Hybrid cloud model attractive but still has weak spots

Jeff Byrne, Contributor

What you’ll learn in this tip: Jeff Byrne, senior analyst and consultant at Taneja Group, shares his thoughts on why a hybrid cloud model may be the right solution for those skeptical about turning to the cloud. He also explains why, despite their strengths, hybrid clouds still need a significant amount of development—such as performance as it relates to critical applications.

[Updated February 2013] Granted, not many companies are running hybrid clouds today. But while the technology that will power hybrid clouds is still developing, the potential benefits are already coming into focus. Hybrid clouds provide the advantages users already expect from public cloud storage deployments, like pay-as-you-go flexibility and self-service. They also promise to provide the enterprise-level capabilities typically found only in a private cloud, such as secure multi-tenancy and the ability to deliver quality-of-service levels for availability and performance.

Major storage, systems and virtualization vendors are all working on hybrid cloud strategies and roadmaps they hope will give them a leg up in what’s expected to be a fast-growing market. Dell, Hewlett-Packard and IBM have hybrid cloud plans that encompass servers and storage. EMC, Hitachi Data Systems and NetApp have hybrid storage stories and even some concrete offerings.

Before hybrid clouds can enter the mainstream, some fundamental technical issues must be resolved. Security of data in transit and at rest is a paramount concern of users, particularly in light of recent data breaches. Storage vendors and cloud security startups are developing new encryption, firewall, identity management and associated technologies. Performance of critical applications is another key issue, and several vendors now offer innovative on-premises caching products that reduce data access latency and speed up data recovery.

More on hybrid cloud storage

Business issues are another concern for storage managers considering cloud deployments. Some industry regulations dictate how and where critical data can be stored, which might, for example, prevent users from using public clouds that have data centers spanning multiple geographies. The prospect of getting locked into a particular provider’s public cloud is another worry. It’s easy to upload data into most public clouds, but moving that data months or years later to a different provider can be difficult and costly.

Hybrid clouds may not yet have the capabilities to support primary storage for critical applications, but several vendors offer cloud-based disaster recovery, backup and gateway solutions. TwinStrata is building a strong cloud storage gateway business that enables on-demand expansion of storage capacity as well as data protection capabilities, linking into several different cloud providers. Gateways from StorSimple, which is now part of Microsoft, help users control large sets of distributed, unstructured data by surrounding it with a full complement of data lifecycle services. Many of these solutions aren’t just ready for prime time, they’re already satisfying growing numbers of early adopters.

At least one provider -- Nirvanix -- is delivering on the vision of hybrid cloud storage for the enterprise. Nirvanix Hybrid Node provides private cloud storage services that front-end the company’s public cloud storage offering. The company’s Cloud Sideloader technology lets users migrate files directly from providers such as AWS into Nirvanix data centers.

Beyond storage, hybrid clouds require a networking infrastructure that enables high availability and performance for a diverse set of workloads moving between public and private clouds, along with the monitoring and management tools to ensure it all works. As most IT managers are well aware, bigger pipes alone aren’t enough to solve this problem. Rather, it takes optimizing data services across the scattered locations where apps may move, regardless of where the data is coming from, while providing visibility into the data passing through the network at an application, user and server level. Riverbed Technology, as one example, provides these enabling capabilities for a hybrid cloud today through its Steelhead and Cascade product families, and with its Akamai partnership looks likely to deliver new ways to optimize all manner of data and content no matter where the endpoints may reside.

While offerings such as these suggest that mainstream adoption of hybrid clouds may be fast approaching, we’re not there yet. Clouds are still in their “Wild West” growth phase, and the hybrid model is still evolving. But we see hybrids as a stabilizing force in the cloud market, bringing together the best of private and public clouds to address the demands of midsize and enterprise users.

BIO: Jeff Byrne is a senior analyst and consultant at Taneja Group.

This article originally appeared in Storage magazine.

View the next item in this Essential Guide: hybrid cloud or view the full guide: Guiding the enterprise into a hybrid cloud model

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