It’s been apparent since cloud computing emerged a decade ago that in all but the rarest situation, any organisation born in the pre-cloud era was unlikely to go all-in on the public cloud – at least not in the short term.
Security, sovereignty, performance and economics (plus the odd spot of server-hugging) have meant that even the most progressive organisations are likely to be keeping some workloads on-premises for the foreseeable future.
But as on-prem devotees have come to covet the cloud’s benefits of scalability and flexibility, suppliers have raced to create solutions that can provide the advantages of the public cloud – minus the public part.
The result for some organisations has been a scrambled environment of workloads spread across multiple cloud providers, private hosts, cloud-like virtualised on-prem environments and traditional servers. It could be called a mess, but the industry has adopted a more palatable term – hybrid cloud.
According to Paul Bristow, business development director at Microsoft hybrid cloud specialists Vigilant.IT, many hybrid cloud implementations start with customers realising their existing hardware is reaching the end of its life and begin seeking options. Inevitably, cloud will play a part in their future roadmap, but so too will an on-premises component.
“What does that on-prem piece look like?,” Bristow asks. “It can be the ‘same old’ plus Azure, or you can go to the end conclusion and have it as Azure Stack plus Azure Cloud. And that will give you a pure hybrid cloud.”
While pundits argue on the exact definition of hybrid cloud, Bristow defines the end state as one where it becomes difficult to superficially tell if a workload is working on-prem or in the cloud, and can be easily moved back and forth between the two.
It is a nirvana state that numerous vendors are working towards, such as the Microsoft Azure on and off-prem offerings, or the partnership between one-time rivals AWS and VMware, as well as a long catalogue of smaller organisations and open source projects. With so many products and projects now available in the hybrid space, picking through the various hybrid cloud models can be challenging.
According to Jared Hirst, managing director at dedicated hosting provider Servers Australia, client environments today might include a mix of private and public services, together with co-located servers and on-premise solutions.
Not surprisingly, management is a nightmare. So how do you solve it?
“You don’t,” Hirst says. “And this is the biggest problem at the moment – you can’t.”
While he does believe that companies such as Megaport and Equinix’s Cloud Exchange are helping in terms of providing connectivity solutions, a lot of manual intervention is still required to make the hybrid model work.
But that isn’t stopping clients going down the hybrid path. One of Servers Australia’s clients is a video editing studio who couldn’t get the connectivity needed to make the public cloud work, so they instead leverage it for some tasks but have a private cloud for others.
“They have all of their mail and their CRM up in the public cloud with us,” Hirst says. “But then all of their storage for their working files is stored in their office. Once they are finished their job they close the job off, they slowly seed all of the data up into the cloud, that gets stored into a private cloud servers. And once that gets processed and they are happy with it, after 90 days that gets seeded across into Amazon Glacier and gets archived forever.”
Hybrid is also proving to be a popular pathway for government agencies to make their way into the cloud, says Bart Thomas, Macquarie Telecom’s general manager for government cloud.
“From our perspective at Macquarie, every single one of our customers has got some kind of hybrid cloud deployment,” Thomas says. “It is not a conscious decision, it just tends to evolve naturally as agencies have infrastructure or applications that need to be updated or replaced.
“When there is a business issue they look at their options. So it is a
bit-by-bit approach, and invariably you end up with a hybrid cloud.”
According to Thomas, the best hybrid cloud implementations come about when the client invests heavily in the orchestration layer.
“Once they have built a multi-cloud orchestration layer they solve their problems around portability and management,” Thomas says. “The multi-cloud thing sounds great when you first read the label. But as soon as you get in there it can quickly get out of control. So getting the orchestration thing right is very important.”
In the case of one Macquarie client, the Australian Taxation Office, benefits have been realised through the creation of a sophisticated orchestration layer based on the VMware stack.
“They used vRealize, and that allows them to pretty much seamlessly deploy workloads to Macquarie Government’s cloud, AWS or Azure,” Thomas says. “And it just gives them that flexibility around workload portability and they don’t have any vendor lock in.”
One of the additional benefits of the hybrid model realised by the ATO is that it maintains a degree of competition in the accounts amongst suppliers.
“They make sure your commercial constructs are fair and reasonable, and ultimately it is a win for the government and, by extension, the taxpayer,” Thomas says.
But while hybrid solutions might appear complex, so too is the challenge that is driving many organisations down the hybrid path.
According to Bristow, the need for digital transformation will continue to drive organisations towards the solutions that give them the greatest flexibility. And despite the headaches, that is likely to be hybrid cloud. Hence the winners in the hybrid market may be the suppliers that can make those headaches go away.
“Digital transformation for me is how can I automate things,” Bristow says. “Now you can have on-premise apps and apps in the cloud and you can make them work together and talk together and run service bus messages between the two, and stuff like that is going to be where the real gains in digital transformation are made.”