Cloud computing: Why the hybrid approach makes sense right now

​Combining public and private cloud may be complicated, but it's the best option for many -- at least for now.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

"A hybrid cloud strategy allows companies to take a considered, pragmatic, and value-driven approach to adopting the most appropriate technologies, be they in the public or private cloud," says Reed.co.uk's Mark Ridley.

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For CIOs who are reluctant to entrust everything to the public cloud infrastructure, or for those still wedded to their internal data centre, the hybrid cloud -- which involves using a mix of private cloud resources and public on-demand IT -- provides a safe middle ground.

Here we examine some of the key issues around this infrastructure method.

Why would an IT leader need to use a hybrid approach?

For many CIOs it seems that going for hybrid cloud is simply the only viable option. The benefits of using the public cloud, such as flexibility, scalability, and cost effectiveness, look pretty seductive in isolation. But those benefits must be set against a considerable set of barriers, such as security concerns, governance issues, and information management constraints.

Mark Ridley, director of technology at online recruitment specialist Reed.co.uk, is an advocate for the power of on-demand IT. He says his firm strongly believes that the public cloud offers the best opportunity for scale and elasticity of service.

"Whether it's buying services on a per-user basis or our long-term plan to benefit from the Amazon, Microsoft, and Google clouds, we have no question that our direction of travel is single-mindedly towards the cloud," says Ridley. "The public cloud offers amazing capabilities -- from machine learning at scale to event-based compute services, like Amazon Lambda and Google Cloud Functions."

So far, so good -- but there is a problem when it comes to legacy IT. The truth, says Ridley, is that the worst way to take advantage of the public cloud is to lift and shift an older infrastructure. "Tiered and monolithic architectures aren't the best use case for Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure," he says.

While new applications can be born native to the cloud in intelligent and creative ways, Ridley says the business case to move every last component of your IT setup in one big bang migration simply does not add up. For this reason, some element of in-house technology is likely to persist -- and for some time yet.

"A hybrid cloud strategy allows companies to take a considered, pragmatic, and value-driven approach to adopting the most appropriate technologies, be they in the public or private cloud," says Ridley. "At some point, the public cloud may be the last man standing, but for the foreseeable future a hybrid approach is going to be the right choice for most CIOs."

How can CIOs make the most of a mix of on-demand resources?

Andy Wilton, CIO at Claranet, recognises that the hybrid approach is the only real way for most organisations to take advantage of the cloud. He says the modern IT estate is comprised of a whole host of different applications, each of which will have different requirements as to how and where they are managed.

"Most enterprises have a diverse mix of workloads -- some heavily regulated, which might need to be kept in-house or on private infrastructure, and others for which public cloud might be appropriate," says Wilton. "CIOs, at the same time, need to balance legacy infrastructure and budget considerations. The net result is a patchwork of different environments."

Wilton quotes his firm's recent research, which suggests that roughly half of applications are held in-house at UK firms, with the remainder split between public and private cloud environments. Wilton says the challenge comes when all of these different environments need to talk to each other.

"You can't have effective hybrid IT without the right connectivity to back it up and draw it all together," he says. "We see lots of people talking about hybrid IT, but few are able to do it really well. If you've not got a strong networking story, you will struggle to make a success of hybrid IT environments."

Modern CIOs, then, must orchestrate a number of factors and should strive to knit providers together to meet fast-changing business demands. Geert Ensing, former CIO at ABN Amro, recognises the collaborative role of the CIO in a modern, cloud-based setup.

He says IT leaders must create an ecosystem of trusted providers. In fact, smart technology chiefs can turn this collective approach into a business advantage. "Some CIOs are aiming to create an ecosystem of partners, where providers fight hard to work as valued suppliers to the business," he says. "For many IT leaders, this setup will provide the ideal situation."

One example is Jim Lindsay, integration specialist for publisher Faber & Faber, who says his firm is using cloud providers to help move employees from traditional ways of publishing to a more modern, flexible, and digital system. "Content is central to what we do, and cloud computing makes content easily accessible for all staff, no matter where they are in the world," he says.

Incoming poetry manuscripts, for example, are uploaded to collaboration platform Box and undergo a series of edits before being passed to the design department. "The cloud gives us the ability to better manage the editing process," says Lindsay. "We can ensure that approved contributors can comment and make necessary changes before final signoff and going to print."

For individual organisations, therefore, different versions of the cloud will be best suited to particular business circumstances. Hybrid is here to stay, at least for the time being -- and CIOs should embrace the situation, suggests Tom Reuner, managing director at HfS Research.

"More than ever we have to move beyond the temptation to focus on the binary question: will one concept supplant another?" he says. "Life is rarely simple, and IT -- or the cloud -- is no exception."

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