If you’ve ever watched a show on Netflix or stored your files online, you’ve used the cloud. Rather than housing files and tools directly on your computer whether you’re using them or not, the cloud lets you store and access them on the internet as-needed.
Still, those files need to be stored somewhere, even when you’re not using them. That’s where the “storage” part of cloud storage comes in.
Some companies own their own storage servers and keep them on-site in a data centre or their intranet. This is called the “private cloud.” Conversely, the “public cloud” is an off-site option. Rather than hosting their own servers, companies outsource their storage to organizations like Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.
There are benefits and drawbacks to both the private and the public options. That’s why some companies use features from both in a system called the hybrid cloud.
Below, we define and expand upon the meaning of the hybrid cloud and multi-cloud architecture patterns, and look at a few examples of how we can use the version that works best for us.
Defining Hybrid Cloud Architecture
Simply put, the hybrid cloud is a blend of the public and private cloud. A private cloud, otherwise known as an internal or enterprise cloud, offers more control, customization, and security. However, it can be costly to start, operate, and maintain. A public cloud is a low-cost option, allowing many businesses to access a single service provider and IT infrastructure. Since services are shared between data centers, the public cloud is also more reliable and scalable.
The hybrid cloud gives companies optimal flexibility in accessing both systems as their needs and circumstances change. 81% of large enterprises have a hybrid cloud approach, with the majority using around five public or private clouds to run applications and conduct experiments. The hybrid cloud can also better support emerging mobile, big data, and IoT use cases.
Types of Cloud Architecture
Hybrid architecture is closely related to multi-cloud architecture, and the terms are often erroneously applied interchangeably. Multi-cloud refers to simultaneously using multiple cloud computing platforms, but without the connectivity and data/application portability inherent in a hybrid architecture. There are two main architecture patterns for hybrid and multi-cloud.
Most applications are either designed for front-end or back-end. When you visit a website, chances are you’re seeing that site’s front-end user interface. Since the front-end applications are most visible for users and customers, it requires peak performance and functionality. The back-end applications, on the other hand, handle and store data. A tiered hybrid system leverages the public cloud for front-end applications, while using back-end applications in the private cloud. This structure is beneficial because front-end applications often need to undergo changes and depend on back-end applications, so it is easier to migrate only the front-end to the public cloud.
In a partitioned multi-cloud system, many public cloud environments operate with different vendors to allow workloads to be transferred across computing environments. Through this configuration, you can keep workloads portable and avoid vendor lock-in (when, over much time and use, a cloud infrastructure becomes so ingrained in your business that it becomes too onerous to switch). The challenge of this setup is that it adds complexity, and can slow performance when operations involve inter-system dependencies.
Benefits of Hybrid Cloud Cloud Systems
Hybrid cloud systems tend to work best for industries with distinct transaction and data types, where some data can be private and some can be public. For example, a financial firm can conduct trade orders on the private cloud and host trade analytics on the public cloud. A retail company can keep internal business processes on the private cloud and use the public cloud for consumer-facing information.
These systems are also a great fit for large companies intending to slowly transition away from on-premises legacy systems. With hybrid cloud solutions, companies don’t need to make the transition all at once. They can continue to take advantage of the resources they’ve placed into existing architecture, while moving high-pressure systems into the cloud for easier access.
Benefits of hybrid cloud systems include:
- Flexibility: The private cloud is expensive and time-consuming to maintain. With hybrid systems, companies can switch to the public cloud after exceeding the capacity of the private cloud (called “cloud bursting”). From a data storage perspective, on-premise cloud boasts the highest speed access and most security for important data, while the public cloud offers a cheaper alternative for data that is less sensitive and less frequently accessed.With the hybrid cloud, IT administrators can choose from several best-in-class services, which also helps avoid vendor lock-in.
- Cost: The public cloud is more agile and cost-effective. IT professionals can scale back resources when necessary, and you only pay for what you use.
- Hybrid Infrastructure: The cost of maintaining legacy infrastructure can be astronomical, but for many companies abandoning those on-premises systems would be even more daunting. A hybrid IT approach allows a company to gain progressive access to the cloud, starting with the least disruptive systems. In this way they can quickly gain the benefits of a modern infrastructure without needlessly disrupting IT operations.
- Data Sovereignty: With the increasing number of data protection regulations, such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, SOX, and the GDPR, hybrid and multi-cloud approaches minimize data and privacy breaches by ensuring that information is subject to the laws of the country in which it is located.
- Disaster Recovery: Companies can keep a copy of their data in both the private cloud and the public cloud, which mitigates risks in case of an unexpected event.
Of course, no system is perfect. The hybrid cloud can add challenges for security, compatibility, and complexity. It becomes especially hard to consolidate identity and access management from multiple systems. But in today’s digital world, enabling your customers and employees to access your tools, services, and documents from the cloud is essential to your success.
As the hybrid cloud grows in popularity, Okta can help companies to enjoy the best of both worlds with increased security, more flexibility, and an enhanced user experience.