When considering cloud deployments, a common question is whether to opt for public cloud services or build a private cloud. For most companies, the answer is both.
“The question is not whether a company should go public or private because the answer is yes in both cases,” says Bharat Badrinath, senior director, infrastructure solutions, at EMC Corp. When assessing their needs, he says businesses come to the realization “they can’t do one or the other. It becomes a combination of both.”
Here’s why: The public cloud is a good fit for static data archiving, packaged applications such as email and collaboration software, and for short-term projects requiring a temporary scaling of computing power. Private cloud deployments, on the other hand, are often a better fit for business-critical workloads and highly customized applications and databases that handle sensitive user data and trade secrets.
More and more, enterprises find they can benefit from both approaches, depending on workload and economics. That’s where hybrid clouds come into play. Combining public and private cloud elements, hybrids can deliver the right balance between a company’s computing requirements, budgetary realities and privacy requirements related to user, partner and customer data. “This option is becoming more popular among CIOs because it gives them more control over the company’s cloud budget,” says Karan Chetal, vice president of cloud and security services at IT services provider UST Global.
IT departments’ goals for hybrids are typical enough: avoiding downtime, boosting performance, controlling costs and protecting data. The trick is finding the right balance between public cloud and in-house private cloud resources to achieve those goals.
Hybrid clouds already account for 25 to 30 percent of current cloud environments, according to cloud providers. And research firm Gartner, predicts nearly half of large enterprises will have hybrid cloud environments by the end of 2017.
To capitalize on the hybrid cloud trend, IT vendors have been introducing services designed to deploy hybrid cloud environments. They include VMware’s vCloud Hybrid, Hewlett Packard’s Hybrid Cloud Management Platform, as well as offerings from IBM and EMC.
While interest in the hybrid cloud is growing, clients by and large don’t ask for it, according to most providers. Rather, they approach providers looking to address a business need and have a notion the cloud may provide the answer. Some clients, says Prasad Natu, vice president in charge of managed services business at IT services company ITC Infotech, remain somewhat vague about the differences between public and private clouds, so they need to be educated.
But Kevin Leahy, group general manager of the Data Center Business Unit for Dimension Data, a provider of IT infrastructure solutions and services, says most of his clients these days are asking for hybrid clouds. It’s just that their definitions of “hybrid” vary: To many, it’s a combination of premise-based legacy solutions with cloud resources. “When you get under the covers, is it really hybrid IT, not hybrid cloud,” Leahy says.
Perceptions of cloud models notwithstanding, one thing is certain: The cloud has entrenched itself as an essential component of corporate IT environments. Seventy-five to 80 percent of IT environments now have cloud components, according to various studies.
One common scenario for cloud implementations, be they public, private or hybrid, involves acquisitions or opening regional locations. With the cloud’s quick provisioning, an organization often can integrate new acquisitions and allocations without the integration hassles and pro- longed implementations of legacy computing.
But knowing you want to leverage the cloud is one thing; understanding when to tap the public cloud and when to deploy a dedicated private cloud is another. It takes a thorough assessment of current needs and projections of future requirements to make the right decisions. With that in mind, let’s consider some scenarios in which public or private clouds work best.
Public v. Private
Once a business decides to adopt a hybrid cloud approach, the next decision is to figure out which resources to keep in a private cloud and which to access in the public cloud. Migrating applications to the public cloud may require extensive rewriting to conform with specific infra- structure formats, so due diligence is advisable when mulling a cloud strategy.
“Do it workload by workload,” says Badrinath. A methodical review of each workload and application, he says, will make it clear which resource belongs where. If you give up a little functionality for a lot of financial gain, it may make sense to go public. Conversely, a significant loss of functionality for little or no financial gain indicates the application should be kept in-house, he says.
The biggest concerns about migrating to the public cloud revolve around reliability, security and bandwidth. Bandwidth deserves special scrutiny because it’s easy to make the mistake that many companies already have – to migrate applications to the cloud thinking they would save money but ended up paying significantly more because they miscalculated capacity requirements.
With that in mind, organizations such as banking or insurance companies with large data ware- housing applications and ETL (extract, transform and load) workloads would benefit from a private cloud, says Moninder Bhogal, senior director, Infrastructure Management Services at IT solutions provider NIIT Technologies. The process of extracting data from outside sources, trans- forming it to the right format and loading it to the target database requires a lot of computing power. Handled in the public cloud, ETL processes can be very costly.
Likewise, enterprises with large data storage needs should leverage a private cloud if users need to access the data frequently. Frequent data transfers from a corporate network and the public cloud can send I/O costs through the roof. However, if the data is rarely accessed, public cloud storage is typically less expensive.
The public cloud also provides an affordable disaster recovery platform. Moving DR to the public cloud eliminates the typical costs associated with hardware, networking and power consumption of storage networks. These savings notwithstanding, many organizations subject to strict data- privacy regulations prefer to keep DR in house to retain control of data security and management.
Mixing It Up
Even in settings where a private cloud is preferable, in some instances using public cloud resources makes sense. In what is called “cloud bursting,” organizations can scale their computing resources for temporary projects as needed.
A typical case, says Natu, would involve developing and testing enterprise applications. By tap- ping the public cloud, developers can take advantage of a dynamic environment that provides the elasticity and flexibility to turn resources off and on as needed. “These scenarios can be absolutely public cloud environments. You don’t have to worry about business transactions or data going to the public cloud,” he says.
Another scenario might involve a tax authority that processes and stores sensitive records, says Leahy. While the authority would not keep the records in a public cloud for privacy reasons, it could use the public cloud for downloadable tax forms and instructions. “That can be in the pub- lic cloud because there are no personal records or data in those forms, so that authority can take 30 percent of its IT resources offline for three weeks a year. That’s a perfect fit,” he says.
Actuarial firms, whose job is to analyze risk and uncertainty, also leverage this interplay of public and private resources. When conducting portfolio reviews monthly or quarterly, actuaries need extra computing capacity, which they can get from the public cloud, says Leahy. The same is true of advertisers that need extra bandwidth during the Super Bowl, he says.
Retailers follow a similar pattern. While keeping customer and payment card data in house for security reasons, retailers need extra computing power at certain times of year, particularly during the Holiday shopping season when they process a much higher number of transactions. To get the extra capacity, an increasing number of retailers turns to the cloud to get through the busy periods.
Bandwidth fluctuations, of course, are a major concern for organizations such as retailers and advertisers with cyclical capacity needs, and that makes them ideal candidates for cloud bursting and hybrid cloud environments. In this way, they can avoid paying for capacity they don’t use most of the time or, conversely, getting stuck with astronomical usage bills if they underestimate their needs.
The Way of the Future
As IT evolves, the hybrid cloud approach is bound to dominate. Natu envisions a common scenario that combines private and public cloud resources with an in-house infrastructure. “It’s very difficult to predict,” he says, “but I guess the way things stand, I don’t think there is too much of a choice for companies but to go for hybrid models.”
“Hybrid will be way of the future,” says Badrinath. The key will be to have the ability to manage these mixed environments seamlessly, which means interoperability between private and public cloud environments will be paramount. In addition, he says, IT departments need to retain control by setting security strategies and pulling the levers that run the IT infrastructure.
This article was originally posted in 2014.