Anyone who has looked into cloud-based services knows there are two major categories to choose from: public and private.
Public clouds offer benefits such as cost savings, made possible through shared services; ease of use; and scalability. Private clouds provide the benefits of cloud computing, but with a greater sense of security and control.
Deciding which of these cloud models is best for an organization depends on the services and how they will be used, the types of applications and data they will house, the level of security needed and the maturity of the company’s IT infrastructure.
But there’s also a third option when it comes to cloud services models: the hybrid cloud. With a hybrid cloud, an enterprise provides and manages some IT resources in-house, while others are provided externally by a service provider.
For example, a company might use a public cloud service for email or workflow applications but keep financial and other sensitive data resources on its private cloud.
Industry research shows that the hybrid approach is catching on with many organizations. In a January 2013 report, Forrester Research said the most popular infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) strategy is a hybrid cloud strategy.
The firm surveyed 151 U.S. and European technology decision-makers whose organizations had already implemented IaaS, and 40 percent of them said they use IaaS as a complement to their on-premises server and storage resources for peak load or special demand. That compares with 20 percent who said they use IaaS for all of their server or compute resource and storage needs.
Overcoming Hybrid Cloud Challenges
Hybrid clouds, like private and public cloud hosting options, can present their own challenges for organizations, including data security and privacy concerns as a result of sensitive information residing on hosted public cloud servers, and cost overages because storage systems are being overused.
Organizations also face the added challenge of managing the flow of information from one cloud platform to another, when on-premises applications need to share information with apps that are hosted by public cloud providers.
In addition, in order to build the private cloud portion of their environment, companies might need to invest in additional server, storage and networking equipment and have the available bandwidth needed and the space for hardware, says Shoji Harada, an administrator at HostLabs Internet Solutions.
“You will also need someone to design the infrastructure,” Harada says. Designing the infrastructure to be optimized and secure in many cases will require hiring someone who has knowledge of how to do it properly.
Building an internal cloud “is not a simple plug-and-play,” adds Agatha Poon, research manager of global cloud computing at 451 Research. IT executives “must identify the readiness of their company holistically.”
Aside from technical expertise, internal politics, budget, time and resources are considered key stumbling blocks that could prevent enterprises from moving to the next phase of IT infrastructure advancement, according to a 451 Research InfoPro cloud computing survey.
“In most cases, many stories of project failure come from internal resistance rather than from technologies and deployments that fail to perform,” Poon says.
Total costs of building a private cloud will depend largely on the size and the complexity of the infrastructure an organization is building. For large, global enterprises that are planning to run hundreds of applications on the private cloud and store massive amounts of data, the costs can be significant.
Pricing also varies greatly from one provider to another, Poon says, depending on the type of workloads, service-level-agreement (SLA) requirements, managed services offered and more. A private cloud deployment ranges from a few hundred dollars to tens of thousands of dollars per month.
But companies should not automatically assume that private and hybrid clouds will be a lot more costly than public offerings.
“While private [or] hybrid clouds are often compared with public clouds in terms of pricing, the latter could be costly from a resource-utilization standpoint,” Poon says. “With growing service options and vendor choices, the pricing for private–hybrid cloud deployments is increasingly competitive.”
The Benefits of a Hybrid Approach
Despite the challenges of building and maintaining a hybrid cloud environment, it’s clear that this cloud model presents some compelling potential benefits for companies.
The hybrid strategy allows an organization to leverage the scalability and cost-effectiveness of a public cloud offering, without having to expose some of its more critical applications and data to external resources, Harada says.
Hybrid and private clouds can give organizations a sense of being in control of their IT resources rather than ceding this control to a public cloud provider.
“Enterprises can design and build their own private clouds based on user-specific requirements,” Poon says. Hybrid clouds can allow organizations “to enjoy the best of both worlds while optimizing the use of infrastructure resources.”
Hybrid clouds can also provide organizations with predictability, within the context of budgeting and usage of services, Poon says. In addition, hybrid clouds can help companies overcome issues and concerns related to security and compliance, and they are customizable for the changing demands and goals of organizations.
To overcome some of the challenges of developing a hybrid cloud environment, Poon says organizations should take a step-by-step approach to the cloud by establishing a well-defined roadmap for cloud deployment. They should also seek strategic partnerships with experts for technology competency and operational experience.