In Part 1 of this blog series, we defined hybrid cloud, examined the various deployment approaches and looked at the kinds of organisations actively pursuing it as an IT strategy. In this second and concluding part, we explore the 5 biggest benefits and 5 biggest challenges of hybrid cloud. We also deal with the alternatives to embracing hybrid cloud.

The 5 biggest benefits of hybrid cloud

Compared to a singular approach that employs either private or public cloud, an appropriately architected and managed hybrid cloud model offers significant advantages. Here are the top five.

A best-of-both-worlds solution

In terms of being able to enjoy the benefits of private cloud and the benefits of public cloud, it doesn’t get any better than combining the two into a hybrid cloud solution. Orchestration and automation of cloud services is critical to ensuring these benefits are achieved with the minimum of fuss, and that the interface to services and resources is easy for any part of the organisation to utilise in an appropriate fashion.

Optimised costs

There is often no way around needing to keep some private cloud elements in your architecture and paying the costs associated with that. A hybrid solution allows these costs to be minimised, and the opex-based possibilities of low-cost public cloud to be maximised. A good hybrid cloud strategy and architecture will also be able to support fiscal discipline, allocating IT usage to applicable cost centres and ensuring visibility of spend across the architecture. This builds a strategic picture of IT budget that allows accurate and predictable planning for future digital initiatives in a sustainable way for maximum ROI.

Increased IT control

Migrating to a hybrid cloud architecture allows IT leaders to regain visibility and control over the services and resources used across the organisation. This in turn helps the process of managing risk and calls an end to the prospect of ‘Shadow IT’. Instead of wasting their time trying to piece together a view of cloud usage and supporting services they know little about, IT teams can devote more of their time on strategic matters that drive value into the organisation.  Helpdesk activities are better informed and equipped, and IT professionals enjoy improved morale and less stress and uncertainty in their jobs.

Horse-for-courses flexibility

Change is a constant challenge, but hybrid cloud is geared up to allow significantly greater business agility than a private-only approach. Hybrid cloud’s value is in allowing organisations to tune the appropriate blend of private and public cloud services/resources to match their unique needs, and to flex those resources and services as new opportunities and challenges dictate. An advanced hybrid cloud architecture can even dynamically allocate workloads ‘on-the-fly’ to the infrastructure best suited and most economically viable to satisfy the requirement.  

Rapid scalability

The classic advantage of a hybrid cloud approach is the ability to call upon additional capacity and scale on an on-demand basis, whenever it is required. For example, an organisation that uses its legacy private cloud infrastructure as the production environment for its internal applications suddenly needs to call upon additional processing resources to test and develop critical new updates. Ordinarily, this could take weeks as additional infrastructure is deployed and provisioned. In a hybrid model, the additional capacity can be spun-up in a public cloud environment in seconds, with its usage and data integrity closely managed by the IT department.

The 5 biggest problems with hybrid cloud

Despite the large number of compelling benefits playing in hybrid cloud’s favour, there are numerous shortcomings that must be addressed for such an approach to be successful. Here are the top five challenges of deploying hybrid cloud:

Security holes

Cybercriminals know that their best chance of penetrating organisational defences is to look for weak spots. Cloud computing architectures are no less secure than traditional approaches, but the complexity of overlapping and interconnecting services and resources can be a gangster’s paradise of cubbyholes and hideaways. Hybrid cloud models strike at the heart of what is trusted and untrusted in terms of data, networking infrastructures and applications. Security technologies and policies have evolved to contend with these threats, but they aren’t always implemented, which can lead to serious data protection problems.

Governance headaches

Hybrid cloud strategies must have a strong governance structure at their core, or all you are left with is a profoundly complex mish-mash of private and public cloud components that are impossible to manage. This challenge has given rise to all manner of cloud service brokerages and orchestration platforms that convert this complexity into a drag and drop management environment where virtual workloads can be shunted around in an automated or semi-automated fashion, producing real-time management intelligence to support strategic decision making.

Hard-line regulatory compliance

Depending on the industry sector or business activities of the organisation at hand, there are certain pieces of regulatory compliance that mandate strict rules about the integrity, location and movement of data. This has historically prevented organisations from entertaining the idea of using public cloud services for – for example – data storage, because there is no way of discerning exactly what machine (or even what country) the data may be residing it at any given time. Well-managed hybrid cloud strategies offer an opportunity to navigate these concerns by placing controls over how specific datasets are treated, particularly with regard to geo-location or ‘territoriality’. But, yet again, a less professional approach could land you in serious trouble.

Performance bottlenecks

The thorn in the side of all hybrid and public cloud architectures is their reliance upon connectivity uptime to ensure access to data processes at all times. The risk of losing connection availability altogether can be mitigated by implementing business continuity safeguards. However, the issue of ensuring applicable levels of performance in response to changing needs is a more nuanced challenge that necessitates intelligent networking infrastructure to balance workloads and optimise prioritised streams of traffic. Failure to consider the underlying characteristics of the network is, unfortunately, a common pitfall in hybrid cloud deployments.

Integration and compatibility issues

A hybrid cloud model is essentially an architecture that supports two parallel infrastructures: public cloud and private cloud. These, in turn, must be able to manage the same application and data workloads both concurrently and simultaneously. These technical challenges are by no means insurmountable, but can pose difficult problems that deepen depending upon: the age and configuration of legacy on-premise infrastructure, the applications used, the public cloud services used, and how these might evolve in the future. Achieving a successful migration to hybrid cloud will come as a result of deciding which elements to use from day one, and how they should be orchestrated with one another.   

What’s the alternative to a hybrid cloud approach?

Remember that your choice of cloud architecture is fundamental to how your organisation consumes IT and propels digital initiatives, and switching it around isn’t entirely straightforward.  If you aren’t already set on a good hybrid cloud strategy then your alternatives are:

Private-cloud only

As stated above, many will come from this direction and be inclined to stay there before setting off in a hybrid direction. To clarify, private cloud describes a physical IT environment that you control (either on-premise or hosted elsewhere) and where IT workloads are provisioned and managed across your network. The classic manifestation of private cloud is a datacentre. The upside is complete control and visibility over your environment. Downsides include the expense of buying and operating complex IT hardware infrastructure and putting up with the responsibility that goes with keeping it maintained, updated and protected from external threats.

Public-cloud only

Some organisations will start out as public cloud only, and others will want to head there in order to obtain full leverage of the flexibility benefits. Public cloud services afford extraordinary scale and business agility at surprisingly low cost, though costs can add up the longer you use them. The added advantage is no longer having to retain the skills and manpower necessary to manage any private cloud infrastructure, or to acquire any or keep on top of the latest patches and updates. All this comes at the cost of control, which in turn can compromise data governance, security posture and compliance status to below acceptable levels.     

Muddling along with both (rather than strategically)

Alas, some organisations that believe they have a hybrid cloud by virtue of using both private and public cloud elements are basically fooling themselves. 

Yes, technically speaking, a hybrid cloud is any combination of public and private cloud, but this is hardly beneficial without a coherent strategy, clear goals and good financial discipline. 

Indeed, is it hardly worthy of the name.  Done right, a hybrid cloud strategy can deliver far greater benefits than those achieved simply by deploying ‘a bit of this and a bit of that’.