Cloud computing is the use of shared compute, storage, and networking resources by companies, which can be accessed on-demand and remotely over a network connection. It is an inevitable part of digital transformation. However, organizations can choose from four major cloud computing models: public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud, and multi-cloud – as well as different architectures for their infrastructure delivered by various service providers.
A hybrid cloud is any combination of two or more tightly integrated but different computing environments, including on-premise infrastructure, public cloud, and private cloud. Hybrid cloud provides interoperability and portability, so data and workloads can move between environments seamlessly.
Dgtl Infra provides an in-depth overview of what hybrid cloud is and how it differs from public, private, and multi-cloud deployments. Additionally, we explore hybrid cloud architectures, their advantages, disadvantages, and use cases. Finally, Dgtl Infra reviews hybrid cloud offerings from major cloud service providers (CSPs), including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and IBM Cloud.
What is Hybrid Cloud?
Modern organizations rarely rely exclusively on a single cloud service provider (CSP) or on-premise data center. Most have a mixed infrastructure set-up in which some data and workloads are hosted in an on-premise data center or a private cloud, while others run on one or more public clouds. However, applications, workloads, and services running in different environments still need to communicate with each other.
A hybrid cloud is an orchestration of multiple on-site and cloud computing environments to enable coordination, communication, and portability, as well as ‘single-pane-of-glass’ management. Specifically, hybrid cloud orchestrates multiple infrastructure set-ups as a single, flexible environment in which organizations can pick and choose the most suitable computing model for their workloads and then shift between them as requirements change.
Organizations may have different reasons for maintaining multiple environments, such as capital investments or regulatory compliance. To understand hybrid cloud architectures and their potential advantages, it is important to recognize the on-premise and cloud models that constitute a hybrid cloud.
1) Hybrid Cloud vs On-Premise Data Center
An on-premise data center consists of servers, storage, and networking equipment owned and operated on-site by the organization itself. Sometimes, an on-premise data center is also referred to as a private cloud. However, the primary difference between a legacy data center and an on-premise private cloud is the cloud software overlay for resource provisioning and management.
Presently, most organizations support a hybrid cloud architecture by using an on-premise data center and a public cloud.
2) Hybrid Cloud vs Public and Private Cloud
A public cloud is an on-demand, multi-tenant cloud computing model in which an organization leases third-party-owned infrastructure and resources as needed. Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud are all examples of public cloud providers.
A private cloud is a single-tenant cloud model in which a company owns or leases data center infrastructure and resources exclusively for its own utilization. A private cloud can be on-premise or hosted externally by a third-party. Vendors including IBM, Dell, VMware, and Oracle are all leading providers of private cloud solutions and services.
An organization using a public cloud, private cloud, and an on-premise data center, or at least, any two of these, is actually supporting a hybrid cloud model.
3) Hybrid Cloud vs Multi-Cloud
A multi-cloud architecture is one that supports multiple public clouds. For instance, an organization may choose Microsoft Azure for running certain applications because of compliance requirements but may also choose Amazon Web Services (AWS) for other workloads because of its cost-effectiveness.
A hybrid cloud architecture is different from multi-cloud because it must also include a private element, such as an on-premise legacy data center or a private cloud. However, companies can support a hybrid multi-cloud architecture if they rely on more than one public cloud.
How Does Hybrid Cloud Work?
Hybrid cloud is not about supporting multiple, siloed on-premise and cloud environments. Instead, organizations need to connect environments and ensure compatibility and interoperability in a hybrid set-up. These organizations can connect environments via the public internet over a secure VPN connection or through a private, direct, physical link using an Ethernet or fiber-optic cable. However, connectivity is just one aspect of a hybrid cloud architecture.
To truly leverage the flexibility and resource optimization of a hybrid cloud, data and applications must be able to move seamlessly between different environments. This requires data and workload virtualization, which decouples data, applications, and services from the underlying platforms and technologies, so they can run consistently across all environments.
Companies can either deploy their own middleware and software to enable interoperability or utilize turn-key hybrid cloud solutions and services from cloud service providers (CSPs). In addition, organizations are now focusing on developing portable and platform-agnostic applications that can run across all cloud environments.
Modern applications use a microservices architecture which integrates single-function, independent, and platform-agnostic services. In addition, container orchestration platforms (e.g., Kubernetes) enable automatic and intelligent deployment of these applications across cloud environments as needed.
What is a Hybrid Cloud Example?
The most common hybrid cloud example is a combination of an on-premise data center and a public cloud, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Microsoft Azure. To illustrate this example, consider a basic health and fitness application that maintains user profiles with sensitive data, such as medical records and activity and location logs. This application also draws information, like weather and air quality index (AQI) data, from external sources.
The application may host certain components, such as the user interface, non-sensitive data, and calls to external applications and services, in the public cloud, closer to the end user’s geographic location, for lower latency purposes. However, the application owner / company would still want to maintain sensitive user data on-premise for better privacy and control.
A hybrid cloud architecture enables this set-up and allows for seamless integration of the application components across private and public cloud environments. Furthermore, the company can use the same tools and services to manage and analyze the data stored on-premise and in the public cloud.
Why Use Hybrid Cloud?
A hybrid cloud environment combines the elasticity of the cloud, while maintaining the security and control of an on-premise environment. Indeed, a hybrid cloud lets organizations leverage best-of-breed solutions and also meet data residency requirements for compliance.
Advantages of Hybrid Cloud
- Time to Market: organizations can utilize a hybrid cloud set-up to access on-demand test environments and infrastructure, as well as customizable templates, tools, and resources for faster development, integration, testing, and time-to-market, while still benefiting from their existing capital expenditure investments
- Elasticity and Scalability: a hybrid cloud architecture allows organizations to benefit from the scalability and elasticity of the cloud to meet their static and dynamic growth needs. Companies can rapidly meet unpredictable, bursts of computing resources required by applications, using the capabilities of the public cloud, to meet temporary traffic spikes or scale infrastructure in response to business growth. Likewise, organizations can just as easily scale back down, to operate at typical traffic levels, without having to maintain excessive on-premise infrastructure
- Privacy and Compliance: organizations can keep highly sensitive data in a private environment to meet strict regulatory compliance requirements, while also leveraging cloud benefits for other workloads
- Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery: organizations can host data and workloads redundantly across private and public environments. They can seamlessly shift to the cloud to ensure business continuity during interruptions like upgrades, power failures, or natural disasters
- Cost Management: organizations can choose optimal, cost-effective environments for different workloads. In turn, hybrid cloud can reduce ongoing capital expenditures on expanding data center infrastructure, by moving certain workloads to the cloud
Disadvantages of Hybrid Cloud
- Complexity: a hybrid cloud environment is considerably more complex to implement and manage as all environments and workloads must be compatible with each other to utilize the full potential of hybrid cloud infrastructure. Many organizations do not have the internal IT expertise to successfully implement and integrate hybrid environments
- Visibility: ensuring visibility and access management across multiple environments can become a challenge, especially when using different tools and management platforms. In a hybrid cloud set-up, siloed infrastructure and tools can result in visibility loopholes, inconsistent policies, and security vulnerabilities
Major cloud service providers (CSPs) and their partners offer hybrid cloud tools and services for seamless implementation, integration, and ‘single-pane-of-glass’ visibility, management, and control.
Hybrid Cloud Use Cases
Who is Using Hybrid Cloud?
Presently, around 80% of companies are running a hybrid cloud environment. In particular, industries like financial services, e-commerce, over-the-top (OTT) media service companies, and healthcare, all have strong use cases for hybrid cloud deployments because of their fluctuating traffic volumes, latency-sensitive needs, and/or security and compliance requirements.
Organizations including NASA and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as well as major private companies like Netflix, Airbnb, and Uber have all implemented different set-ups of hybrid cloud architecture for their specific needs.
What is Hybrid Cloud Used For?
Below are the most common use cases of hybrid cloud:
- Digital Transformation: most companies want to modernize their IT infrastructure to meet current and future demands without completely unwinding their existing data center infrastructure and investments. At the same time, hybrid cloud is an optimal solution for organizations that rely on legacy applications, which they are not ready to refactor or retire immediately. Such organizations can continue running certain workloads and applications on-premise while shifting modern, cloud-ready and less-sensitive applications to the cloud
- Demand Fluctuations: hybrid cloud allows businesses that experience seasonal demand spikes, such as e-commerce stores during holiday / sales season and streaming & gaming platforms during evening hours and weekends, to instantly access the public cloud’s virtually unlimited and elastic resources. Importantly, these companies can scale back down later, while paying only for the resources they consume
- Compliance and Low-Latency: businesses can run their latency-sensitive applications and workloads, such as retail kiosks and video transcoding, closer to their end users no matter where they are. A hybrid cloud approach improves user experience while also maintaining privacy of sensitive applications and data, such as a customer’s personally identifiable information (PII) and transaction history, which can simultaneously be hosted on-premise
Hybrid Cloud Architecture
A hybrid cloud architecture focuses on three main aspects:
- Network Connectivity: ensuring data can move between on-premise and cloud environments
- Data Integration: enabling applications and services to functionally work together across environments
- Hybrid Cloud Orchestration: provides a unified management console and enables automated and intelligent deployment, as well as resource provisioning
Hybrid Cloud Networking
Hybrid cloud networking involves connecting on-premise IT, private cloud, and public cloud to enable data transfers and workload movement between them. As previously discussed, organizations can establish hybrid cloud connectivity via the Internet, a VPN, or a direct MPLS (multi-protocol label switching) or Ethernet connection.
Using a VPN can somewhat mitigate the security risks of an internet-based connection via data encryption. However, the internet is prone to unpredictable conditions like packet loss, latency, and jitter. For security, privacy and latency-sensitive applications and workloads, organizations often use a dedicated wide area network (WAN) connection.
Major public cloud service providers (CSPs) deliver their own direct connection services, also known as cloud on-ramps, such as AWS Direct Connect, Azure ExpressRoute, and Google Cloud Interconnect.
Hybrid Cloud Network Architecture
A hybrid cloud network architecture typically consists of on-premise or private servers within a colocation data center, public cloud infrastructure, and the underlying network connections. Below is a diagram which illustrates a typical hybrid cloud network architecture:
Hybrid Cloud Network Architecture Diagram
What are Hybrid Cloud Platforms?
To overcome the inherent differences between disparate hybrid cloud environments, cloud service providers offer hybrid cloud platforms, which are unified environments and orchestration tools for deploying and managing resources, workloads, and services, while achieving consistency across environments.
Hybrid cloud computing platforms are based on industry-standard methodologies, processes, and technology stacks, like microservices architecture and containerization, that organizations can also adopt in-house to become cloud-ready and achieve consistency with and among all public cloud environments.
Hybrid Cloud Providers
Below is an overview of the hybrid cloud solutions and services from the leading hybrid cloud computing providers, namely Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, IBM Cloud, and VMware:
AWS Hybrid Cloud
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the most prominent public cloud service provider with over 200 cloud services and a global presence. Below are some of the AWS hybrid cloud services and products that organizations can utilize for their hybrid cloud computing needs:
- AWS Outposts: runs AWS infrastructure and services on-premises or at an edge location
- AWS Local Zones: runs latency-sensitive applications close to the end user
- AWS Storage Gateway: connects on-premise applications with cloud storage
- AWS Direct Connect: connects an on-premise network to the cloud
Azure Hybrid Cloud
Microsoft Azure offers extensive hybrid cloud functionality and services, with the provider’s computing solutions and products including:
- Azure Arc: simplifies governance and management of IT resources across hybrid cloud environments
- Azure Stack: products for building and deploying cloud-native applications on-premise and in the cloud
- Azure VPN Gateway and Azure ExpressRoute: connects distributed workloads in hybrid cloud environments
IBM Hybrid Cloud
IBM’s hybrid cloud services allow organizations to deploy, manage, and operate hybrid cloud environments. Specifically, IBM’s hybrid cloud platform includes:
- IBM Cloud Paks: used to build or modernize applications faster across any IT environment
- IBM Consulting: utilizing IBM’s expertise in hybrid cloud technologies for specific deployment projects
- Red Hat OpenShift on IBM Cloud: allows developers to containerize and deploy cloud services anywhere in a hybrid set-up
VMware Hybrid Cloud
VMware Cloud Foundation is a hybrid cloud platform that delivers a single, integrated, and complete solution with end-to-end software-defined services for running and managing legacy and containerized applications in any environment.