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Amid hype, definition of hybrid cloud still elusive

While there are many competing definitions, most agree that a true hybrid cloud is more than just running workloads both on and off premises.

Among many technology vendors, there's a strong temptation to reposition existing offerings to fit the buzzword du jour. In some cases, it gets so bad that we create a new term to describe this, shall we say, creative marketing. One of the latest and best examples is cloud washing. It seemed, overnight, every vendor suddenly had a cloud-ready offering.

Instead of slowing down, it seems cloud washing is picking up steam -- with "hybrid cloud" as the latest permutation. So, this month, we're asking our advisory board members a straightforward question -- but one that may not be as simple as it seems at first glance: What is your definition of hybrid cloud? Is it simply having a public piece to complement your in-house workloads, or do you need a degree of interoperability between the on- and off-premises pieces. Is there even such a thing as a true hybrid cloud today?

Brian Kirsch, Milwaukee Area Technical College

Few things in IT have been as misunderstood as the cloud. The term has been overused and manipulated into so many forms and functions that its clear definition is often lost. So, when we build on top of an often misunderstood term by adding the word hybrid, the true definition of hybrid cloud is often buried beneath a collection of nuances and vendor-related marketing speak. So, to get to the definition, we have to start at the top. A hybrid cloud consists of three key items: public cloud, private cloud and automation or orchestration between the two. If you don't have all three, you don't have a true hybrid cloud. While that all seems straightforward and easy, it's not.

And that is the real key here; a hybrid cloud isn't a single vendor or something that a single vendor can claim to be.
Brian KirschMilwaukee Area Technical College

Here is where it gets even more confusing: What happens when a public cloud vendor claims to be a hybrid cloud vendor? Well, unless they are also providing on-premises cloud services, they aren't a hybrid cloud vendor -- they are hybrid cloud-capable. You can also have the exact opposite in a private cloud vendor claiming to be a hybrid cloud -- but again, without the public side and automation, they're only 'hybrid cloud-ready.' All of this leads into some tricky questions when you start looking at possible vendors to help you with your internal cloud, and how and where you might extend them to the public cloud. If you're not already confused, try searching the Web for hybrid cloud. Everyone claims to offer one. 

And that is the real key here; a hybrid cloud isn't a single vendor or something that a single vendor can claim to be. It is a solution for your business that takes your on-premises cloud and, through automation and orchestration, allows you to extend your infrastructure to the public cloud. While some vendors may claim they can do it all, or claim to sell a hybrid cloud, it is often a collection of partners and software stacks that enable a business to use a hybrid cloud. For my money, instead of looking for a hybrid cloud vendor, I'll look for a vendor or vendors capable of integrating with the rest of my infrastructure. The true hybrid cloud is about a solution to a business need. The challenge is getting past the claims that mix marketing and abbreviations, but offer little substance.

Jim O'Reilly, Volanto

Many companies plan to have an in-house cloud facility that uses the same type of management tools as the public cloud providers, such as AWS [Amazon Web Services] and Azure. This private cloud will normally be connected to one or more of those public clouds, allowing extra compute power to be brought on-stream to handle peak or special loads -- a process called cloud bursting. The collection of all these clouds is a hybrid cloud.

Cloud bursting doesn't necessarily require the private side to be a full cloud, but as we move toward homogenized orchestration software and other tools, it makes sense to bring the in-house cloud into line with cloud practices. How this is achieved is changing, with Azure and Rackspace offering cloud-in-a-box solutions, and the others likely to follow suit. This may be a fast way to achieve cloud homogeneity, though OpenStack is working aggressively on interoperability with public clouds.

Rob McShinsky, Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center

I think of cloud from an infrastructure paradigm. Where am I running my infrastructure -- on premises, off premises [or] both? To some, the term cloud is tied to a cost-metering perspective. But from my view, there is a cost model associated with these types of infrastructure whether you bill 'customers' or not. So, in that vein of thinking, a definition of hybrid cloud could be any IT services that are hosted in public and private locations. I say locations, because I have considered hosted services and applications as a type of cloud infrastructure.

To achieve this hybrid scenario, however, you have many options. Two of the most common are Azure and Amazon Web Services. On the surface, Microsoft Azure seems to have the best all-encompassing story. Private cloud with Hyper-V, System Center Virtual Machine Manager, Azure Stack, as well as many services and storage with direct hooks into Azure give a single vendor cadence to Microsoft's offerings. AWS also has a compelling story. At first glance, you may not think of Amazon as having much connection with private clouds, but they encompass many enabling technologies along with other vendors to provide broad private cloud vendor progression to the public cloud -- creating a diverse hybrid model. 

Companies like Rackspace and other local or regional service providers fill in the holes of some of the larger players, and should also be considered when creating your own definition of hybrid cloud -- or what you believe hybrid IT should look like.

Maish Saidel-Keesing, Cisco Video Technologies Israel

Hybrid cloud: the new star child of buzzwords. Everyone used to want to be in the cloud, but now, we all want a hybrid.

Some of us have hybrid cars, offering the best of both worlds. In fact, I think it is really easy to project the hybrid car analogy onto what one should expect of a hybrid cloud.

A hybrid car works partially on gas, and also on another technology -- in many cases, electricity. Obviously, with a hybrid car, the driver's experience is exactly the same no matter what energy source is powering the car, no matter where they are driving.

I would like to think of a hybrid cloud in the same way. It is not only having a cloud in-house and another somewhere off-site. If the way that we use the in-house cloud is different from the off-site cloud, then it not a true hybrid cloud. Using one technology to operate in-house infrastructure, and a whole other technology stack when using the outside cloud, it is not efficient, and will cause a lot of pain and anguish.

In short, a hybrid cloud should be an extension of your private cloud -- an extension in every way. The security policies and the way you conduct your day-to-day business should be the same. 

This does not mean that you have to have the exact same technology in both realms; rather, the operational aspect should be unified across the board, regardless of the platform being used.

Next Steps

Why storage pops the cloud bursting bubble

SDN may be the answer to hybrid cloud challenges

Fundamentals of the hybrid cloud model

This was last published in April 2016

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