Hybrid Clouds—Myth or Reality?

“I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now, from up and down and still somehow, it’s cloud’s illusions I recall, I really don’t know clouds at all.” These are lyrics from a song created in the late 1960s by Joni Mitchell. It’s doubtful that the songwriter envisioned computer systems in the clouds, yet the words somehow ring true today. Cloud computing has revealed countless new dimensions to IT. We have public clouds, private clouds, distributed clouds, but most importantly, we have hybrid, multi-cloud architectures. However, the idea of “the cloud” remains as elusive as the artist who wrote the song.

Hybrid Cloud Versus Multi-Cloud Scenarios: The Same? Different?

A hybrid cloud is a computing environment that uses a mix of on-premise computing, also known as a “private cloud,” and public cloud components with orchestration between the environments in use. An essential aspect of the hybrid cloud scenario is that it is a mixture. This is different from a multi-cloud environment that simply refers to a multitude of disparate public clouds. The goal of a hybrid cloud is to allow computer workloads to move between the different environments transparently to meet the needs of a business in a cost-effective manner. However, a hybrid cloud scenario may also include multiple public clouds.

What organization would not want to have the flexibility of moving its workloads to a Microsoft Azure public cloud to take advantage of a sudden price discount within minutes, and then, almost whimsically, move those same workloads to an Amazon Web Services (AWS) public cloud when it suddenly becomes the most cost-effective alternative? A highly orchestrated hybrid cloud solution could take this capability to the next level. Imagine that it’s Cyber Monday and, despite the best of planning, your current infrastructure is overloaded. Your nifty new AI monitoring systems detect the issue, and, in an automagical manner, migrate certain workloads to the best possible public cloud available, optimizing revenue generation. This ability to move workloads seamlessly between different public and private clouds is in direct conflict with each public cloud vendor’s desire to maximize its profitability. (Isn’t it wonderful when free markets actually work?)

The Vendor Lock-In Strategy

Microsoft developed the Azure Stack. According to Microsoft (https://docs?.microsoft.com/en-us/azure-stack/user/azure-stack-considerations), “Azure Stack is a hybrid cloud platform that enables you to use Azure services from your company or service provider datacenter. You can build an app on Azure Stack and then deploy it to Azure Stack, to Azure, or to your Azure hybrid cloud.” But, attempt to use those features outside the Microsoft realm, and it becomes problematic.

AWS announced AWS Outposts late last year with projected availability by the end of 2019. With AWS Outposts, you can run native AWS or the VMware Cloud on AWS, which is a VMware product that is seamlessly integrated with the Amazon Public Cloud. According to AWS (https://aws.ama?zon.com/about-aws/whats-new/2018/11/announcing-aws-outposts), “AWS Outposts remove the complexity of hybrid cloud by offering a solution that uses the same software, services, infrastructure, management tools, development, and deployment models on Outposts as you use on AWS for a seamless hybrid cloud solution.” The AWS Outposts infrastructure is fully managed, maintained, and supported by AWS. Once you leave the AWS family, it also becomes problematic.

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Amazon Relational Database Service (Amazon RDS) is a web service that makes it easy to set up, operate, and scale relational databases in the cloud. Amazon RDS supports Oracle, Microsoft SQL Server, PostgreSQL, MariaDB, and Amazon Aurora database engines. Through the Amazon RDS Service, AWS manages the management tasks of the database to include backups, patching, and automatic failure detection to recovery. Once you assign the day-to-day operations of critical components such as the databases to a third-party operator, reclaiming those responsibilities is, again, problematic. In other words, your ability to quickly abandon that vendor is compromised.

Buyer Beware—The Devil Is in the Details

The proverbial devil is always in the real details. In section 4.3 of the Amazon Customer Agreement (https://aws.amazon.?com/agreement), which is titled “Your Security and Backup,” it says, “You are responsible for properly configuring and using the Service Offerings and otherwise taking appropriate action to secure, protect and backup your accounts and Your Content in a manner that will provide appropriate security and protection, which might include use of encryption to protect Your Content from unauthorized access and routinely archiving Your Content.”

While vendors assume responsibility of the day-to-day operations of the database, it’s still your organization’s data. The same is true for your software licensing. A third party may operate your environment, but you are responsible for licensing errors that are discovered through a vendor software licensing audit—and these are becoming more and more commonplace.

Public Cloud Outages

Each year, CRN publishes an article on the most prominent cloud outages of the past 12 months. It is a list that no public cloud wants to be on. According to the Dec. 19, 2018, article (www.crn.com/slide-shows/cloud/the-10-biggest-cloud-outages-of-2018), the largest cloud outages were dominated by three leaders in the market: AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud Platform.

While significant public cloud outages are not limited to these companies, it shows the importance of distributing your eggs to multiple baskets. The ability to keep a business running 24/7 is a requirement, not a nicety. A hybrid cloud solution will become the gold standard for critical infrastructure moving forward. This is because, when properly designed, a hybrid cloud strategy can provide the nearly unlimited resource power of the cloud.  

Understand the Real Meaning of a Hybrid Cloud

An actual hybrid cloud will allow for large and small and critical and casual workloads to be seamlessly transitioned between on-premise private cloud infrastructure and any public cloud employed by any organization based on whatever criteria a customer architects.

For example, VMware technology presently includes all forms of on-premise private cloud architectures, as well as the VMware Cloud on AWS and the VMware Cloud on Dell EMC. This combination would allow a customer to have a full-functioned on-premise set of systems as well as a full-functioned AWS cloud environment and a full-functioned on-premise cloud on Dell EMC hardware—each with the exact same VMware vSphere platform connected via Hyper-Cloud Extensions (HCX). 

In addition, other forms of cloud systems can be included in the hybrid cloud architecture via VMware Cloud Foundation on Azure and Google Cloud through Cloud Simple. It is also likely that by the time this article is published, there will be more VMware Cloud Foundation options. That is a true hybrid cloud.

Of course, other vendors as well are embracing hybrid cloud scenarios with their own approaches. For example, in a deal that marked IBM’s largest ever, the company recently closed on the $34-billion acquisition of Red Hat, a provider of open source cloud software (www.redhat.com/en/about/press-releases/ibm-closes-?landmark-acquisition-red-hat-34-billion-defines-open-hybrid-cloud-future). Announcing the acquisition, IBM and Red Hat said they would offer a next-generation hybrid multi-cloud platform based on open source technologies, such as Linux and Kubernetes, to allow businesses to deploy, run, and manage data and applications on-premise and on private and multiple public clouds.

To again quote the enigmatic Joni Mitchell: “But now they only block the sun, They rain and snow on everyone, So many things I would have done, But clouds got in my way.” Quite possibly, this Rock & Roll Hall of Famer would have thought less cynically about a properly architected hybrid cloud.


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