Hybrid cloud: The year of adoption is upon us

Just public or just private clouds aren't good enough. Hybrid will be the future

If one word were to encapsulate the cloud computing market as we head into 2014, it could be hybrid.

It was the big buzzword for cloud computing vendors last year. VMware launched its vCloud Hybrid Service. Rackspace, Microsoft, HP and Joyent have been touting how the same software that runs their public cloud can be used to manage a company’s own data center, creating a seamless management experience across both.

There’s good reason for all this talk about hybrid. The cloud is still in its nascent stages, which means that most organizations are not yet ready to jump into outsourcing their entire IT operations to the public cloud, experts say. But many are intrigued by the advantages the cloud can bring, such as automated self service provisioning of virtual machines and storage. So if the public cloud isn’t right for everything, but organizations still want some sort of cloud, it usually ends up being a hybrid deployment.

If you don’t have a hybrid cloud now, research firm Gartner says you likely will in the future. The firm says that hybrid cloud is today where the private cloud market was three years ago. By 2017, Gartner predicts that half of mainstream enterprises will have a hybrid cloud, which it defines as a policy-based service provisioning platform that spans internal and external cloud resources. So what’s holding the industry back?

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People and processes are big stumbling blocks to the cloud.

“One of the most common issues is employees going around IT to get to the public cloud,” says John Humphreys, vice president of sales at Egenera, a Boston-area consulting and IT management firm. This “shadow IT” issue surfaces because employees want the benefits the cloud provides: easy access to virtual machine or storage resources without having to wait for IT to spin them up.

Employees circumventing IT may sound discouraging for IT managers, but Humphreys says it proves that employees are looking for these types of services. IT shops, he says, have an opportunity to become an internal service provider for these employees. Instead of employees going around IT, they can use IT-approved resources to access cloud-based features. “The big question is, how can we make it easier for workers to go through us instead of going around us?” he says.

So if the demand is there, why hasn’t adoption been as robust? It could be because the platforms offered by vendors are still maturing, says Bryan Cantrill, senior vice president of engineering at Joyent, which is one of the smaller (compared to Amazon Web Services, Microsoft and Google) but technically savvy IaaS providers on the market.

Platforms from various providers are still in their earliest stages. VMware just released its public/hybrid cloud platform last fall. Microsoft has had its platform out for longer, but Rackspace is still developing its private cloud platform based on OpenStack code, which continues to mature and evolve. Joyent’s hybrid cloud offering is based on its SmartOS, which is an internally-developed operating system that runs its public cloud. SmartDataCenter is the name of Joyent’s private cloud platform that uses SmartOS, which customers can run on their own premises.

“We see a surprising amount of hybrid cloud,” Cantrill says. “When we sell private clouds, there is virtually always a public cloud component to it.” The advantage of having your private and public cloud on the same platform, he says, is that over time the business can shift between the two. Applications should run on whichever platform is best suited for their needs, not just in whatever platform the IT shop has gotten around to supporting. If it’s a highly dynamic app with unknown spikes, the public cloud is best. Highly secure and performance-intensive apps may be better in a private cloud. Having a hybrid cloud creates one platform for apps to run in either.

Hybrid cloud is the platform that will dominate the industry moving forward, says Vikrant Karnik, a senior vice president at Capgemini who oversees the system integrator’s cloud consulting business. He works with large enterprise customers to plan and execute their cloud strategies and says that many of the big financial and pharmaceutical companies, for instance, will likely never be comfortable migrating their entire IT operations into the public cloud.

The largest companies in the country, which are also the ones with the largest IT budgets, are using the public cloud sparingly for development and testing or backup and recovery. They have massive infrastructures already that support their operations – they’re not just going to throw those away. Because of that, the world will have to be a hybrid one, Karnik says. If these types of companies are going to use any public cloud, it will be as part of a hybrid cloud.

So then, how important is it to have a consistent platform between your public and private cloud and to be “all-in” with one vendor’s cloud management platform? Today these big businesses already have mixed environments; they have dozens of vendors across their IT shop today and they haven’t standardized on any specific vendors. So why would the cloud be any different?

Hybrid cloud is coming, and in many cases, it’s already here. 2013 was the year vendors got their hybrid cloud strategies out in the open, and 2014 will be the year when customers start using them.

Senior Writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing for Network World and NetworkWorld.com. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW. Read his Cloud Chronicles here

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