A hybrid cloud is a cloud computing environment that uses a mix of on-premises, private cloud and third-party public cloud services with orchestration between these platforms. This typically involves a connection from an on-premises data center to a public cloud. The connection also can involve other private assets, including edge devices or other cloud services, such as storage.
The concept of hybrid cloud computing reflects the modern idea that IT resources and services are not singular or ubiquitous, but rather a complex and dynamic mix of hardware, applications, resources and services. All of those varied assets can be operated from many providers and delivered to an enterprise on demand from countless global locations.
How do hybrid clouds work?
In a hybrid cloud model, enterprises deploy workloads in private IT environments or public clouds — including IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS — and can often move workloads and data between them as computing needs and costs change. This gives a business greater flexibility and more data deployment options. A hybrid cloud workload includes the network, hosting, and web service features of an application.
For example, a typical hybrid cloud might simultaneously involve the following common components:
- Local. One or more applications deployed in a traditional local data center. These local workloads are often mission-critical where regulatory or business pressures require the enterprise to exert direct control over the local infrastructure, applications, and data.
- Cloud. One or more applications and data stores deployed to a select region (data center) of a public cloud provider. These deployments often reflect less critical or less used workloads and data, as well as short-term or experimental deployments. The business manages and interacts with public clouds through the cloud providers’ web portals and APIs. It is increasingly common for an enterprise to utilize more than one public cloud in order to benefit from each cloud’s unique resource or service offerings.
- PaaS and SaaS. One or more applications and data stores hosted by PaaS and SaaS providers. These are often workloads the business needs but chooses not to deploy and operate in-house. Common SaaS examples include HR, accounting, finance, business intelligence, and software development toolkits.
All of these elements can create a complex web of workloads and data that businesses increasingly struggle to manage cost-effectively.
While the terms are sometimes discussed interchangeably, there are key differences between hybrid and multi-cloud models. A hybrid cloud creates a single environment in which to operate on-premises private resources, public cloud resources — such as those offered by AWS, Microsoft, and Google — and the services offered by PaaS and SaaS providers. A multi-cloud environment consists of two or more public cloud providers but does not require a private or on-premises component. For example, a business that deploys certain workloads in AWS and other workloads in Azure would be termed multi-cloud.
What are the benefits of a hybrid cloud?
Hybrid cloud computing enables an enterprise to deploy its most sensitive workloads in an on-premises cloud, connect to workloads and data sources hosted by independent SaaS and PaaS providers, and host less critical resources on third-party public cloud PaaS and IaaS providers. This approach enables organizations to get the best of both private and public cloud models.
The core benefits of hybrid cloud include the following:
- Flexibility. Companies work with various types of data in disparate environments and adjust their infrastructure. A hybrid cloud setup uses traditional systems alongside the latest cloud technology without a full commitment to a single vendor. Organizations can migrate workloads to and from their traditional infrastructure and a vendor’s public cloud whenever necessary.
- Cost management. With a private cloud, organizations own and operate the data center infrastructure, which requires significant capital expense and fixed costs. Alternatively, public cloud resources and services are accounted as variable and operational expenses. Hybrid cloud users can choose to run workloads in whichever environment is more secure, reliable and cost-effective.
- Agility and scalability. A hybrid cloud offers more resource options via a public cloud provider versus an organization’s physical data center. This makes it easier to provision, deploy and scale resources to meet demand spikes. When demand exceeds the capacity of the local data center and private cloud, an organization can burst the application to the public cloud to access extra scale and capacity.
- Resiliency and interoperability. A business can run workloads redundantly in both private and public environments. Components of one workload can also run in both environments and interoperate, such as sharing a common data source.
- Compliance. Organizations in highly regulated industries must follow restrictions on where data can reside, and this often means they cannot move certain workloads to the public cloud. With a hybrid cloud model, organizations can keep data in a private environment while operating workloads in the cloud, or they can operate workloads in a private data center and move data to and from the public cloud as needed. This lets companies meet regulatory requirements and still benefit from the cloud’s elasticity.
Other hybrid cloud advantages include consistency and support for greater standardization in IT management practices.
Hybrid cloud networking
A strong network connection is critical to a successful hybrid cloud strategy. Typically, this involves a WAN or dedicated networking service for additional security. A company should consistently evaluate its connection and ensure it meets the bandwidth, latency and uptime (availability) requirements specified in any service-level agreement with a cloud provider.
Hybrid cloud integration strategy and best practices
An enterprise has no direct control over a SaaS or public cloud (IaaS) architecture. That means a business must adjust its resources, environments, policies and workflows to make them compatible with its chosen public cloud platform’s resources, services and APIs. This requires the implementation of suitable hardware within the data center, including servers, storage, a LAN and load balancers. For an effective hybrid arrangement, these on-premises resources and environments must be able to integrate and interoperate with public cloud services and APIs. Cloud providers often supply models and best practices that can accelerate business integration and adoption.
There are two main approaches to hybrid cloud integration: Use the cloud as the front-end application hosting point, or create a unified elastic resource pool of data center and cloud functions. The former approach basically relies on one element of the hybrid architecture — such as the public cloud — and uses other resources, such as the data center, for auxiliary or fallback operations. This is often easier and faster to implement but poses more limitations on flexibility. The latter approach endeavors to treat all public and private elements equally from the ground up. This creates a more flexible and ubiquitous hybrid cloud environment but can be more difficult and time-consuming to implement. Consider the following questions to determine which integration strategy is right for you:
- What are my architecture’s complete hybrid integration requirements?
- What combinations of technologies address my integration requirements?
- What is the most appropriate integration style or pattern for my use cases?
- Where does it make sense to deploy my integration platform?