For most companies, the cloud revolution has only just begun. Though it might not feel like it, if you’ve spent a good part of the last ten years working out how cloud storage works, moving your data to public clouds is really just the first step on a long journey of digital transformation. And the next step on that same journey, for most organizations, will be hybrid multicloud architectures.
Moving to a hybrid cloud architecture comes with challenges, but they are challenges that can be prepared for. In fact, it’s crucial that you have a strategy for migrating to a multicloud environment in order to address any potential issues before they arise.
Let’s look at why you might want to migrate to hybrid cloud, how you can do that, and how to plan for it.
The Cloud Paradox
First, let’s look at the reasons why you would consider moving to multicloud or hybrid cloud architectures. For many companies, the advantages that first drew them to cloud storage can be expressed simply: by removing the necessity to manage storage infrastructure onsite, cloud storage allows for a much greater degree of flexibility than the storage-medium-and-server model of a decade ago.
There is a paradox involved with this approach, however. This is that, as companies move more and more of their storage to public clouds, they may end up locked into one vendor’s cloud ecosystem. This can mean that a series of assumptions and “traditions” develop which are focused on working with one vendors’ systems, and these can encompass everything from developer tooling, to the way that encryption is used by pre-encrypting data synced to the cloud, to the application capabilities they use.
In other words, by relying on a single public cloud, enterprises will find it exceedingly difficult to change the habits of developers. Ultimately, this limits flexibility and agility, which are precisely the features that draw companies to cloud infrastructure in the first place.
And, lest this be regarded as a theoretical problem, one only needs to look at the numbers — a recent study discovered that 86% of IT decision-makers claim that vendor lock-in is a top concern when choosing a cloud provider.
The solution to this issue is not hard to envisage. It’s a model in which companies are free to store whatever they like in clouds specifically designed for each purpose. Each of these clouds will be configured and optimized differently, depending on the requirements of each type of data. Some will be public, and some will be managed on-premises. Each would have security systems designed specifically for it, but all would work together in a seamless whole.
That is the vision, at least, of hybrid multicloud environments. Unfortunately, realizing this vision is more easily said than done. Let’s look at why.
Moving to Multicloud Environments
By their very nature, hybrid cloud storage architectures are heterogenous. Any system in which you are storing some data on public clouds and other data on internally managed systems cannot help but be so. And it’s important to realize, right from the outset, that this creates challenges in terms of security, access, and resource management.
Thankfully, IT teams have two powerful weapons to aid them in simplifying the management of hybrid cloud systems. One, counter-intuitively, is extant experience in doing so. That’s because, though we haven’t often defined it in this way, the majority of systems in use today are “hybrid”, at least to some extent. If you are running legacy payroll software in parallel with cloud-based accounting software, for instance, you are in some senses already in a hybrid environment.
Recent research backs this up. The aforementioned study found that 94% of enterprises operate in a de facto hybrid environment. These environments utilize a combination of private cloud, public cloud, SaaS, and IT applications. Furthermore, roughly two thirds of companies are using several cloud vendors, with unique management tools for each of these vendors.
The second weapon is abstraction. It’s no coincidence that software-defined storage emerged at the same time as hybrid cloud infrastructure, because the former is almost always required by the latter. In contemporary storage infrastructure, system administrators hardly ever dive down to look at the actual physical drives that their data are stored on.
Instead, we make use of various levels of abstraction. These hide the complexity of the storage systems we are using. They also, crucially, allow admins to work with highly heterogeneous hybrid clouds as though they are one monolithic storage structure.
This is not to say that hybrid cloud management is easy. It’s not. But, if developed and deployed in the right way, the complexity of these systems will come at the level of planning an abstraction scheme, rather than in the day-to-day management of multiple clouds. So let’s turn to that process next.
Developing a Strategy
As with any process of digital transformation, moving to a hybrid cloud environment should be done carefully, and should be carefully planned out in advance. In order to do this, it can be useful to think about your future hybrid cloud as one made up of two distinct part:
- The practices and data management that underlie it.
- The architecture of your clouds themselves.
Let’s briefly look at each of these topics in turn.
First, take a look at the workloads of the teams within your organization, and specifically at which elements of your existing cloud environment they use. Doing this will allow you to see which teams benefit from using your public cloud system, and which teams find is sub-optimal. It could be, for instance, that security teams need access to a private cloud in order to reduce the amount of time they spend making public data secure. Equally, it might be that public-facing teams no longer need access to legacy systems, and can be moved to a workflow that is entirely on the public cloud.
Evaluating cloud architecture
Second, look at your cloud architecture. It can be useful to think of your future computing environment as a continuum between public and private clouds. You should then aim to migrate public-facing systems to public cloud storage, and systems which are only used internally to private clouds. This will provide public-facing systems with a performance and accessibility boost, while simultaneously making internal systems more secure.
Implementing a Strategy
Hybrid multicloud is a huge opportunity for almost every business, but one that comes with challenges. You should make an assessment that will serve as the ultimate guide to your transformation process — whether the additional complexity of a hybrid cloud environment will be made up for with performance or security gains.
And bear in mind that you are not on your own – hybrid cloud storage vendors will help you think through these issues and plan your migration.
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