What Is Hybrid Cloud?

An illustration of clouds computers and servers.
Editor’s note: This post has been updated since it was originally published in 2017.

The term hybrid cloud has been around for a while—we originally published this explainer in 2017. But time hasn’t necessarily made things clearer. Maybe you hear folks talk about your company’s hybrid cloud approach, but what does that really mean? If you’re confused about the hybrid cloud, you’re not alone. 

Hybrid cloud is a computing approach that uses both private and public cloud resources with some kind of orchestration between them. The term has been applied to a wide variety of IT solutions, so it’s no wonder the concept breeds confusion. 

In this post, we’ll explain what a hybrid cloud is, how it can benefit your business, and how to choose a cloud storage provider for your hybrid cloud strategy.

What Is the Hybrid Cloud?

A hybrid cloud is an infrastructure approach that uses both private and public resources. Let’s first break down those key terms:

  • Public cloud: When you use a public cloud, you are storing your data in another company’s internet-accessible data center. A public cloud service allows anybody to sign up for an account, and share data center resources with other customers or tenants. Instead of worrying about the costs and complexity of operating an on-premises data center, a cloud storage user only needs to pay for the cloud storage they need.
  • Private cloud: In contrast, a private cloud is specifically designed for a single tenant. Think of a private cloud as a permanently reserved private dining room at a restaurant—no other customer can use that space. As a result, private cloud services can be more expensive than public clouds. Traditionally, private clouds typically lived on on-premises infrastructure, meaning they were built and maintained on company property. Now, private clouds can be maintained and managed on-premises by an organization or by a third party in a data center. The key defining factor is that the cloud is dedicated to a single tenant or organization.

Those terms are important to know to understand the hybrid cloud architecture approach. Hybrid clouds are defined by a combined management approach, which means there is some type of orchestration between the private and public environments that allows workloads and data to move between them in a flexible way as demands, needs, and costs change. This gives you flexibility when it comes to data deployment and usage.  

In other words, if you have some IT resources on-premises that you are replicating or sharing with an external vendor—congratulations, you have a hybrid cloud!

Hybrid cloud refers to a computing architecture that is made up of both private cloud resources and public cloud resources with some kind of orchestration between them.

Hybrid Cloud Examples

Here are a few examples of how a hybrid cloud can be used:

  1. As an active archive: You might establish a protocol that says all accounting files that have not been changed in the last year, for example, are automatically moved off-premises to cloud storage archive to save cost and reduce the amount of storage needed on-site. You can still access the files; they are just no longer stored on your local systems. 
  2. To meet compliance requirements: Let’s say some of your data is subject to strict data privacy requirements, but other data you manage isn’t as closely protected. You could keep highly regulated data on premises in a private cloud and the rest of your data in a public cloud. 
  3. To scale capacity: If you’re in an industry that experiences seasonal or frequent spikes like retail or ecommerce, these spikes can be handled by a public cloud which provides the elasticity to deal with times when your data needs exceed your on-premises capacity.
  4. For digital transformation: A hybrid cloud lets you adopt cloud resources in a phased approach as you expand your cloud presence.

Hybrid Cloud vs. Multi-cloud: What’s the Diff?

You wouldn’t be the first person to think that the terms multi-cloud and hybrid cloud appear similar. Both of these approaches involve using multiple clouds. However, multi-cloud uses two clouds of the same type in combination (i.e., two or more public clouds) and hybrid cloud approaches combine a private cloud with a public cloud. One cloud approach is not necessarily better than the other—they simply serve different use cases. 

For example, let’s say you’ve already invested in significant on-premises IT infrastructure, but you want to take advantage of the scalability of the cloud. A hybrid cloud solution may be a good fit for you. 

Alternatively, a multi-cloud approach may work best for you if you are already in the cloud and want to mitigate the risk of a single cloud provider having outages or issues. 

Hybrid Cloud Benefits

A hybrid cloud approach allows you to take advantage of the best elements of both private and public clouds. The primary benefits are flexibility, scalability, and cost savings.

Benefit 1: Flexibility and Scalability

One of the top benefits of the hybrid cloud is its flexibility. Managing IT infrastructure on-premises can be time consuming and expensive, and adding capacity requires advance planning, procurement, and upfront investment

The public cloud is readily accessible and able to provide IT resources whenever needed on short notice. For example, 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. A private cloud, on the other hand, provides the absolute fastest access speeds since it is generally located on-premises. (But cloud providers are catching up fast, for what it’s worth.) For data that is needed with the absolute lowest levels of latency, it may make sense for the organization to use a private cloud for current projects and store an active archive in a less expensive, public cloud.

Benefit 2: Cost Savings

Within the hybrid cloud framework, the public cloud segment offers cost-effective IT resources, eliminating the need for upfront capital expenses and associated labor costs. IT professionals gain the flexibility to optimize configurations, choose the most suitable service provider, and determine the optimal location for each workload. This strategic approach reduces costs by aligning resources with specific tasks. Furthermore, the ability to easily scale, redeploy, or downsize services enhances efficiency, curbing unnecessary expenses and contributing to overall cost savings.

Comparing Private vs. Hybrid Cloud Storage Costs

To understand the difference in storage costs between a purely on-premises solution and a hybrid cloud solution, we’ll present two scenarios. For each scenario, we’ll use data storage amounts of 100TB, 1PB, and 2PB. Each table is the same format, all we’ve done is change how the data is distributed: private (on-premises) or public (off-premises). We are using the costs for our own Backblaze 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%   100TB 1,000TB 2,000TB
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 (Backblaze B2)

    Data Stored
  Data Stored On-premises: 20%   20TB 200TB 400TB
  Data Stored in the Cloud: 80%   80TB 800TB 1,600TB
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 — $6/TB/Month (Backblaze B2)   $480 $4,800 $9,600
  High — $20/TB/Month   $1,600 $16,000 $32,000
On-premises + public cloud cost range   Monthly Cost
  Low   $720 $7,200 $14,400
  High   $2,000 $20,000 $40,000

As you can see, using a hybrid cloud solution and storing 80% of the data in the cloud with a provider like Backblaze B2 can result in significant savings over storing only on-premises.

Choosing a Cloud Storage Provider for Your Hybrid Cloud

Okay, so you understand the benefits of using a hybrid cloud approach, what next? Determining the right mix of cloud services may be intimidating because there are so many public cloud options available. Fortunately, there are a few decision factors you can use to simplify setting up your hybrid cloud solution. Here’s what to think about when choosing a public cloud storage provider:

  • Ease of use: Avoiding a steep learning curve can save you hours of work effort in managing your cloud deployments. By contrast, overly complicated pricing tiers or bells and whistles you don’t need can slow you down.
  • Data security controls: Compare how each cloud provider facilitates proper data controls. For example, take a look at features like authentication, Object Lock, and encryption.
  • Data egress fees: Some cloud providers charge additional fees for data egress (i.e., removing data from the cloud). These fees can make it more expensive to switch between providers. In addition to fees, check the data speeds offered by the provider.
  • Interoperability: Flexibility and interoperability are key reasons to use cloud services. Before signing up for a service, understand the provider’s integration ecosystem. A lack of needed integrations may place a greater burden on your team to keep the service running effectively.
  • Storage tiers: Some providers offer different storage tiers where you sacrifice access for lower costs. While the promise of inexpensive cold storage can be attractive, evaluate whether you can afford to wait hours or days to retrieve your data.
  • Pricing transparency: Pay careful attention to the cloud provider’s pricing model and tier options. Consider building a spreadsheet to compare a shortlist of cloud providers’ pricing models.

When Hybrid Cloud Might Not Always Be the Right Fit

The hybrid cloud may not always be the optimal solution, particularly for smaller organizations with limited IT budgets that might find a purely public cloud approach more cost-effective. The substantial setup and operational costs of private servers could be prohibitive.

A thorough understanding of workloads is crucial to effectively tailor the hybrid cloud, ensuring the right blend of private, public, and traditional IT resources for each application and maximizing the benefits of the hybrid cloud architecture.

So, Should You Go Hybrid?

Big picture, anything that helps you respond to IT demands quickly, easily, and affordably is a win. With a hybrid cloud, you can avoid some big up-front capital expenses for in-house IT infrastructure, making your CFO happy. Being able to quickly spin up IT resources as they’re needed will appeal to the CTO and VP of operations.

So, given all that, we’ve arrived at the bottom line and the question is, should you or your organization embrace hybrid cloud infrastructure?According to Flexera’s 2023 State of the Cloud report, 72% of enterprises utilize a hybrid cloud strategy. That indicates that the benefits of the hybrid cloud appeal to a broad range of companies.

If an organization approaches implementing a hybrid cloud solution with thoughtful 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? We’d love to hear your comments below on how you’re approaching your cloud architecture decisions.

FAQs About Hybrid Cloud

What exactly is a hybrid cloud?

Hybrid cloud is a computing approach that uses both private and public cloud resources with some kind of orchestration between them.

What is the difference between hybrid and multi-cloud?

Multi-cloud uses two clouds of the same type in combination (i.e., two or more public clouds) and hybrid cloud approaches combine a private cloud with a public cloud. One cloud approach is not necessarily better than the other—they simply serve different use cases.

What is a hybrid cloud architecture?

Hybrid cloud architecture is any kind of IT architecture that combines both the public and private clouds. Many organizations use this term to describe specific software products that provide solutions which combine the two types of clouds.

What are hybrid clouds used for?

Organizations will often use hybrid clouds to create redundancy and scalability for their computing workload. A hybrid cloud is a great way for a company to have extra fallback options to continue offering services even when they have higher than usual levels of traffic, and it can also help companies scale up their services over time as they need to offer more options.


About Molly Clancy

Molly Clancy is a content writer who specializes in explaining tech concepts in an easy, approachable way. With more than 15 years of experience, she has a broad background in industries ranging from B2B tech to engineering to luxury travel. A deep curiosity drives her repeated success explaining what terms like OS kernel and preflight request mean so that anyone can understand them.