Confused About the Hybrid Cloud? You’re Not Alone

By | April 19th, 2018

Hybrid Cloud. What is it?

Do you have a clear understanding of the hybrid cloud? If you don’t, it’s not surprising.

Hybrid cloud has been applied to a greater and more varied number of IT solutions than almost any other recent data management term. About the only thing that’s clear about the hybrid cloud is that the term hybrid cloud wasn’t invented by customers, but by vendors who wanted to hawk whatever solution du jour they happened to be pushing.

Let’s be honest. We’re in an industry that loves hype. We can’t resist grafting hyper, multi, ultra, and super and other prefixes onto the beginnings of words to entice customers with something new and shiny. The alphabet soup of cloud-related terms can include various options for where the cloud is located (on-premises, off-premises), whether the resources are private or shared in some degree (private, community, public), what type of services are offered (storage, computing), and what type of orchestrating software is used to manage the workflow and the resources. With so many moving parts, it’s no wonder potential users are confused.

Let’s take a step back, try to clear up the misconceptions, and come up with a basic understanding of what the hybrid cloud is. To be clear, this is our viewpoint. Others are free to do what they like, so bear that in mind.

So, What is the Hybrid Cloud?

The hybrid cloud refers to a cloud environment made up of a mixture of on-premises private cloud resources combined with third-party public cloud resources that use some kind of orchestration between them.

To get beyond the hype, let’s start with Forrester Research‘s idea of the hybrid cloud: “One or more public clouds connected to something in my data center. That thing could be a private cloud; that thing could just be traditional data center infrastructure.”

To put it simply, a hybrid cloud is a mash-up of on-premises and off-premises IT resources.

To expand on that a bit, we can say that the hybrid cloud refers to a cloud environment made up of a mixture of on-premises private cloud[1] resources combined with third-party public cloud resources that use some kind of orchestration[2] between them. The advantage of the hybrid cloud model is that it allows workloads and data to move between private and public clouds in a flexible way as demands, needs, and costs change, giving businesses greater flexibility and more options for data deployment and use.

In other words, if you have some IT resources in-house that you are replicating or augmenting with an external vendor, congrats, you have a hybrid cloud!

Private Cloud vs. Public Cloud

The cloud is really just a collection of purpose built servers. In a private cloud, the servers are dedicated to a single tenant or a group of related tenants. In a public cloud, the servers are shared between multiple unrelated tenants (customers). A public cloud is off-site, while a private cloud can be on-site or off-site — or on-prem or off-prem.

As an example, let’s look at a hybrid cloud meant for data storage, a hybrid data cloud. A company might set up a rule that says all accounting files that have not been touched in the last year are automatically moved off-prem to cloud storage to save cost and reduce the amount of storage needed on-site. The files are still available; they are just no longer stored on your local systems. The rules can be defined to fit an organization’s workflow and data retention policies.

The hybrid cloud concept also contains cloud computing. For example, at the end of the quarter, order processing application instances can be spun up off-premises in a hybrid computing cloud as needed to add to on-premises capacity.

Hybrid Cloud Benefits

If we accept that the hybrid cloud combines the best elements of private and public clouds, then the benefits of hybrid cloud solutions are clear, and we can identify the primary two benefits that result from the blending of private and public clouds.

Diagram of the Components of the Hybrid Cloud

Benefit 1: Flexibility and Scalability

Undoubtedly, the primary advantage of the hybrid cloud is its flexibility. It takes time and money to manage in-house IT infrastructure and adding capacity requires advance planning.

The cloud is ready and able to provide IT resources whenever needed on short notice. The term cloud bursting refers to the on-demand and temporary use of the public cloud when demand exceeds resources available in the private cloud. For example, some businesses experience seasonal spikes that can put an extra burden on private clouds. These spikes can be taken up by a public cloud. Demand also can vary with geographic location, events, or other variables. The public cloud provides the elasticity to deal with these and other anticipated and unanticipated IT loads. The alternative would be fixed cost investments in on-premises IT resources that might not be efficiently utilized.

For a data storage user, the on-premises private cloud storage provides, among other benefits, the highest speed access. For data that is not frequently accessed, or needed with the absolute lowest levels of latency, it makes sense for the organization to move it to a location that is secure, but less expensive. The data is still readily available, and the public cloud provides a better platform for sharing the data with specific clients, users, or with the general public.

Benefit 2: Cost Savings

The public cloud component of the hybrid cloud provides cost-effective IT resources without incurring capital expenses and labor costs. IT professionals can determine the best configuration, service provider, and location for each service, thereby cutting costs by matching the resource with the task best suited to it. Services can be easily scaled, redeployed, or reduced when necessary, saving costs through increased efficiency and avoiding unnecessary expenses.

Comparing Private vs Hybrid Cloud Storage Costs

To get an idea of the difference in storage costs between a purely on-premises solutions and one that uses a hybrid of private and public storage, we’ll present two scenarios. For each scenario we’ll use data storage amounts of 100 terabytes, 1 petabyte, and 2 petabytes. Each table is the same format, all we’ve done is change how the data is distributed: private (on-premises) cloud or public (off-premises) cloud. We are using the costs for our own B2 Cloud Storage in this example. The math can be adapted for any set of numbers you wish to use.

Scenario 1    100% of data on-premises storage

Data Stored
Data stored On-Premises: 100% 100 TB 1,000 TB 2,000 TB
On-premises cost range Monthly Cost
Low — $12/TB/Month $1,200 $12,000 $24,000
High — $20/TB/Month $2,000 $20,000 $40,000

Scenario 2    20% of data on-premises with 80% public cloud storage (B2)

Data Stored
Data stored On-Premises: 20% 20 TB 200 TB 400 TB
Data stored in Cloud: 80% 80 TB 800 TB 1,600 TB
On-premises cost range Monthly Cost
Low — $12/TB/Month $240 $2,400 $4,800
High — $20/TB/Month $400 $4,000 $8,000
Public cloud cost range Monthly Cost
Low — $5/TB/Month (B2) $400 $4,000 $8,000
High — $20/TB/Month $1,600 $16,000 $32,000
On-premises + public cloud cost range Monthly Cost
Low $640 $6,400 $12,800
High $2,000 $20,000 $40,000

As can be seen in the numbers above, using a hybrid cloud solution and storing 80% of the data in the cloud with a provider such as Backblaze B2 can result in significant savings over storing only on-premises. For other cost scenarios, see the B2 Cost Calculator.

When Hybrid Might Not Always Be the Right Fit

There are circumstances where the hybrid cloud might not be the best solution. Smaller organizations operating on a tight IT budget might best be served by a purely public cloud solution. The cost of setting up and running private servers is substantial.

An application that requires the highest possible speed might not be suitable for hybrid, depending on the specific cloud implementation. While latency does play a factor in data storage for some users, it is less of a factor for uploading and downloading data than it is for organizations using the hybrid cloud for computing. Because Backblaze recognized the importance of speed and low-latency for customers wishing to use computing on data stored in B2, we directly connected our data centers with those of our computing partners, ensuring that latency would not be an issue even for a hybrid cloud computing solution.

It is essential to have a good understanding of workloads and their essential characteristics in order to make the hybrid cloud work well for you. Each application needs to be examined for the right mix of private cloud, public cloud, and traditional IT resources that fit the particular workload in order to benefit most from a hybrid cloud architecture.

The Hybrid Cloud Can Be a Win-Win Solution

From the high altitude perspective, any solution that enables an organization to respond in a flexible manner to IT demands is a win. Avoiding big upfront capital expenses for in-house IT infrastructure will appeal to the CFO. Being able to quickly spin up IT resources as they’re needed will appeal to the CTO and VP of Operations.

Should You Go Hybrid?

We’ve arrived at the bottom line and the question is, should you or your organization embrace hybrid cloud infrastructures?

According to 451 Research, by 2019, 69% of companies will operate in hybrid cloud environments, and 60% of workloads will be running in some form of hosted cloud service (up from 45% in 2017). That indicates that the benefits of the hybrid cloud appeal to a broad range of companies.

In Two Years, More Than Half of Workloads Will Run in Cloud

Clearly, depending on an organization’s needs, there are advantages to a hybrid solution. While it might have been possible to dismiss the hybrid cloud in the early days of the cloud as nothing more than a buzzword, that’s no longer true. The hybrid cloud has evolved beyond the marketing hype to offer real solutions for an increasingly complex and challenging IT environment.

If an organization approaches the hybrid cloud with sufficient planning and a structured approach, a hybrid cloud can deliver on-demand flexibility, empower legacy systems and applications with new capabilities, and become a catalyst for digital transformation. The result can be an elastic and responsive infrastructure that has the ability to quickly adapt to changing demands of the business.

As data management professionals increasingly recognize the advantages of the hybrid cloud, we can expect more and more of them to embrace it as an essential part of their IT strategy.

Tell Us What You’re Doing with the Hybrid Cloud

Are you currently embracing the hybrid cloud, or are you still uncertain or hanging back because you’re satisfied with how things are currently? Maybe you’ve gone totally hybrid. We’d love to hear your comments below on how you’re dealing with the hybrid cloud.


[1] Private cloud can be on-premises or a dedicated off-premises facility.

[2] Hybrid cloud orchestration solutions are often proprietary, vertical, and task dependent.

Roderick Bauer

Roderick Bauer

Content Director at Backblaze

Roderick has held marketing, engineering, and product management positions with Adobe, Microsoft, Autodesk, and several startups. He's consulted to Apple, Microsoft, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco, Dell, the Pentagon, and the White House. He was a Ford-Mozilla Fellow in Media and Democracy with Common Cause in Washington, D.C., where he advocated for a free, open, and accessible internet for all, reducing media consolidation, and transparency in politics and the media.

He is Content Director for Backblaze.

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Category: Cloud Storage