Conflicting definitions of hybrid cloud model cost you customers

Owning an electric car and a gas-powered car doesn't mean you own a hybrid vehicle. Likewise, providers must see the hybrid cloud model as more than the sum of its parts.

Owning an electric car and a gas-powered car does not mean you own a hybrid vehicle. Likewise, cloud providers

should not market their cloud services alongside other hosting or network services and call the result a hybrid cloud model.

Unfortunately, however, that's exactly what happens because the industry continues to lack a common definition for hybrid cloud. Nearly every provider defines the scope of its Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to include public, private, and hybrid cloud models, but it turns out that hybrid cloud is defined in various and often conflicting ways.

In these early days of the cloud, the differences can create market confusion, which only makes enterprises more reluctant to adopt cloud services. For their part, cloud providers often misunderstand what enterprises are or will be looking for in cloud services, and they risk overestimating the extent to which their portfolios meet that need.

How many hybrid cloud models are there?

Enterprises like the "hybrid" concept because they already live in a heterogeneous IT environment, and they expect to continue to do so. Businesses are dabbling in IaaS -- using an average of 2.6 providers for three cloud applications, according to a Frost & Sullivan survey -- and they are largely experimenting with new apps that have been built or optimized for cloud delivery. The vast majority of enterprises have no intention of pursuing a full-scale migration of legacy workloads to any provider's cloud.

Enterprises are, however, interested in utilizing the cloud as part of a plan to make the entire IT environment more efficient and less costly. Thus, they look to a hybrid cloud model to handle workloads or processes that may benefit in part from the scalable, low-cost cloud: traffic bursting, disaster recovery and split applications (in which, for example, a proprietary database may be stored on-premises while the application code is placed in the cloud).

Unfortunately, in shopping for hybrid cloud services, customers discover that each provider defines its services differently. The most common architectures sold as "hybrid cloud" are:

  1. A provider's public cloud links to the provider's private hosted cloud. All major cloud providers build their private, dedicated cloud services on the same infrastructure as their public cloud services, and they use the same deployment and management platforms.
  2. A provider's public and private clouds link to the provider's traditional hosting services (dedicated or managed). This is sometimes called hybrid hosting. For providers that offer a full range of hosting services, this is a popular configuration. Windstream Communications, Internap, Rackspace and Savvis are among the providers that have developed their cloud services on the same platform as their existing hosting offers, providing common management tools and Layer 2 network connectivity so that customers can seamlessly burst, move and split applications across physical and virtual infrastructures.
  3. A provider's public and private cloud links to the customer's premises-based private cloud. This is the least-common hybrid cloud model, but it is the most valuable to customers. Several hosting and cloud providers openly admit that they have little interest in the customer's data center, and they, in fact, do not consider premises-based configurations to be clouds at all. From the enterprise perspective, however, it makes no sense to ignore the on-premises data center, which comprises the lion's share of its budget and time. In Frost & Sullivan's user survey, 69% of IT decision makers either use or are interested in a hybrid cloud model that includes their premises-based data centers.

Three tips for building a successful hybrid cloud offer

A comprehensive hybrid cloud offer can encourage cloud adoption; it doesn't have to cannibalize other cloud service revenue. Hosting providers indicate that for many dedicated hosting customers, the hybrid cloud represents their first, tentative foray into the cloud space. With IaaS adoption hovering at around 15% of businesses, the hybrid cloud may be the key for providers to improve adoption and get greater returns on their cloud investments.

Here are three tips for providers to improve their hybrid cloud strategy:

  • Extend the hybrid cloud into the customer premises. This is a difficult challenge for many hosting and communications service providers, which have rarely had a reason to peek into the customer's physical world. Yet to ignore this vital and enormous component of enterprise IT is to settle for cloud crumbs. Not surprisingly, some of the providers that have successfully incorporated the customer premises into their hybrid clouds are ones that already offered legacy services focused on the customer data center. This includes providers like Virtustream, which was founded as a virtualization service provider, and IBM, whose portfolio includes hardware, software and services for data centers in addition to its cloud services. Both companies offer licensed versions of their cloud platforms for use in enterprise data centermiss.
  • Integrate, don't bundle. Like the hybrid-vehicle misnomer mentioned earlier, a hybrid cloud model that does little more than consolidate billing among disparate hosted services is of minimal value to enterprises. The hybrid cloud components should rely on a common infrastructure platform, enabling seamless movement across environments. There should be a single contract, single invoice and single management console for ease of administration.
  • Remember the network. Whereas cloud providers can get away with providing public Internet access to their public cloud offers, hybrid clouds (which always have a private component) generally require more sophisticated connectivity options. Dedicated private line or virtual private network (VPN) access is necessary to ensure appropriate and consistent levels of security, latency and performance across environments. The importance of the network in establishing end-to-end service-level agreements gives an edge to cloud providers that own or manage their own network services. Traditional hosting providers can follow the lead of companies like Amazon Web Services and Rackspace, which are entering into partnerships with network operators and interexchange carriers to offer dedicated network connections to their cloud services.

The most successful cloud providers will be those that can help customers optimize all their computing resources. This means building a hybrid offer that extends beyond the public cloud -- going into the enterprise's on-premises data center as well as hosted physical servers -- and provides an integrated infrastructure platform and common management tools. For customers, that's the only definition of hybrid cloud that makes sense.

About the author: Lynda Stadtmueller is program director of cloud computing research and analysis at Stratecast, a division of Frost & Sullivan.

This was first published in May 2012

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