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Signs it may be time to adopt a hybrid cloud strategy

The cloud is gaining traction, but the public cloud raises security concerns. Learn why a hybrid cloud strategy can offer businesses more benefits.

If you're like most data storage professionals, you're likely faced with the prospect of phasing cloud storage into your traditional storage environment. Many companies are reluctant to move into public cloud storage for obvious reasons -- loss of control, oversight, security and concerns about how the cloud impacts compliance requirements, to name just a few. But the public cloud also offers compelling economics and elastic computing opportunities that have some businesses wanting to seize the potential benefits.

A sign that it may be time to adopt a hybrid cloud strategy is when business folks start contracting directly with public cloud providers for shadow IT services. Some of the reasons public clouds are attractive to business folks, assuming it's not simply the friction of having to work with an underfunded internal IT group, include:

  • Economic elasticity. Cloud services are available under a number of on-demand agreements. All of those shift the IT budget from periodic large Capex investments to smoother Opex payments. It's possible that over time it may be more expensive from a TCO perspective to use large amounts of public cloud services, but the ability to continually adjust the volume of services needed while paying for essentially only what you use makes a lot of sense in the face of unpredictable business environments.
  • Agility and quickness. Massive amounts of resources can be spun up in minutes when needed, as opposed to the days, weeks or months required for IT to procure, stage and deliver new infrastructure. At the same time, these resources can be shifted, almost on-demand, as needs change.
  • Broad functionality. Today's public clouds offer any range or level of cloud outsourcing desired, including low-level infrastructure, container-like development platforms, fully functional applications and complete subscription business services.
The sensible cloud storage strategy is a hybrid approach in which IT retains control of cloud consumption and integrates it with on-premises resources as appropriate.

But there's another side to the story. When business essentially goes outside the IT department to contract with public cloud services, problems can arise. That's when issues of governance and control surface, including lack of compliance oversight, loss of data management control and potential security risks. Security is an obvious consideration, but perhaps a bigger lurking issue is the lack of business resiliency -- business units can become fully reliant on provided services without having any kind of backup or recovery plan in place. And many companies have discovered creeping cloud costs; what seems cheap for an hour might become pretty expensive over a year.

Cloud storage use cases

Due to the above-mentioned issues, we don't see too many data center applications running in the cloud for most traditional businesses. When it comes to leveraging public cloud storage, three main use cases exist:

  1. Storing primary data for global cloud-based applications. These are applications that might live on the Web and are likely distributed, mobile or social in nature.
  2. Leveraging object-based cloud storage as an off-site archive.
  3. Using object and deep, cold cloud storage as a backup target, with an option to restore into the cloud if necessary (disaster recovery as a service).

In some ways, these use cases imply some level of integration and interoperability with internal IT in a hybrid fashion. For example, cloud storage may serve as a colder, automated tier behind an on-premises active archive solution.

The promise of a hybrid cloud strategy

The sensible cloud storage strategy is a hybrid approach in which IT retains control of cloud consumption and integrates it with on-premises resources as appropriate. It's possible for larger organizations to consider setting up a fully internal private cloud. While this may provide a global enterprise with an optimal set of benefits while reducing perceived risks, it does require some tradeoffs, including the loss of a truly elastic Opex, overall agility, and the economies of scale and efficiency that multi-tenant service providers enjoy.

The goal of a hybrid cloud strategy can be summarized as aiming for the rewards of a public cloud while mitigating the risks with private storage and end-to-end data management. Hybrid storage offerings can be a mix of on-premises storage, private cloud storage, virtual private storage, colocated private storage and public storage. There is no one right answer for all organizations, but there are some common schemes:

  • Private cloud object storage used as an archive or secondary tier behind on-premises traditional storage.
  • On-premises storage (Tier 1 or 2) backed up to public storage, usually leveraging gateways.
  • Colocated private storage (Tier 1 or 2) supporting public cloud computing applications.

End-to-end management of these naturally mixed hybrid storage schemes is the key to success, and there are two ways to approach it. Storage professionals can use the same storage solution in every location. Many of today's virtual storage appliances can run the same storage OS both on-premises and in cloud locations, leveraging a single storage system's management solutions. Or you can ensure that all storage components provide consistent storage access and management APIs. Then the actual storage arrays can be optimally implemented as needed, as long as the remote APIs enable heterogeneous management.

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