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Beyond the Cloud Hype: Hybridization Delivers Workload-Centric Cost Efficiency and Agility

Often, the best solution is a hybrid approach that melds the existing internal capabilities and assets of the IT organization with the scale and immediacy that the cloud offers.

Almost every enterprise already has a sizable investment in their server and storage infrastructure. Some are large enough to operate their own data centers, while many others colocate their infrastructure with a third-party data center service provider.

Infrastructure-as-a-Service offers the same infrastructure building blocks -- servers and storage -- but the capacity is provided to anyone willing to pay for it, similar to the electric utility grid.

Enterprises are eager to realize the benefits of the public cloud, but what sort of benefits does shifting from owning or colocating to IaaS bring to the average enterprise? Can it help cut their costs? Help them be more agile and competitive? Are there security and compliance concerns?

Even though the industry hype machine is revving uncontrollably making it seem as if enterprises should place everything in the cloud, often the best solution is a hybrid approach that melds the existing internal capabilities and assets of the IT organization with the scale and immediacy that the cloud offers.

There are two main reasons that enterprises are attracted to public IaaS clouds: improved economics and improved agility. However, the juxtaposition of these factors actually makes a hybrid solution very compelling.

Let's start with the economics. What is the cost savings potential of public IaaS clouds? Will an enterprise save money by moving servers into the cloud? Probably not. Compare the "all-in" costs for operating thousands of servers for a few years in a well-run corporate data center (or wholesale colocation environment) versus having that same capacity on a pay-as-you-go public IaaS cloud.

The cloud will lose every time -- and badly.

This is a surprise to most people and somewhat of a dirty secret within the IaaS industry. For predictable workloads and core base infrastructure that is always on, the public cloud is a more expensive option because enterprises end up paying for capacity they do not use on a constant basis.

On the other hand, the public cloud makes a lot of sense for unpredictable workloads. Enterprises can leverage the public cloud to expand capacity on demand without incurring capital expenditures on new servers. Workloads that are well-suited for public IaaS clouds typically have lots of variability in demand with significant traffic peaks and valleys, such as the rollout of new software or holiday retail shopping.

The most cost-effective approach for an enterprise is often a combination of public cloud, other third-party IT service options (such as colocation, managed hosting or even private cloud), and in-house IT resources. This hybrid approach makes even more sense when an enterprise already has existing infrastructure investments so individual workloads can then be run where they make the most economic sense.

Next, let's consider agility, a word that gets used a lot by IaaS vendors, and it's where the cloud truly shines. While agility is closely related to accessibility and immediacy, it's often at odds with security and control. This is yet another reason why a hybrid approach is often the right one for enterprises so they can tailor the workload to the appropriate infrastructure environment.

This question of the benefits and challenges with agility was crystallized for me in a conversation with a CIO friend of mine. He mentioned how upset he had gotten recently when he found out that employees within most of the company's business units were leveraging public cloud services -- without his knowledge. It was especially infuriating given that he'd just spent millions of dollars turning up two new corporate data centers that were only half full.

In his mind, something had gone horribly wrong.

And the reason why comes back to agility. A major contributing factor to the surprise popularity of public IaaS cloud was the perceived inefficiency of internal IT. It took them months to turn up new servers in their own data centers. In fairness, the blame didn't rest squarely with IT. They had to get budgetary approval, place orders, get various sign-offs, install the servers, and finally release the infrastructure to the appropriate business unit -- a process that typically took many weeks or even months.

So employees and business units started side-stepping IT altogether. They were going straight to third-party public IaaS cloud providers, corporate credit card in hand. The precedent for this was set years ago (hello, Salesforce.com) and the need to address IT issues quickly and the promise of agility was pulling the business units towards the public cloud.

All of this was quite annoying to my CIO friend, beyond just the cost. When their users went to the public cloud, they were bypassing many important processes and controls that the enterprise had spent years putting into place.

The public IaaS cloud doesn't offer nearly the same level of control or oversight that internal IT does. Unlike their own internal data centers or even a colocation environment, with a public cloud, enterprises have no insight into the servers, switches, and storage environment.

Since everything in the public cloud is a shared, multi-tenant resource, enterprises have to place their faith in the integrity of the cloud service provider and the underlying software.

Additionally, in the public cloud, there is almost no flexibility in network topology or hardware configuration. Want to use the latest fast SSD drives for your Oracle server? Too bad. Have a penchant for the latest firewalls from Cisco? Sorry.

So while agility is clearly a big win for the public cloud, security and control issues complicate matters. Again, a hybrid, workload-centric approach makes sense. Use the public cloud for workloads that aren't high security, and consider the economics of the workload in your decision, too. Some hybrid cloud solutions even allow enterprises to reap the agility benefits of the public IaaS cloud in their own data center -- essentially an on-premise private cloud.

As businesses continue to evolve, it will be critical to go beyond the industry's cloud hype and instead build flexible, centrally-managed architectures that take a workload-centric approach and apply the best infrastructure environment -- public or private cloud, managed hosting or colocation -- to the job at hand. Many enterprises will find such a hybrid solution is greater than the sum of its individual parts.

About the Author

Raj Dutt is senior vice president of technology, Internap.

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