a single generalist, even though they would attract a greater overall management overhead. This approach is also likely to require the most significant transformation from an organisation’s present state and may arise as an organisation looks to rationalise providers in order to streamline processes and potentially reduce costs.

Who is adopting hybrid cloud and why?

Hybrid cloud is growing in popularity and now represents the most common cloud approach of all. According to research by Intel among a diverse group of 2,000+ IT and technical decision makers, hybrid cloud adoption jumped 3x in the last year, going from 19% to 57% of organisations surveyed. This has mostly been a result of organisations that formerly pursued a private cloud only approach taking the plunge with hybrid instead.

Industry sectors with more onerous regulatory compliance around data protection (government, finance, healthcare, telecoms) are understandably the least likely to adopt hybrid and public cloud approaches in favour of a private-only stance. However, around 50% or so still are.  Hybrid cloud adoption rates are higher in the utilities, retail, technology and manufacturing sectors, with rates of over 65% in some cases. Insurance companies are the largest hybrid cloud adopters, accounting for 73% of those sampled in the Intel survey.   

— In Part 2 of our Journey to Hybrid Cloud – coming soon – we look more closely at the major advantages and disadvantages of deploying hybrid clouds, and the alternative approaches available.