Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Multiple approaches to Hybrid Cloud

Most of 2010 was consumed with the religious wars between Private Cloud and Public Cloud, debates about the best ways for businesses to build (or consume) the next-generation of IT services. But with the recent announcement by Amazon Web Services which allows the import of VMware VMs, the debate is starting to move towards the concept of a Hybrid Cloud. In this case, it's specifically focused on the aspect of Hybrid Cloud that allows applications (a.k.a. "workloads") to move from one cloud to another cloud.

All this means that 2011 will be filled with talk of Hybrid Cloud. Definitions of hybrid, initial hybrid services from external providers, and lots of customers wondering how they should plan to take advantage of these new architectures.

So let's take a look at some of the approaches that businesses might take to incorporate "Hybrid" functionality into their near-term and long-term IT strategies.

"Insourced and Outsourced" Applications 
At the most basic level, this approach begins by taking an inventory of existing business functionality and determining which of them might be better serviced outside of existing IT resources. For many companies, the "outsourced" list included functions such as CRM, Email, Travel, Payroll, Disaster Recovery, Conferencing (Audio, Web or Video), and Social Media. The "insourced" list typically includes HR, ERP, Compliance-related functions, AR/PR, Ordering, and Finance.

This approach will look very familiar to most functional-leaders within the business as they have been evaluating aspects of their business through a "core vs. context" lens for many years. Core functions demand investment and internal skills development, while context functions are constantly seeking cost reductions and are frequently candidates for external services. With the advancements in public cloud services, this approach will become more prevalent within IT. It's the simplest model to implement, requires very little retraining and minimizes concerns about security. Outsourced applications move to a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) model, and Insourced applications continue to be provided by the internal IT staff.

Gateway Clouds
A number of start-up companies are beginning to offer products that pacify security or trust concerns by placing hardware on-site but reduce CapEx and OpEx costs by leveraging public cloud services (AWS, etc.). Companies such as CloudSwitch, Cirtas, Nasumi and many others are trying to offer companies a "have your cake and eat it too" model that is relatively easy to implement and doesn't require many changes to IT skills or operations. These solutions will probably get integrated into bigger company solutions over time, but for now they offer a quick-fix for companies looking to save money or streamline operations while exploring a hybrid cloud strategy.

"Internal to External Application Mobility" (and back)  
Assuming that all servers are created equal, this approach looks at ways to move selective workloads (typically in a VM) from internal servers to external servers - or put a different way - from a private cloud to a public cloud. This movement may be done to reduce costs, improve availability, use additional capacity or test new functionality. The expectation is that the movement will often be bi-directional, with many businesses looking for ways to have multiple (external) partners to facilitate movement. This will allow them to maintain competitive costs as well as leverage geographically dispersed services when needed.

In theory this approach is desirable because it probably won't require that existing applications be rewritten. They could be encapsulated in a VM and moved freely between systems, either dynamically or via offline file transfers. The challenge with this approach is in areas such as networking and security, which may not be provisioned identically between the private cloud and public cloud. In addition, applications may need to be adjusted to adapt to different amounts of bandwidth, delay or latency between the two systems. Add in multiple public clouds as mobility destinations and the models begins to get more and more complicated to ensure seamless movements. From an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) perspective, some of these challenges will be minimized by the adoption of integrated stacks (Vblock, FlexPod, Exalogic, etc.) used by Enterprise and Service Provider customers. Other companies will look to OpenStack to provide standards. Still others will look at solutions such as VMware vCloud Director to abstract all the networking and security via software and create similar systems in the different environments.

This approach offers the benefits of limited software rewrites and could reduce overall costs if used properly. It will requires some changes to IT skills (networking, security, virtualization) and IT processes (compliance, data management, cloud partner management) and could require some interoperability testing if standards aren't finalized.

"Multiple Clouds, Mobility Clouds"
As I've pointed out in previous posts, some CIOs will embrace public cloud models in a very large way. They will be faced with business problems that require new applications to be written (Platform-as-a-Service), or will combine new applications with existing applications (SaaS). With the rapid growth of public cloud platforms ( / Heroku,, Google App Engine, Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, SpringSource, etc.), as well as industry-specific mandates for "cloud first" policies, CIOs will face the challenge of managing relationships and operations of multiple clouds. This will create a hybrid external/public cloud environment with different pricing, management, security and networking models. It offers the ultimate in flexibility, but it also means that many CIOs will be treading in unchartered waters as services and applications get combined in new and interesting ways.

By no means is this an exhaustive list of Hybrid Cloud options, and I'm sure 2011 will introduce many more definitions. Hopefully this list gives you an idea of what solutions are available today or in the near future and allows you to think about the types of decisions you'll need to make as you plan to incorporate hybrid cloud technologies into your IT strategies.

How do you expect your business to adopt cloud computing in 2011? Is hybrid cloud something to consider? What other approaches are you considering?

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