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Hybrid Clouds Beyond the Hype
Thoran Rodrigues
AUG 17, 2013 10:51 AM
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Cloud computing brings about many benefits that interest companies of all sizes. It also brings with it new risks that companies did not have to worry about when their systems were ran in-house. Most of these risks boil down to a matter of trust: do I trust my cloud provider to keep my data safe? Do I trust him to deliver on the promised service level agreements? Do I trust him to provide quality services and solutions that can fulfill my needs as well as I could internally?

Each company has its own unique situation, that leads to different answers to these questions and, therefore, to different rates of cloud adoption. In this scenario, the concept of hybrid clouds has appeared as a very attractive middle ground for companies looking to better manage their cloud-related risks.


Defining the Hybrid Cloud

A hybrid cloud is a mixture of public and private resources delivered in a cloud-like fashion. In its purest form, a hybrid cloud is when a company has its internal datacenters and resources entirely virtualized, so that they can be delivered in an on-demand fashion to end users, and these private resources are seamlessly integrated with a public cloud provider that can deliver extra resources whenever they are necessary. In an ideal setup, it would be possible to transparently shift data and workloads from private to public computing resources whenever extra computing capacity was necessary.

This is an excellent concept for companies that have invested millions of dollars building out infrastructure: they get to keep using their infrastructure for as long as it is viable, and they get to also leverage the power of the public cloud to run more resource-intensive tasks. It is also very interesting from a risk management standpoint, since a hybrid setup lets companies decide what is going to run (or be stored) in public or private resources, thus enabling them to keep sensitive data and processes in a “safer” internal environment, while moving less important applications to a public environment.


When Ideas Meet Reality

That was the ideal setup. In the real world, however, what we are seeing today is a generalized abuse of the “hybrid cloud” moniker, much as we saw with cloud computing a while back. Today, any company that links their internal network to a cloud provider claims to have implemented a hybrid cloud, even if their own internal resources are still managed and treated as traditionally as they were before. The reasons for these claims can range from simple confusion - the hybrid cloud concept is probably one of the hardest ones to grasp - all the way to intentional misleading used to jump on the cloud bandwagon.

To truly deliver a hybrid cloud requires serious investment, if not of money, then of time, by the IT department. Achieving full virtualization of internal resources requires building service panels where users can self-provision resources according to their needs, as well as scalability functions that allow them to change the configuration of their resources, much as they would on the control panel of public cloud providers. Integrating this with external providers, thus allowing your users to transparently extend their use to public providers, is harder still.

Fortunately, the technology is starting to catch up with the hype. Most cloud providers today offer a very rich set of APIs that enable corporate developers to integrate their internal systems more easily. Not only that, but today it is much easier to move virtual machine images around from internal to external systems (and vice-versa). This makes it possible for workloads to be migrated more easily. Finally, we are starting to see the appearance of more mature cloud stacks that can be implemented on internal datacenters, and that make interoperability even simpler. OpenStack is a very good example of this: a couple of years ago, not even Rackspace, its main supporter and developer, was using it internally, whereas today many different companies are adopting it.

As the technology develops, we will start to see more and more true hybrid cloud deployments appear, which will only contribute to the cloud ecosystem as a whole. Until then, we should take care to differentiate pseudo-hybrid cloud deployments from real ones, and refrain from believing the new hype surrounding hybrid clouds.

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