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Do the benefits of hybrid cloud computing live up to the hype?

With all of the hype, it’s important to weigh caveats and benefits of hybrid cloud to determine if it’s the right fit for your company.

Cloud computing is all the rage right now and you likely are being barraged by every vendor under the sun about it. But, how can you tell if the cloud is really beneficial for you or if it’s just a bunch of marketing hype?

The most useful form of cloud computing marketed toward data center admins and infrastructure professionals is Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). With IaaS, you are simply running your servers in the provider's data center. This model gives you elasticity, pay as you go pricing and the ability to offload the work associated with running those servers. However, with a typical IaaS provider, your servers aren't on your network.

What's different about hybrid cloud?

Public cloud solutions have been around for a number of years, making hybrid cloud one of the latest flavors vendors are pushing. The difference between the two is that a hybrid cloud is designed to complement -- not replace -- your existing data center, servers and network infrastructure. You can think of a hybrid cloud as a typical public cloud but with a network connection back to your corporate data center, allowing the apps running in both places to work together. If you only need Internet-facing servers, then you only need a public cloud, but if you need additional capacity for your corporate data center or application servers that end users will access in the corporate network, then a hybrid cloud is the answer.

The idea and benefits of hybrid cloud aren’t totally new. Hybrid clouds use server capacity from a provider and connect it to your data center, but there are differences between the provider-connected data center of the past and today's hybrid cloud. They include the following:

  • Faster network connections -- In the past, you might have only been able to afford a T1 connection to a provider's data center, and with only 1.5 MB, you were limited. Today, metro Ethernet connections and other high-speed options are available and more affordable, allowing enterprises to move Tier I apps to the hybrid cloud.
  • Software-defined everything -- With virtualization and software-defined networking, virtual machines (VMs) can be cloned into templates and deployed to the hybrid cloud. In some instances, with enough bandwidth, you can move VMs to the hybrid cloud without ever shutting them down and without having to change their IP addresses.
  • Cloud management platforms -- Numerous cloud management platforms are available today, designed to manage VMs and their applications running on private as well as public/hybrid clouds.

Some will say the network connection between the private and the public cloud is what makes a hybrid cloud, but in my opinion, the true definition of a hybrid cloud is when that connection is used by applications that work together between the private and public. For example, you may have database servers at the private data center and Web servers in the public cloud. When they all work together to offer internal and external users a Web-based application, only then are they using the hybrid cloud.

When is the hybrid cloud right for you?

Now that companies are learning about the benefits of hybrid cloud, the question becomes whether or not it’s the right fit for them.

Here is a checklist to see if the benefits of hybrid cloud fit in the future of your company:

  • Is your data center out of capacity or do you expect it to be full in the next two years?
  • Do the capacity requirements of your data center expand and contract dramatically during the year?
  • Would you see a benefit to outsourcing part of your data center's management tasks to someone else so you could spend more time focusing on what makes the company the most money or helps the most people?

If you answered yes to any of those questions, then a hybrid cloud could be a good fit for your company.

Hybrid cloud caveats

If you decide to test hybrid cloud, there are issues that you should be aware of. First, never use checkbox comparisons, because they can't place value on intangibles. For example, just because two hybrid cloud companies have "self-service hybrid cloud connection" doesn't mean that they will both be as easy to configure. Or, just because one company provides VM conversion, it doesn't mean that it's easy. I encourage you to put all these services to the test to see if they are a fit for you.

Next, choose a service that is compatible with your hypervisor. If you are using Hyper-V and want a hybrid cloud, then consider Windows Azure. If you are using VMware vSphere, then consider VMware vCloud Hybrid Service (vCHS). Of course, there are numerous good hybrid cloud providers available, and many may work fine regardless of the hypervisor you are using. Still, because so much of hybrid cloud is about a common management platform -- VMs moving back and forth, and applications working together -- compatibility is always going to be an important factor.

Decision time

Cloud computing is still in its infancy so, in my mind, a hybrid cloud is still cutting edge. To ensure success, you must have adequate time to invest in learning, testing and supporting any new cloud computing initiative. There are many benefits of hybrid cloud computing, but it must be done properly.

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What benefit of hybrid cloud entices your company the most?
Sometimes we place too much emphasis on "compatible clouds", as the article states (vSphere > vCloud Air; Hyper-V > Azure). The broader appeal of Hybrid is to create a framework that allows the business to make decisions based on business justifications, not just technology compatibility. A proper hybrid cloud architecture should be able to allow the business to access whatever resources best fit the business needs (public or private), and still give IT the visibility it needs to make sure they can run properly.