You know that cloud computing is a hot topic when friends and family that have never seen a data center start asking what “cloud” is [thank you Microsoft for confusing them with the “To the Cloud” ads ads]. The delineation and categorization of various cloud solutions has been a favorite discussion of the Clouderatti. Business customers that are showing interest in cloud want improvements in efficiency and cost, not dogmatic or semantic arguments over definitions of cloud. The tough questions for businesses looking through the various options are:
1) How does this integrate with my legacy equipment, applications, people and processes?
2) Will this help my business transform or is it simply an extension of what I have today (see #1)?
These opposing forces of transformational change and legacy inertia has been a battle battle between Public and Private Cloud offerings for the last couple of years. The definitions of these categories are beginning to blur and Hybrid Cloud solutions fill some gaps in-between.
What is Cloud?
First there were the solutions from Internet giants like Amazon and Google – typically referred to as Public Clouds. Some of the nice characteristics of Public Cloud are that they are elastic, on-demand and from locations and with equipment that is [mostly] abstracted from the user. Traditional data center companies attacked private clouds for being insecure, having poor SLAs and for not working with existing stacks (creating lock-in and poor integration with existing stacks). Public Cloud providers are typically very easy to get started with, I hear that around half of all accounts are opened with a personal credit card (typically keeping enterprise IT organizations out of the loop). Amazon now supports the import of VMs into the cloud, which helps a lot with the challenge of integrating with legacy applications. Public Clouds can be transformative, but there is hesitancy for many companies to outsource IT functions that have traditionally been tightly controlled internally.
On the other end of the spectrum are Private Clouds from the more traditional data center vendors (heavily promoted by Cisco, EMC and VMware – they even have the website). The goal of a Private Cloud is similar to the Public Cloud; it allows IT organizations to create dynamic, flexible resources that can be delivered as a service to groups and thanks to virtualization, the hardware is abstracted. Private Clouds are not limited to internal data centers; they can be federated to include resources from external providers. The commentary against Private Cloud environments is that they are not as elastic or cost effective (capital and operational) as Public Clouds.
Enter Hybrid Clouds
While both Public and Private Cloud solution providers are maturing their solutions, there are a number of interesting solutions that fall in-between these solutions, often called Hybrid Clouds. Hybrid is defined in the dictionary as “anything derived from heterogeneous sources, or composed of elements of different or incongruous kinds”. I’ve seen a number of solutions that fit well into this definition and others that are more of an extension to Private Cloud solutions.
The reality for cloud environments is that they will need to coexist with all of the legacy environments. There is a tremendous opportunity for management solutions to help orchestrate the mix of legacy and cloud. One of the best-articulated descriptions of Hybrid Cloud that I have heard is from newScale who is a member of the NRE Alliance. They provide users a self-service IT storefront for all IT services, across physical, virtual and cloud environments. Since it will take time for vendors that sell cloud infrastructure or services to support a broad set of solutions, independents like newScale, CA and others have an opportunity to fill this gap.
Another hybrid method is devices that go in a data center and connect to Public Cloud providers to support elastic growth. These “gateway” devices from companies like Nasuni and Cirtas offer the control and security of traditional IT solutions along with the cost savings of connecting to Amazon or other public providers.
Some big players like EMC and HP have made pushes into Hybrid Cloud marketing. EMC is working with service providers to provide workload federation between internal and external locations built with Vblocks. It seems that EMC has renamed Federated Private Clouds into Hybrid Clouds. One of the things that I liked about the Private Cloud story was that it was not limited to internal use. While service providers (cloud and otherwise) are an important channel, customers should understand that the cost structure of an infrastructure made from the same building blocks as in-house systems will not meet the same price points as pure-play cloud offerings.
Similarly, HP has announced a new Hybrid Delivery Cloud solution. In this case, HP will build a “cloud” in your data center and also provide an external service of similar capabilities. Both EMC and HP’s need to beware that the offerings don’t fail for some of the same reasons as the xSP models from the late ’90s. The misuse of the “hybrid” term could marginalize solutions from smaller companies.
It is my opinion that there is plenty of room in the market for Private, Public and Hybrid environments. Whether organizations have an executive mandate to go “to the cloud” or are looking to take advantage of this new wave of technologies to improve efficiencies and cost, there is a growing spectrum of offerings. Customers should take time to understand what organizational and operational changes they are willing to make and consider the various cloud solutions. Customers should make sure to shop around since the price (and features and SLAs) between various services will vary greatly. Finally, if you’re asked about Microsoft’s “to the cloud” commercials, you can tell them that it doesn’t have anything to do with cloud, it’s just Internet applications.
Some other good discussions of Hybrid Cloud: