The hybrid cloud is the talk of the industry for 2014, and a hybrid cloud for SharePoint / Office 365 is no exception. But not everyone is going hybrid, at least not permanently.

Back in 2010, Steve Ballmer said that Microsoft was fully committed to the cloud, saying "the cloud creates opportunities and responsibilities." And it has proved this with the continual development of Office 365 and other cloud based services. Ballmer’s view was echoed in a recent interview we did with Mark Kashman, Microsoft senior product manager. In that interview he said:

With cloud as the basis for services, we could realize our vision for providing our customers with a consistent experience, keep pace with innovation (ours and our customer’s) ... Today, the technology that empowers our customers has to be mobile, social, and flexible -- always connected and available anywhere. Our customers are dealing with these technology megatrends that are transforming how business is done today -- both externally and internally -- and cloud is a key enabler of how these trends help them reimagine their businesses.”

The Rise of the Hybrid Cloud

The focus has not only been the public cloud, but also the hybrid cloud, which combines public cloud services (like Office 365) and applications / storage located in a private cloud. According to Gartner, it’s this hybrid cloud model that will really find its wings in 2014.

Why a hybrid cloud? Many say it’s because organizations are not prepared to completely trust all their information and services to public clouds. And there is good reason for that concern -- you just have to watch the news and hear about Amazon outages, Azure outages, services unavailable (like Office 365, DropBox, Gmail, etc.). Gartner actually predicts that by 2017 over half of the mainstream organizations will have a hybrid cloud.

Hybrid cloud is the platform that will dominate the industry moving forward, says Vikrant Karnik, a senior vice president at Capgemini who oversees the system integrator’s cloud consulting business. He works with large enterprise customers to plan and execute their cloud strategies and says that many of the big financial and pharmaceutical companies, for instance, will likely never be comfortable migrating their entire IT operations into the public cloud.”

Enterprises that adopt a hybrid cloud model can also circumvent “shadow IT,” which sees employees going out and using public cloud services to do their jobs. A hybrid model allows the enterprise to still keep their private information on premises, but at the same time provide employees with tools that support the new way of working -- with “anytime, anywhere access.” So an enterprise might use Office 365 and SkyDrive Pro (now OneDrive for Business) to support collaboration and team projects, but still manage major systems through a private cloud.

This is a good model. It’s certainly the approach many are taking while public cloud infrastructures mature and SaaS based services get more secure.

Which Cloud Model is Right For Your SharePoint Environment?

As a provider of administrative solutions that support both Office 365 and SharePoint on premises, we talk to a lot of companies who want to move from SharePoint to the cloud, in particular, Office 365. Many of these organizations consider the hybrid model as their first step.

Learning Opportunities

I think the cloud model you choose depends on a few things. Larger enterprises have a lot more to consider when deciding if a public cloud model is right for them. While there may be some cloud based services and applications that will benefit them greatly, there are other applications that may be best left on premises. This is where a hybrid model works well.

For many small to mid-sized organizations, a hybrid cloud isn’t the answer. The administrative burden required for the organization’s IT people to manage both an on premises environment and a cloud-based environment doesn’t make sense from either a time or cost perspective. Part of the purpose of moving to the public cloud is to reduce costs related to managing infrastructure. It allows the organization to focus on its business and offers many opportunities to be more innovative and competitive.

What we have seen in some instances are organizations using the hybrid cloud model as a stepping stone to going full public cloud. They start small, moving only certain teams, projects, divisions, to get a feel for how it works, what it can do and how to best leverage it for success. But the plan is to go there completely at some point.

There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to deciding which cloud model is right. It depends on the organization and their individual needs and challenges. Office 365 is suited to all size organizations, but right now it’s a big opportunity for small-to-mid sized organizations to reduce costs on infrastructure and redirect the money to actually building their business.

Editor's Note: Read more from Steven on cloud models for SharePoint in 5 Things You Should Know Before You Migrate to SharePoint Online