Hybrid cloud. Multi-cloud. Distributed cloud. Hyper-converged infrastructure. The proliferation of terms to describe cloud deployments is confusing enough to make even the savviest pros scratch their heads. Add to that, the terms are often used incorrectly and interchangeably.
Hybrid cloud, in particular, has been applied to a greater and more varied number of IT solutions than almost any other recent data management term. It’s no wonder the concept breeds confusion. If you don’t have a complete understanding of the hybrid cloud, don’t worry. You’re not alone.
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?
Hybrid cloud refers to a cloud environment made up of both private cloud resources and public cloud resources with some kind of orchestration between them. To break that down, let’s take a step back and define a few key terms relating to cloud storage services:
- Public cloud: At its simplest, using a public cloud means 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 to a public cloud, a private cloud service 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 cloud is an infrastructure pattern that combines a private cloud and a public cloud. Hybrid clouds are defined by a combined management approach, which means they have some type of orchestration between them that allows workloads and data to move between the 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—congratulations, you have a hybrid cloud!
A Hybrid Cloud Example
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-premises 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 vs. Multi-cloud: What’s the Diff?
At first glance, multi-cloud and hybrid cloud appear similar. Both of these approaches involve using multiple clouds. However, multi-cloud approaches use 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 instance, if you already have significant on-premises IT infrastructure, a hybrid cloud solution may be a good fit. Alternatively, a multi-cloud approach may be suitable if you want to mitigate the risk of a single cloud provider having problems. Want to know more? Check out this deep dive on the differences between hybrid cloud and multi-cloud.
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. Two primary benefits that result from the blending of private and public clouds rise above the rest: flexibility and cost savings.
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 can also vary with geographic locations, 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, private cloud storage provides, among other benefits, the highest speed access, as private clouds are generally located on-premises.
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 solution 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 100TB, 1PB, and 2PB. 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 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 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 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 — $5/TB/Month (Backblaze B2)||$400||$4,000||$8,000|
|High — $20/TB/Month||$1,600||$16,000||$32,000|
|On-premises + public cloud cost range||Monthly Cost|
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 Backblaze B2 Pricing page and Cost Calculator.
Choosing a Cloud Storage Provider for Your Hybrid Cloud
Choosing the right mix of cloud services may be daunting because there are so many options available. Fortunately, there are a few factors you can use to simplify setting up your hybrid cloud solution:
- 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
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 cloud, 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.
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 hybrid cloud architecture.
The Hybrid Cloud Can Be a Win-win Solution
From a 10,000 foot perspective, any solution that enables an organization to respond in a flexible manner to IT demands is a win. Avoiding big up-front 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.
So, Should You Go Hybrid?
We’ve arrived at the bottom line and the question is, should you or your organization embrace hybrid cloud infrastructure?
According to Flexera’s 2021 State of the Cloud report, 82% of enterprises utilize a hybrid cloud strategy. That indicates that the benefits of the hybrid cloud appeal to a broad range of companies.
Clearly, depending on an organization’s needs, there are advantages to a hybrid cloud 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? We’d love to hear your comments below on how you’re approaching your cloud architecture decisions.