Hybrid cloud: A cheat sheet

This comprehensive guide covers the common use cases, technical benefits and limitations, and what to know for adopting hybrid cloud in your organization.

The difference between hybrid cloud, public cloud, and private cloud The biggest question in the enterprise today is often which type of cloud to run: public, private, or hybrid. However, the distinctions can be unclear, so let's define them.

While business workloads are increasingly being moved to the cloud, certain situations—such as regulatory hurdles, security concerns, reliance on legacy applications, or abnormal data sets or workflows—have been encumbrances to migrating entire organizations to public cloud providers. The solution is the hybrid cloud model, which leverages the advantages of public cloud providers (rapid resource provisioning and usage-based billing), while retaining the speed and reliability of private cloud solutions, and making organizations more capable of avoiding vendor lock-in. (Note: This article on the hybrid cloud is also available as a free PDF download.)

This guide is both an easily digestible introduction to hybrid cloud, as well as a "living" guide that will be updated periodically to keep IT leaders in the loop on new ways in which hybrid cloud can be leveraged.

SEE: Executive's guide to integrating the hybrid cloud (free ebook) (TechRepublic)

Executive summary

  • What is hybrid cloud? Hybrid cloud is the combination of compute and storage products from public cloud providers and private, on-premises hardware.
  • Why does hybrid cloud matter? Hybrid cloud systems do not have a single point of failure, and can be very effectively utilized for industries with variable workloads.
  • Who does hybrid cloud affect? Any industry with at minimum a need to safeguard data against loss can utilize a hybrid cloud solution.
  • What vendors offer hybrid cloud solutions? Vendors are becoming more responsive to the complexities of managing hybrid cloud deployments and are offering more solutions and tools to assist in transition and deployment.
  • How do I build a hybrid cloud? Building a hybrid cloud for your organization requires planning and forethought. Working with vendors to find solutions to your needs is advisable.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides

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What is hybrid cloud?

Hybrid cloud is the combination of compute or storage products from public cloud services (such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, or Microsoft Azure) with a private cloud infrastructure—servers that are generally on-premises running a cloud software stack. The public and private environments operate effectively independently of each other, and communicate over an encrypted connection, either through the public internet or through a private dedicated link.

The way in which public cloud services and private cloud operations are utilized is essentially dependent on organizational needs and priorities. The extent to which public cloud services are utilized can be as minimal as an offsite backup, or as extensive as being the primary component of data storage and processing. The process of finding an appropriate balance between public and private should take into consideration your organization's IT budget, the strength of internet infrastructure in the areas in which your organization operates, needs for regulatory compliance, and allowances for legacy applications which cannot be easily migrated to the cloud, as well as cloud-based applications which are not possible to run on-premises.

SEE: Quick glossary: Hybrid cloud (Tech Pro Research)

There is a discrete difference between hybrid cloud architecture and multicloud. Hybrid cloud requires utilization of both public and private cloud components, whereas multicloud is the practice of using cloud services from multiple heterogeneous public cloud providers, optionally including private cloud and hybrid clouds with more than one public cloud component.

Deployments explicitly labeled hybrid cloud had declined briefly as related cloud computing architecture concepts, such as hyperconverged infrastructure, rose in popularity.

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Why does hybrid cloud matter?

In optimal deployments, hybrid cloud provides the best of both worlds of computing. Public cloud service providers offer the ability to instantly provision compute and storage resources on demand, without the extensive upfront costs and time needed to build an on-premise solution. It also enables organizations to leverage AI-powered services delivered exclusively through the cloud, such as Amazon Rekognition, a deep-learning-powered image recognition system, and Amazon Lex, the speech recognition and natural language processing technology that powers the Alexa virtual assistant.

The private cloud component delivers information quickly, and it does not rely on internet connectivity to operate—an important consideration as ISPs consolidate and struggle to provide service. Having a private cloud component provides peace of mind; with an on-premise server, a disruption to internet connectivity will not bring business operations to a complete standstill.

SEE: The cloud v. data center decision (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Download the PDF version (TechRepublic)

Cost is a substantial factor for many organizations. For industries with seasonal or variable workloads, assembling a private cloud to handle normal workloads while relying on public cloud resources to handle burst workloads can be a budget-friendly IT strategy.

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Who does hybrid cloud affect?

Hybrid cloud technology is used in a variety of industries; foremost among these is the financial sector, where proximity to network edges (such as adjacency to a trading floor) is vital. As trade orders and high-frequency trading (HFT) algorithms have sensitivities to the millisecond level, the optimal solution is to put the necessary hardware on-premises for trading, while relying on the public cloud component for analytics and projections. Considering the premium of physical space in urban centers where such businesses reside, leveraging hybrid cloud architecture substantively decreases the physical footprint needed for investment firms.

SEE: Cloud computing: More must-read coverage (TechRepublic on Flipboard)

Hybrid cloud also has a firm foothold in the healthcare industry, due in part to the decentralized nature of healthcare—the task of relaying patient information between multiple healthcare providers and insurance companies is a singularly challenging endeavor. The attention that must be paid to regulatory compliance is also quite high, as HIPAA ( Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) patient privacy provisions require substantive effort in limiting information sharing and compartmentalizing information to prevent unlawful disclosure.

In general, any organization that has an acute need to safeguard against potential loss of sensitive data, resulting from hardware failure, misplaced or stolen hardware, or natural disaster has a reasonable use case for a hybrid cloud deployment.

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What vendors offer hybrid cloud solutions?

More vendors are becoming responsive to the need for hybrid cloud solutions, with public cloud operators like Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and Rackspace offering software (some through third-party partners) to ease with deployment of a hybrid cloud solution.

AWS Outposts is a solution introduced at AWS re:Invent 2018 that allows organizations to extend AWS applications using the same APIs and tools; it uses on-premises hardware furnished by Amazon. This allows developers to deploy the same application on-premises without needing to rewrite portions to accommodate the location change. AWS Outposts is intended for use cases where low latency or local data storage requirements require the use of on-premises hardware.

SEE: AWS re:Invent 2018: A guide for tech and business pros (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Azure Stack provides largely the same functionality for Microsoft Azure deployments, and it allows organizations to run Azure applications from the public Azure cloud while leveraging data hosted on-premise. Turn-key Azure Stack appliances are available from hardware vendors such as Lenovo and HP Enterprise. Microsoft provides the ability to deploy Azure Stack software on arbitrary systems for test deployments.

IBM's $34 billion purchase of Red Hat in 2018 is widely seen as a bet on the future of hybrid cloud, as organizations incorporating cloud resources to replace or augment on-premises solutions threatened IBM's future.

Other vendors offer more tailored solutions, such as Fujitsu Hybrid Cloud Services, which combines Fujitsu's private cloud services with Microsoft Azure. The Japanese telecom company NTT offers hybrid cloud solutions focused on compliance with HIPAA, FISMA, and PCI regulations. Hitachi Data Systems offers customized cloud storage and computing offerings, and is a gold member of OpenStack. HPE Composable Cloud aims to ease hybrid cloud deployments by providing a unified API for IT automation.

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How do I build a hybrid cloud?

While migrating to hybrid cloud is not a particularly difficult task, it can be a laborious one. Relative to other areas of technology, the equation is not as straightforward as swiping a credit card, opening a box, and plugging it in. Determining what balance to strike between delegating roles to public and private cloud components is a task that should be given a great deal of forethought before reaching the implementation stage.

Various vendors provide hybrid cloud services with hardware or strategies for the private cloud component of this buildout. Finding a vendor that specializes in your industry area, and that has expertise in compliance with any regulatory frameworks your organization is subject to is an important first step to cloud adoption.

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Editor's note: This article was first published in April 2016. The latest update was published in March 2019.

By James Sanders

James Sanders is a staff technology writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI/ML, and 5G, as well as cloud, security, open source, mobility, and the impact of globalization on the industry, with a focus on ...