Cutting through the noise and sorting out the hybrid and multi-cloud imbroglio

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The hybrid cloud: it’s a buzzword which refuses to go away.

This month is a case in point. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft, arguably the two biggest and most influential cloud computing organisations, both made announcements on the theme.

The general availability of Windows Server 2016 and System Center 2016 was seen as “another big step in hybrid cloud”, Microsoft argued, with a “cloud-ready OS” which “inherently enables hybrid cloud.” AWS, on the other hand, announced a previously-rumoured hybrid cloud partnership with VMware, the two companies pointing out its leadership in public and private cloud respectively.

Demand is certainly there. According to IDC, more than 70% of IT organisations in western Europe will commit to hybrid cloud architectures by 2017. IBM, who announced their own object storage for hybrid clouds last week, released their own study which backed up those figures; 78% of C-suite executives polled said their cloud initiatives were coordinated or fully integrated, up from 34% in 2012.

As Sebastian Krause, IBM Cloud Europe general manager wrote for this publication at the time: “Executives expect hybrid cloud adoption (in particular) to support their organisation’s growth in three main ways: by facilitating innovation, lowering total cost of ownership and by enhancing operational efficiencies and enabling them to more readily meet customer expectations.”

Sounds great, right? But there may be a catch.

Charles Crouchman is CTO at enterprise cloud and virtualisation software provider Turbonomic. He argues that plenty of organisations eulogising over hybrid cloud instead have ‘multi-cloud’. “While we hear a lot of discussion about hybrid cloud, the truth is that the majority of organisations aren’t there yet,” he tells CloudTech.

“A truly hybrid cloud would allow workloads to switch seamlessly between cloud environments, whether public or private, depending on the needs of the organisation,” Crouchman adds. “Instead, what the vast majority of organisations have now is multi-cloud; while they have a number of environments, both private and public, and workloads may fluctuate in size and demand, barring exceptional circumstances those workloads will stay where they were first placed.”

Essentially, if you’re using multiple clouds, it does not automatically make it hybrid. Back in August, Turbonomic polled almost 2,000 IT decision makers, and the verdict which came back was that many organisations did not have the skills needed to manage a multi-cloud environment. This was backed up by a study from HyTrust in September which found that while 60% of VMworld attendees polled said they plan to move to a multi-cloud model, data encryption and security remain serious stumbling blocks. Interestingly, almost a third said that, if they were using two or more clouds, they preferred a flavour combination of AWS and Azure.

“This is quite believable when one considers that by their very nature multi-cloud environments aren’t managed from a single user interface,” explains Crouchman. “An organisation’s private and public clouds have, in most cases, come from separate vendors, each working differently, with their own management tools and interfaces.

“This adds extra complexity on top of an already potent mix of challenges, such as deciding which workloads should be placed in which cloud; balancing cost and performance across all environments; while meeting service level agreements and quality of service obligations.”

For Crouchman, this is indicative of a stepping stone approach; if companies are still experiencing trouble with deploying multi-cloud environments, then a truly hybrid approach is a long way away. So what would in his opinion be the perfect scenario? “In an ideal future, organisations would use autonomic, economic-based intelligence to manage multi-cloud environments and ultimately deliver hybrid cloud, with workloads always in the best possible place to suit business needs and provide peak performance,” he says.

“In such a system, the multi-cloud environment would be treated as an economy in its own right; with resources bought and traded depending on their applications’ – or end users’ – real-time needs, while obeying the organisation’s own budgetary rules.”

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