Hybrid Cloud Explained

What is a hybrid cloud?

The hybrid cloud is an IT environment that combines elements of a public cloud, private cloud and on-premises infrastructure into a single, common, unified architecture. In a hybrid cloud environment, organizations have the option to run and scale workloads in the optimal setting, as well as the flexibility to move workloads between different environments quickly and easily.

For example, with a hybrid cloud model, organizations are able to leverage the public cloud for high-volume, low-risk activity, such as hosting web-based applications like email or instant messaging. Meanwhile the private cloud can be reserved for functions that require greater security, such as processing payments or storing personal data. In so doing, the organization is able to capitalize on the cost savings of a public cloud while also maintaining a higher level of security or compliance for select functions.

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Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure Components

Every hybrid cloud environment contains the following three components:

  1. Public cloud services delivered and supported via the public internet through a third-party cloud provider. Public cloud access is provided through a subscription model, such as platform-as-a-service (PaaS), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) or software-as-a-service (SaaS). Examples of prominent public cloud providers include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Microsoft Azure
  2. Private cloud services, which serve the same purpose as public clouds but are dedicated to just one customer. They provide a cloud infrastructure for exclusive use by one business, organization or government entity. Because the private cloud is not shared with any other users, this type of network tends to provide far greater control, privacy and security — as long as the user has adopted a comprehensive security strategy specifically designed for the cloud.
  3. On-premises infrastructure, or a traditional computing environment, wherein select services are run, managed and maintained using hardware and servers owned and operated by the organization.

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Hybrid Cloud vs. Multi Cloud

Though sometimes used interchangeably, hybrid and multicloud environments are two distinct models.

In short, a hybrid cloud creates a single environment consisting of public, private and on-prem infrastructure elements and services. A multicloud environment, on the other hand, unites two or more public cloud instances but does not integrate private cloud services or an on-prem component.

Based on this definition, it is possible for a hybrid cloud model to also be a multicloud model if the environment incorporates private cloud, on-prem and more than one public cloud instance.

How Do Hybrid Clouds Work?

Establishing a hybrid cloud architecture requires coordination, orchestration and integration.

Initially, organizations created a hybrid cloud architecture by migrating some elements of the on-premises infrastructure into a private cloud environment. They would then connect that private cloud environment to a public cloud hosted by a third-party cloud service provider (CSP) using an off-the-shelf hybrid cloud solution or middleware.

Today, hybrid cloud architecture has evolved to focus on enabling greater flexibility and portability of workloads. As such, in a more modern approach, the hybrid environment is enabled by the CSP through extended public cloud services that can be integrated within a private data center.

In short, hybrid cloud platforms can connect public and private resources in different ways at different points. But, regardless of each organization’s individual strategy, the organization must possess the following capabilities to effectively integrate disparate components into a single environment:

  • A strong network connection, which typically involves a wide area network (WAN) or other dedicated networking service for additional security.
  • Creating a virtualization layer or hypervisor on top of on-premises resources to create and support virtual machines as well as container-based workloads.
  • Installing a private cloud software layer or infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) to run, manage, connect and protect all apps and components within the cloud.
  • Integrating the software or IaaS into an application programming interface (API) from a public cloud provider, such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud or Microsoft Azure.
  • A container orchestration platform, most commonly Kubernetes, to automatically deploy applications across all cloud environments.

Benefits of a Hybrid Cloud Platform

A hybrid cloud environment offers several important benefits to the business:

Flexibility
A hybrid cloud computing model allows the organization to run a workload in the optimal environment, as well as shift that workload based on capacity, demand or costs.

Cost Efficiency
In any cloud-based model, capacity can expand and shrink as needed with fluctuating demand. Consumption-based pricing helps companies save money on physical data center space, power allocation and hardware costs when they pay for what they use.

Adopting a hybrid model, in particular, helps organizations optimize their costs by selecting the best computing environment for each task.

Elasticity
A hybrid cloud environment is dynamic, meaning that resources can quickly be adjusted and reallocated based on current needs. Further, in the case of unexpected surges in demand, the business can manage such spikes through a public cloud service.

Business Agility
A unified hybrid cloud platform can help expand adoption of Agile and DevOps methodologies, which in turn can help speed time to market.

Enhanced Security and Compliance
A unified hybrid cloud platform helps the organization take a holistic approach to cybersecurity and regulatory compliance. Since the organization is operating in a single IT environment, companies can develop a comprehensive strategy and deploy tooling consistently across the entire environment.

A hybrid cloud approach also ensures that the organization properly hosts sensitive information, such as customer data or patient records, in a private cloud environment as dictated by government regulations or industry guidelines.

Hybrid Cloud Use Cases and Examples

The cloud has become a necessary component for most organizations’ long-term strategic growth plans.

A hybrid cloud model, in particular, offers added flexibility as organizations can mix and match elements from various cloud environments, as well as a traditional on-prem infrastructure, based on each scenario. Below are some common use cases enabled by the cloud and ideal for a hybrid cloud environment:

  • Digital Transformation. Cloud services provide the foundation for a variety of advanced analytics initiatives. However, in some cases, legacy applications or regulations may prevent the company from shifting the entire IT environment to the cloud. The hybrid cloud provides a compromise in that the organization can isolate elements that must be hosted in a private data center or that cannot be supported by cloud technology. At the same time, the hybrid model unites these different environments into a single architecture, enabling the IT team to maintain optimal visibility of the entire network.
  • Dynamic Workloads. The hybrid model is especially valuable to organizations with highly variable demand or highly changeable workloads. In a hybrid model, it is possible to use public cloud computing power and storage to “cloudburst” – or to scale resources quickly and cost-effectively in the event of an unplanned surge in demand.
  • High Availability (HA) and Disaster Recovery (DR). The inherent flexibility of the cloud naturally reduces the need for high availability (HA) and disaster recovery (DR) plans. In a hybrid cloud deployment, organizations can back up data in the cloud and use these in the event of a data center disruption — eliminating the need for costly, resource heavy on-prem backup servers.