Six years ago I interviewed the CIO of a large enterprise about the company’s public cloud adoption plans and got this somewhat peevish pushback: Why should we? With our datacenters’ huge scale, we’re already a “cloud.”
No doubt that CIO’s opinion has changed since then as the dazzling array of services offered in the public cloud from analytics to AI have become irresistible. Yet the CIO’s reaction remains relevant: With a huge amount of sunk cost in our datacenters, the idea that we’d simply switch to a public cloud provider’s platform wholesale is ridiculous.
That leaves us where we are today: Nearly all companies have kept their datacenters and at the same time ventured into the public cloud—often using multiple SaaS and IaaS providers. This provides all sorts of opportunity for different types of connected, hybrid clouds. Here are five of the most common patterns:
1. Do-it-yourself duplication
Public IaaS providers let you have it your way, so you can come very close to duplicating your on-premises environment in the public cloud and make one an extension of the other using a secure virtual private cloud, where cloud resources reside in a virtual network hosted by the provider. Customers choose workloads or environments that would most benefit from cloud extensibility—dev and test, analytics, or even core line-of-business applications that need to scale. This is the most common hybrid pattern, although in many cases calling the on-premises portion a “private cloud” is a stretch.
2. Hybrid application architecture
One of the more typical hybrid arrangements is to build customer-facing applications that need to respond to spikes in demand in the public cloud—and keep the systems of record to which they must connect on premises. This seldom meets the NIST definition of a hybrid cloud (“a composition of two or more distinct cloud infrastructures”) because systems of record don’t necessarily need a private cloud, but it’s a very common application architecture.
3. Virtual machines on demand
The idea of “burst” capacity, where a private cloud acquires additional VMs from a public cloud in response to spikes in demand, got a boost with the recent deal between VMware and AWS, in which the entire VMware software-defined datacenter stack will be available as a service on AWS next year. Cynics say it will offer an easy way for IT to claim “we’re in the cloud” without having to learn new tool sets, but the arrangement also provides a path for on-prem workloads to migrate permanently to AWS.
4. Multicloud integration and management
Enterprises do not like to put all their eggs in one IaaS basket—besides, different IaaS providers offer unique services suitable for different applications. At the same time nearly every organization uses SaaS for such functions as CRM, HR, ERP, expense management, identity management, and so on. Integrating these clouds—again, they seldom meet the NIST definition of a hybrid cloud—is essential to avoid creating cloud silos. Dell Boomi, IBM Cast Iron, Informatica, Layer 7, MuleSoft, SnapLogic, and others all offer cloud data integration solutions. Moreover, multicloud management solutions such as CliQr or RightScale enable customers to monitor and even migrate workloads among several clouds.
5. The on-prem public cloud
Microsoft has made the biggest noise about this with Azure Stack, a complete server bundle—sold by Dell, HPE, or Lenovo and managed remotely by Microsoft—that will act as a sort of mini version of the Azure public cloud that customers power up on premises. Microsoft says the dedicated, hands-off nature of Azure Stack will be necessary to keep the two environments parallel, so workloads can move from private to public and back again seamlessly. Oracle has made less noise about it, but its Cloud Machine, which uses Oracle server hardware preloaded with the Oracle public cloud stack, amounts to the same idea.