Hybrid cloud: an idea whose time has come

John Leonard
clock • 4 min read

Five years ago you had to be brave or foolhardy to choose hybrid cloud - not so now

One day, about five years ago when we would gather for Computing events in the hallowed halls of London's Hilton Tower Bridge, the audience was regaled with  a memorable tale of hybrid cloud woe.

In theory it makes a lot of sense, the speaker said. Who wouldn't want to keep sensitive, high value or low latency applications and data close to home while also taking advantage of the infinite elasticity of public cloud? Who wouldn't want to maintain a minimal data centre footprint, any overflow being channelled into the public cloud?

Sadly though, the speaker went on, theory and practice were a long way apart. Doubling up on environments meant twice the work. There were performance issues, security gaps, skills shortages and extra expense. And the two halves did not evolve in sync.

Ultimately the company abandoned its expensive hybrid cloud experiment in favour of shifting everything possible into the public cloud with just a few legacy systems remaining in house. Lesson learned.

Timing is everything

Timing is everything, of course, and it seems this organisation maybe just went a bit too early.

Hybrid cloud is now much more mature, and while there has been a much talked about rush to the public cloud during the pandemic, there has been a quieter move to virtualise the data centre at the same time.

In a Computing Delta survey of 150 UK IT leaders from across all sizes and sectors, 38 per cent said they plan to invest in private cloud this year (compared to 64 per cent who said the same with public cloud), with three-quarters (74 per cent) of those saying this is part of a hybrid cloud strategy.

So, hybrid cloud seems to be a big part of many organisations' plans.

Just to get the terminology straight, by ‘hybrid cloud' most meant something along the lines of this respondent's definition: "Combined usage of public cloud providers e.g. Microsoft Azure/AWS/Google with a private cloud service (typically from an IT services provider or in-house capability)" - the key word being ‘combined' or integrated.

A few years ago the integration piece was hard to get right, as our presenter explained at the time, but that's changing now with numerous APIs and connectors and mature best practice.

Hybrid cloud adoption is still being driven by compliance and security concerns, but also by the way that IT is evolving at the extremities with the internet of things and edge computing, which means that sticking everything in a big public cloud makes less and less sense.

The cloud providers know the way the wind is blowing and are increasingly offering hybrid cloud options - witness IBM's purchase of OpenShift, Microsoft's control plane Azure Arc, Google Anthos and even holdout AWS is now making moves in this direction.

Best of both worlds

Way back when, cloud bursting was sold as a key advantage of hybrid cloud. Why pay for data centre infrastructure you'd only use for a few days every year when, instead, you could just expand into the cloud for the Christmas season, or when your fidget spinners toy became an unexpected worldwide craze? Once again though, this was often trickier than it looked.

Among our respondents cloud bursting is still a minority sport practised by only with one-fifth of hybrid cloud users we asked, but most of those IT leaders said it's really no trouble these days.

As stated, 38 per cent of our respondents are investing in private cloud this year. What does that investment look like?

Two fifths said they'd be investing in hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) hardware or software, and a slightly smaller proportion were looking at cloud native technologies such as Kubernetes, which are pretty big numbers all things considered.

Not everyone is doing stuff out on the edge or with the IoT, so what are they looking at from hybrid cloud. Here are some quotes.

"Scalability mixed with cost pushes toward hybrid as you are covering all bases."
"It keeps options open, allows for the right eggs to be put in the right baskets, avoids lock-in (a bit)."
"Security control. While we use external supplier for most cloud services they are intended to be private."
"IT service continuity is key"
"You really can get the best of both worlds."

So, hybrid cloud looks like an idea whose time has very much come.

For more on IaaS and PaaS, including detailed comparisons between the top cloud vendors see Computing Delta.


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