What Is A Hybrid Cloud and How Do You Manage One?
Just like we have primary colors and secondary colors, we have primary cloud models and secondary cloud models. There are essentially two primary cloud models, public clouds and private clouds, and just like colors there are a number of secondary cloud models which are created by combining one or more primary models together.
One of the most popular secondary cloud models is the hybrid cloud created by combining a private cloud and a public cloud. Though it seems a simple enough concept, the management of this type of secondary cloud model is very complex and can have disastrous effects on an organization if not done properly.
What is a Hybrid Cloud?
Before we get to managing a hybrid cloud let’s clarify some terminology. What exactly do we mean by public cloud, private cloud and hybrid cloud? A public cloud is defined as computing services offered by a third-party provider over the internet and made available for anyone to use (either for free or for payment). A private cloud is defined as computing services that are provided over a private IT infrastructure and dedicated for use by a single organization. A hybrid cloud is a combination of a public cloud and a private cloud where combination means the two clouds can “talk” to each other in some defined way – i.e. share data and applications.
In a hybrid cloud that data which is not considered sensitive or business-critical can be moved to the public cloud, for example backups or collaboration data. Data that is business-critical or sensitive, for security or compliance reasons, is placed in the private cloud generally, but not required to be, on-premise behind the corporate firewall, for example customer or patient data. In addition, when workloads on the private cloud reach or exceed capacity, some of that workload can be offloaded to the public cloud through secure channels.
With data stored and traveling in so many different directions and being accessed by many different users it is very easy to understand why managing a hybrid cloud is a complex task.
Managing a Hybrid Cloud
While there is no plug and play solution for managing a hybrid cloud, marketplace solutions are evolving to help manage this complex environment. Until then, it is up to IT to do the legwork to ensure their organization’s bottom line is secure and running efficiently.
Here are some areas to consider to get you started.
Have a Strategy
At a high level a hybrid cloud strategy is all about what should go in which cloud, how to ensure connectivity between the public and private cloud networks and how to ensure data transfer between user and cloud and between clouds. To answer these questions you need to understand the requirements of your business applications and the data they use as well as how each of those applications will operate in the cloud environment. Spending the time to understand your business requirements and operation within the context of a cloud environment will help you define and shape a hybrid cloud strategy that will meet both your current and future business needs.
Security and Compliance
Security and compliance must be built in from the beginning and be proactively monitored and evaluated throughout the life of the hybrid cloud. To ensure security and compliance consider things like:
Visibility and control – It’s hard to secure something if you cannot see what’s going on. Visibility into who is doing what to your systems is a must. Consider areas like system and instance configurations as well as user access.
Automation – Look for ways to automate scanning and remediation of security controls which minimize errors and will allow your security procedures to keep pace with cloud adoption and expansion. Consider areas like scanning configuration files and database queries to look for inconsistencies or flaws.
Data Security - You need to protect your data when it is at rest and in motion. When at rest consider an operating system that supports full-disk encryption or use hardware encryption. When in motion consider encrypting the network session. Look for products that support the Federal Information Processing Standard (FIPS) Publication 140-2.
While scalability is a prominent feature of cloud computing, it is a feature that comes with a unique set of challenges, especially when applied to a hybrid cloud. Scaling complications arise when you need to make sure that an application running behind the firewall can leverage the public cloud capacity when needed while maintaining application and data security on both clouds. Additionally, decisions have to be made about what kind of scalability is needed, for example scaling up or scaling out, to meet demand and how to accurately track expenditures.
It should be no surprise that the performance of your hybrid cloud is only as strong as your weakest Service Level Agreement (SLA). Not only do these agreements need to reflect the service you must provide to your customers, but your IT team needs to be familiar with these agreements in order to ensure the organization is always getting the best possible service, especially during peak or critical times.
Cloud Management Platform
There are a few vendors in this space. Look for one that provides you visibility, automation and consistency across all computing clouds from a single console. When more than one cloud provider is involved it is important to understand what and where applications are running. Automation saves time and helps reduce human error which is especially important as your clouds grow and expand with your business. Setting consistent security policies across environments and managing workloads based on compliance or capacity safeguards your organization’s number one asset, its data. Bottom line it’s worth the investment to ensure your resources are working optimally and properly interacting with other applications and services.
Other Management Tools
A cloud management platform isn’t the only tool organizations can use to make management of a hybrid cloud easier. There are a host of tools available including API management, resource management, DevOps management and more. Cataloging resources and standardizing procedures all aid in managing cloud environments that continue to grow.
You’ll want to keep a close eye on your cloud bills. Though the idea of dealing with multiple vendors is nothing new, cloud computing adds a new layer of complexity to the situation. It is very easy to lose control of your cloud spending if you are not aware of the pitfalls here. For example what happens when an application needs to scale up to handle a peak workload or needs more capacity? Do you need additional licenses? How much does the additional capacity cost? Is there a difference in cost when the application runs in the public cloud as opposed to the private cloud where secure channels are needed to scale up? Are proximity costs relevant for your organization, i.e. location of the servers that make up the cloud? No one likes surprises. IT, finance and cloud providers have to work closely to identify and understand these costs.
To error is human, which is unfortunate because human error is responsible for more than half of the security breaches to date. Education, training and automation is the best way to protect us from ourselves. For example, education to identify email scams, training to handle sensitive data appropriately, and automation of tasks to minimize human interaction that can introduce errant information can help to reduce the likelihood of the next breach due to human error.
While it’s clear the hybrid cloud comes with a wide array of management challenges, the benefits to reduce costs, scale efficiently and improve availability and experience can have strong positive impacts to an organization’s bottom line and overall customer experience.
As more organizations invest in hybrid cloud environments, management of the hybrid cloud will continue to evolve in the form of software platforms, standards, policies and best practices. While you may have already addressed many of the areas listed here, keep a watchful eye on the marketplace for solutions that will meet your needs.
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