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Hybrid Cloud Architectures: Everything You Need to Know

You may have heard over and over again that hybrid cloud is better than standalone public or private cloud. However, do you have a clear understanding of why?

The truth is that hybrid cloud architecture applies to a higher and varied number of IT storage solutions than almost any other data management term.

The weaknesses of a public cloud storage environment and its “lift and shift” approach is doomed to fail. Instead, a balanced workload placement approach makes more sense where users rationalize their on-premises environment with that of the public cloud. Essentially, it is now time for the hybrid cloud.

This guide looks at what hybrid cloud architecture is, how it works, its benefits and challenges, how it compares to multi-cloud architecture, examples of its application, and the architectures that enable the seamless storage interaction between private and public cloud environments.

What are Hybrid Cloud Architectures?

Hybrid cloud refers to a combination of different types of infrastructure, usually a public cloud with either an on-premises or private cloud infrastructure. Hybrid cloud architecture is an orchestration of on-premises, private cloud with third-party, public cloud platforms.

The National Institute of Standards (NIST) describes hybrid cloud architecture as a composition of either two or more distinct infrastructures (public, private or community clouds) that remain unique entities bound together by proprietary or standardized technology that enables application and data portability.

Hybrid cloud architecture gives businesses more data deployment options and greater flexibility by allowing the movement of workloads between public and private clouds as costs and computing needs change.

The deployment of hybrid cloud services is increasingly common, with many companies opting to combine the tightly controlled private infrastructure with the power of the public cloud.

Therefore, depending on whom you ask, hybrid cloud architecture environments may include:

  • At least one public and at least one private cloud
  • Two or more private clouds
  • Two or more public clouds
  • A virtual or bare-metal environment connected to at least one cloud (private or public)

The main takeaway above is that the term hybrid does not refer to a traditional IT infrastructure with cloud connectivity bolted on it. It’s the use of two cloud infrastructures. Also, portability is central because data flexibility and workload are essential to achieving the full benefit. It means that you must have the ability to use both environments seamlessly for a single workflow.

The varying requirements above were an evolution from the early age of cloud computing when location and ownership were the primary differentiating factors between private and public clouds. Today’s cloud types are more complex, with location and ownership reduced to abstract considerations.

For instance, public cloud providers can now run cloud services on a client’s on-premises data centers. In contrast, organizations using private clouds are building them on rented, vendor-owned data centers often located off-premises.

Regardless of the type of setup, all hybrid cloud architecture has some common traits:

  • Data Integration: You synchronize your organization’s data across a public and non-public infrastructure. However, syncing your data across these different infrastructures can be challenging; thus, you will need to implement additional technical solutions to keep your data consistent automatically.
  • Unified Management: Ideally, one overarching tool manages hybrid cloud infrastructure, eliminating the need for separate cloud management. Running clouds separately is difficult because each will require different APIs (Application Programing Interfaces) and SLAs (Service-Level Agreement) and will have distinct features and capabilities.  An API allows applications to “call” a functionality or element from another application, such as a cloud service. An SLA defines the services that cloud vendors will provide.
  • Network Connections: Public clouds, private clouds and legacy infrastructure connect either through a private network or the public Internet. Network connectivity is crucial for the deployment of hybrid cloud architecture.
  • Consolidation of IT resources.
  • They have a scale-out ability with the swift provision of new resources.
  • Processes orchestration with automation.

Why Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure?

As organizations gained experience with the cloud and its essence, there was a growing realization that the public cloud, while highly effective, is not the solution to all computing or storage problems. Like everything else, the public cloud has its shortcomings. Thus, hybrid cloud architecture evolved to capitalize on the respective strengths of each environment.

The strengths of a public cloud are resources on-demand, no infrastructure management and no requirement of capital expenditure. On the other hand, on-premises and private clouds have predictable costs, known performance, consistent security, and allow control of data and assets.

For specific workloads of data types, either cloud environment may offer compelling benefits. However, limiting your options to only one unnecessarily limits your potential savings and efficiency.

How Does a Hybrid Cloud Work?

The way private and public clouds work as a hybrid system is not different from how they do individually:

  • A Wide Area Network (WAN), Local Area Network (LAN), APIs and Virtual Private Network (VPN) connect multiple computers.
  • Then virtualization, software-defined storage and containers abstract resources allowing you to pool into data lakes.
  • Management software allocates these resources into environments or locations where applications can run.
  • An authentication service then helps provision the resources on-demand.

The network connections between the different hybrid cloud infrastructures are vital. If they are not connected, then your organization is not genuinely running a hybrid cloud infrastructure. Instead, you are running several clouds parallel to one another, which causes misalignment of your data.

You can connect private clouds, public clouds and on-premises infrastructures using the following methods:

  • Virtual Private Network (VPN): It enables secure and encrypted connections over the internet. VPN traffic is encrypted; therefore, any machine connected to the network can securely communicate as if it is part of a private internal network. A VPN allows the connection of clouds and on-premises infrastructure safely over the internet.
  • Wide Area Network (WAN): WAN connects computers over distance, unlike a LAN that allows local connections (such as within a building or premises). A WAN connection is more reliable compared to the public Internet. However, you should still use VPN encryption.
  • Application Programming Interface (API): An API integration is crucial for making hybrid cloud infrastructure work by connecting databases, applications, platforms, etc. You can send API calls between clouds as HTTP requests, either over the open internet, a WAN or a VPN.

Separate clouds infrastructures become hybrid when you connect them as seamlessly as possible. Interconnectivity is the only way that hybrid clouds work. It is also the reason why hybrid clouds form the foundation for edge computing.

Interconnectivity allows and enhances the movement of workloads, unification of management and orchestration of processes. How well-developed your connections are will directly impact how well your hybrid cloud works.

How to Build a Hybrid Cloud

Every cloud environment is unique because private clouds are one-of-a-kind while there are numerous public cloud providers. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all solution. How you organize your cloud resources to build a hybrid cloud is as unique as a fingerprint. However, some principles correspond to two primary ways of constructing a hybrid cloud environment:

Traditional Hybrid Cloud Architecture

Traditional hybrid clouds were the result of connecting private cloud environments to public clouds using complex, massive iterations of middleware. You can build a private cloud or use prepackaged cloud infrastructure. You will also need a public cloud provider.

You must link the two clouds. Moving resources between these environments will require powerful middleware. Many cloud service providers offer a preconfigured VPN in their subscription packages.

Modern Hybrid Cloud Architecture

Today, organizations build their hybrid clouds differently. Modern IT architects focus on the portability of the applications that run within the environments rather than connecting the environments themselves. They develop and deploy applications as collections of independent, small and loosely coupled services.

By managing everything using a unified platform and running the same operating system (OS) in every IT environment, the architects can extend the applications’ universality to the underlying environments.

Orchestration abstracts all the application requirements while using the same OS abstracts all the hardware requirements. You end up creating an interconnected and consistent computing environment that allows the movement of applications between environments without using APIs that change whenever you update or change cloud providers.

Hybrid Cloud Use Cases: What is a Hybrid Cloud Example?

The following two hybrid cloud use cases will illustrate how public and private clouds can work together:

Disaster Recovery Plan

During data backups, two requirements are critical:

  • High data durability and accessibility even during site or equipment failure
  • Timely snapshots (RPO) and fast recovery (RTO)

Hybrid cloud architecture is a cost-effective solution to achieving a disaster recovery plan. It employs local storage for fast access and replicates data to a low-cost public environment for disaster recovery storage.

  • On-premises storage: Use as local storage for backup data
  • Public cloud: Use for a DR copy of your backup data
  • Data management type: Policy-based replication

Flexible Capacity Management

Capacity planning stress eases when you can effortlessly migrate your excess capacity to a public cloud and free up on-premises storage. A hybrid cloud configuration can use integrated tools to migrate your infrequently used data transparently.

  • On-premises storage: Use local storage for recent or frequently used data.
  • Public cloud: Use to archive older or less frequently used data.
  • Data management type: Policy-based data tiers.

Hybrid Cloud vs. Multi-Cloud Architecture

In a multi-cloud architecture, organizations use multiple different public cloud services from various providers. They use different clouds for varying tasks to reduce vendor lock-in or achieve best-of-breed results. On the other hand, hybrid cloud architecture combines public and private clouds towards the same purpose.

A multi-cloud architecture reflects the growing acknowledgement that architects do not create clouds equally. For instance, a Sales and Marketing department has different computing needs compared to Software Development or Research and Development (R&D).

Multiple-cloud architecture also gives you added peace of mind because it minimizes your dependence on any one provider, often increasing flexibility and decreasing costs.

Whatever the reason, many organizations operate their multiple public clouds in combination with a private, virtual or on-premises physical cloud infrastructure. In other words, it encompasses all aspects of your IT ecosystem.

Multi-cloud architecture differs from hybrid clouds in two ways:

  • Hybrid always includes public and private clouds, while multi-cloud comprises multiple public clouds, though it can also incorporate virtual (including private clouds) and physical infrastructure.
  • Multi-cloud models use different clouds for different tasks, while hybrid models typically work together, leading to the intermingling and intersecting of data, applications and processes.

What is Hybrid Cloud Storage?

Hybrid cloud storage refers to a model of hybrid cloud architecture that provides storage services by combining the functionality of private and public cloud storage models. Users access these services using cloud applications or a web services API framework.

The hybrid cloud storage technique uses external and internal cloud infrastructure, applications and storage systems to form an integrated storage architecture. You can deploy hybrid cloud storage in several ways, but developers design these systems using an in-house storage infrastructure that supports an external application (Storage-as-a-Service).

The hybrid cloud storage approach removes the security risks of storing data in a public cloud environment and provides you with a virtualized storage infrastructure via the public SaaS offering. Ultimately, it offers maximum disk utilization, capacity management and multitenant architecture features.

Another common hybrid cloud storage approach involves building storage applications over public cloud storage. For instance, the cloud storage and backup solution Dropbox has built its infrastructure over Amazon S3. It then uses a proprietary cloud storage appliance to move data through the Amazon storage buckets.

Are Hybrid Clouds Secure?

When you properly design, integrate and manage your hybrid cloud, it can be as secure as a traditional on-premises IT infrastructure. Despite some unique security challenges such as data migration, a larger attack surface and increased complexity, multiple environments can pose a strong defence against risks.

All the interconnected environments allow you to select where to place your sensitive data based on requirements. It also enables security teams to standardize redundant cloud storage to augment disaster recovery efforts.

Hybrid Cloud Benefits

  1. Flexibility and Scalability

    One primary benefit of the hybrid cloud infrastructure is its flexibility. It takes resources and time to manage on-premises infrastructure, and increasing capacity requires planning. However, the cloud has the flexibility to provide IT resources at short notice whenever needed.

    The term cloud bursting refers to the temporary and on-demand use of the public cloud whenever demand exceeds the resources available in a private cloud. For instance, some businesses experience seasonal spikes in their operations that put an extra burden on their private clouds. A public cloud can take up such spikes.

    Demand can also vary with other variables such as geographical location and events. The public cloud has the elasticity to deal with any anticipated and unanticipated IT loads. The alternative is fixed-cost investments in on-premises IT infrastructure resources that you may not efficiently utilize.

    For data storage users, the on-premises private cloud storage option provides the highest speed success, among other benefits. Therefore, for data that you do not frequently access, use or need and which has the absolute lowest latency levels, it makes more sense for you to move it to a secure but less expensive location.

    The public cloud provides the perfect solution because your data will still be readily available, and the platform offers a better avenue for sharing it with specific users, clients or even the public.

  2. Cost Savings

    The public cloud component of a hybrid cloud infrastructure provides cost-effective IT resources without having to incur capital expenses or labor costs. Your IT specialists can determine the best service provider, configuration and location, thereby cutting your costs by matching resources with the tasks best suited for them.

    You can quickly scale, redeploy or reduce services when necessary, saving your costs by avoiding unnecessary expenses and increased efficiency.

  3. Infrastructure

    Hybrid cloud infrastructure allows you to maintain your legacy on-premises servers when integrating with a public cloud in a non-disruptive way. You can progressively integrate with a public cloud while running your most critical operations from a private cloud.

Hybrid Cloud Challenges

  1. It’s More Expensive than the Public Cloud

    A public cloud solution best serves smaller organizations that operate on a tight budget because the cost of setting up, running and managing private servers is substantial. What’s more, if your company has limited IT resources, it is not viable to build or maintain a private cloud since it requires cloud architects to make it and an IT staff to run and manage it.

    Problems may also arise because local IT staff are required to accommodate your private cloud to the changes made in a public cloud.

  2. It Limits the Speed of Operations

    Applications that require the highest possible speeds are not suitable for hybrid cloud environments, depending on particular cloud implementations. Latency plays a factor in the data storage of some users. Still, it’s less of a factor for data uploads and downloads than it is for those organizations that use the hybrid cloud environment for computing.

  3. Less Control

    You sacrifice some control over your computing and storage options when using hybrid cloud architecture. For your operations to run smoothly, a hybrid cloud requires secure integration between private and public environments. Therefore, your private infrastructure must adapt to any changes in the public cloud environment that are out of your control.

When is a Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure the Right Solution?

Hybrid cloud architecture gives organizations a balanced solution between a private and a public cloud or an on-premises environment.

It could be the right solution for your company if you require substantial agility. It can happen when you have a diverse client base with different regulatory, processing and security requirements. Given today’s compliance climate, this is especially relevant. Additionally, it allows you to run SaaS solutions that you can only use on secure private networks.

Secondly, hybrid cloud architecture is the right solution if your company does not want any compromises on the benefits provided by both private and public clouds. It provides a strategic approach because it prevents a situation where you are locked in to a particular vendor. You will already have split your infrastructure between two systems, making it easier to migrate to another public cloud whenever a better model becomes available.

Summing Up

A hybrid cloud architecture incorporates some degree of workload orchestration, management and portability across two or more environments. Hybrid cloud architecture can vary a lot. It could:

  • Combine on-premises and public cloud infrastructures
  • Combine public cloud and private cloud infrastructures
  • Combine multiple private clouds, public clouds and on-premises infrastructures

Therefore, it is now more helpful to define hybrid cloud computing based on what it does. They all should: connect multiple computer systems through a network, scale-out, swiftly provision new resources, consolidate IT resources, move workloads between environments, have a unified management tool and orchestrate processes with automation.

Adopting hybrid cloud architecture allows you to capitalize on the flexibility and scale of the public cloud and maintain the control and security of an on-premises data center or private cloud. You can pursue a tiered storage and computing strategy for maximum cost-efficiency.

When you approach hybrid cloud architecture with a structured approach and sufficient planning, it can reduce your operating costs, empower legacy applications and systems with new capabilities, deliver on-demand flexibility and become a catalyst for your digital transformation. The result is a responsive and elastic infrastructure able to adapt to changing business demands quickly.


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