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If it is cloud, it will be hybrid

on ‎04-16-2014 04:33 AM

hybrid.jpgJust under one year ago, I spoke at a cloud conference. The speaker before me, the CTO of a well-known SaaS provider boldly told the audience to forget about their private infrastructures, the future was the public cloud. Speaking to companies all the time, I frankly don’t see that happen. Yes, cloud technology is increasingly used by organizations, but they are not going to the public cloud for all their workloads. What I see is the combination of multiple cloud models, from public to private.


Sure, Snowdon’s revelations came along, and I believe a number of the US providers have underestimated the effect of these on the perception of cloud outside the US, and now we have HeartBleed. But frankly, in my mind, there are some more fundamental reasons why the “everything to public cloud” approach does not work for most medium to large enterprises. Does this mean they are missing the boat? I don’t believe so. Let me try to explain.


What does the public cloud bring?

Let’s put SaaS services aside for a moment, I’ll come back to those. Public cloud mainly provides cheap infrastructure, being it servers or storage. Some tend to go further and provide development platforms, but most of those are proprietary, resulting in lock-in. And that is not what most companies want.


Is public cloud really cheaper than in-house infrastructure? The answer is, it depends. For short term usage, definitely, but if you are looking to run workloads all year long, actually it probably isn’t. Why am I so cautious? Because the actual cost of the public cloud is far from transparent. It’s a little like budget airlines, the actual price you pay does not relate to the advertised amount. Sure, a virtual server is cheap, but you pay for many other things you may have overlooked.


And this brings me to the main issue of the public cloud, its lack of transparency. How is the environment secured? How is your data handled? Where are all copies located? Many questions that do not have clear answers. One of the main providers tells you just to trust them. And that is precisely what many organizations aren’t ready to do.


Does that mean the public cloud is of no use? In that case why are so many companies going to the public cloud? Again, all depends on what you want to do. If you want to stress test an application for a couple days with anonimized data, the public cloud is an ideal platform. If you want to run your financials, it may not be. One size does not fit all.


OK, what about SaaS services

SaaS services are a different ballgame all together. You’re running a fixed set of functionality in what is often an unknown environment. Most SaaS providers do not tell you on which cloud they run. So, let’s look at a couple aspects you better keep in mind.


First, it’s a predefined set of functionality, so this is only applicable to applications where you do not intend to differentiate yourself from your competition. Customization is rather limited in a SaaS environment. That is the result of the multi-tenant application that gives you the great price you are looking for.


Second, your data is with the SaaS provider. I will not start the discussion on who actually owns your data. That in its own right is an interesting question. This put aside, there are two aspects you need to keep in mind. If you ever decide to change providers or if your provider decides to close shop, how will you get your data back?


Third, applications rarely stand on their own. Most often they interact with other applications. Well if some functionality runs in a SaaS environment, how do I integrate it with my other applications? Whether those run in a public, a private cloud or in a legacy environment, doesn’t matter. I will have to integrate the information and provide access to remote applications. And in many situations, that access better be secure.


Application Integration, the forgotten subject in the cloud

And this brings me to a key element that is most often overlooked. Application integration. Sure, if you run all your applications in the same public cloud, the integration becomes as simple as linking virtual machines. Well, even there you have some caveats. First, where are the VMs running and what is the latency between them. Is that latency good enough for your interactions or will you have to re-engineer your applications so they can cope with longer lead times?


In practice this is not what will happen. You have a large portfolio of applications and they will not all migrate to the cloud in one step. You’ll have to coop with the integration between cloud and legacy environments. Also, as you most probably will use SaaS providers for some functionality (e.g. HR or CRM), you will be confronted with multiple environments that require integration. I was fortunate enough to see the Salesforce integration diagrams into HP’s environment, and frankly this was far from simple. Did you think this through?


Which application in which cloud?

Many companies are subject to regulations. Those affect either the application itself (e.g. export regulations) or the associated data (e.g. privacy). The lack of transparency associated with the public cloud may make it unsuitable for them. So they are left with either using a service provider giving them the transparency they require, and we call this a managed cloud, or build their own cloud, in-house or managed by a service provider.


Most applications fundamentally require fast provisioning of infrastructure. They do not take full advantage of what cloud offers from a scale-up/scale-down or disaster recovery perspective as they are not architected to do so. Obviously, applications can be re-architected, but that is more costly. You may want to limit that to the applications where it really adds value.


Managed clouds are typically more expensive than public clouds, but they provide a very different service. They have clear service level agreements, applications and data locations are clearly identified, they have well established and documented security procedures, and they often give you specific services you may require as add-ons. Several of them also provide open source based cloud environments, limiting your lock-in. If you’re comfortable with outsourcing, combining an outsourced private cloud with a managed cloud with the same provider, may be the best option. The private cloud will address your base requirements and, when you need extra capacity, you can get it from the managed cloud. If both are co-located in the same datacenter(s), you typically get good latency avoiding the need for re-architecting the applications and their integration.


The fundamental question you have to ask yourself is whether you accept your core applications to run in such environment. Remember, your core applications are the ones that differentiate you from your competition. They are the ones making you what you are. It’s worth taking the time to think through this.


What about the next generation of applications

As the world increasingly becomes digital, you will be working at digitally enabling your enterprise. This will result in you developing or source new applications. Before starting, define in which cloud you want to host the application and think about the integration required. Look at your overall application architecture and identify how the new one fits in.



What I described to you is a hybrid cloud environment. The nature of the applications, the confidentiality of the data and integration requirements will force you to think that way. No, enterprises are not ready for hosting everything in the public cloud. Even worse, it will take a long time before all applications have migrated to cloud environments. So, sorry for that CTO, I don’t buy his argument, do you?

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