cloud enveloping a mountain with another type of cloud overhead
PHOTO: Andrej Chudy

We've reached a point where enterprises are migrating en masse to the cloud. As a result, it has become a pressing challenge for CIOs to pinpoint exactly how the cloud fits into their workloads. No two organizations will have the same needs for cloud services, so let's first take a step back and think holistically about what defines each type of cloud infrastructure. From there, we can be more creative with how to adopt such solutions.

First, we should remind ourselves that cloud adoption is not binary. Organizations don’t choose to either use cloud or not: the many strategic approaches to cloud adoption help organizations optimize stakeholder experience, cost, security, flexibility, etc. However, misunderstandings surround the relative capabilities and limitations of this modern infrastructure. Countless discussions have parsed the differences between public clouds, private clouds, multi-cloud and hybrid cloud, but most of these discussions miss the fine detail and nuance around how they fit together and how organizations leverage them.

Most companies are in various stages of adoption of hybrid cloud and multi-cloud strategies. In terms of advantages, public cloud resources provide nearly unlimited scalability and elasticity. In many cases, when organizations assess the workload demands across stakeholders, a large quantity of these applications require the ability to burst (or “flex” up and down) based upon the needs of the business. An enterprise organization several years ago would have had to spend a great deal of capital on these inconsistently accessed (i.e. under-utilized) assets. For them, the cloud allows for real-time scaling and a “pay by the drink” model. 

When Does a Hybrid Cloud Approach Make Sense?

Where does the hybrid cloud fit in? As scalable as public clouds are, sometimes a private cloud or private infrastructure still makes more sense for specific situations and can often be less expensive to operate.

For example, highly predictable workload demands that have consistent utilization will often have a lower ongoing operating cost in a colocated facility (or on-premises) than on-demand public cloud infrastructure. Additionally, workloads with unique company or customer/patient IP (frequently seen in the banking, healthcare or insurance industries, etc.) have mission-critical security and compliance requirements that are of paramount importance. For these workloads, organizations often want to maintain control for security purposes and will thus choose to house their workloads in a private cloud environment.

In other cases, businesses have legacy applications or mainframe environments that are both foundational to an organization’s operations and not “cloud-ready.” These types of environments are also best run in a private infrastructure, as it allows for more freedom and efficiency when retrofitting the facility.

Finally, there are performance limitations of public cloud offerings dependent upon the workload that may require on-premises, high-performance compute and GPU processing. The latency created by accessing these compute resources across the public internet may prohibit the performance required. For these reasons, many organizations have a hybrid cloud strategy whereby they classify different workloads as public cloud viable and private cloud appropriate. This use of both compute resources is a “hybrid” cloud environment. With this approach an organization gets the benefit of on-premises (or colocated) performance and security with the additional benefits of public cloud scalability and elasticity for other workloads more appropriately served in the public domain.

Related Article: What Is Hybrid Cloud Computing?

Why Go Multi-Cloud?

What about multi-cloud? As organizations define their hybrid cloud strategy, they also need to think about the various public cloud providers and who are the appropriate partners for their organization. Some providers will be logical choices, as organizations have selected strategic enterprise software solutions for core processes (such as software as a service). However, organizations also should consider a level of diversification of suppliers to mitigate risk downstream and avoid vendor lock-in. This is known as a multi-cloud strategy, where a company uses various cloud providers to serve its internal and external stakeholders.

Related Article: Choosing a Cloud Provider for Business Innovation

No One Size Fits All Solution in the Cloud

Digital disruption changes everything. In the near future, those enterprises that have not modernized their IT infrastructure and transformed their teams’ capabilities, will quickly be disrupted and disadvantaged in their respective markets. Given this, I believe that all organizations will adopt a hybrid cloud approach to their business sooner rather than later. There is no “one size fits all” approach to cloud infrastructure, so businesses need to adapt smartly and quickly to the current market demands.