Virtualization has enabled a raft of new IT capabilities, including dynamic data centers and the cloud. At one time, the cloud was almost synonymous with the public cloud. However, IT departments wary of cloud security, availability and control issues, also built internal private clouds, complete with virtualization, automation, self service and chargeback functions found in public clouds. The issue with private clouds is the expense and difficulty of achieving the seemingly infinite elasticity of the public cloud.
Today, it looks as if the future of IT may lie in a hybrid of public, private and community clouds alongside internal legacy architectures and applications. A recent Gartner Special Report, Hybrid IT: How Internal and External Cloud Services are Transforming IT, posits that IT departments will become brokers for a set of IT services hosted both internally and externally. According to Gartner, IT will be able to offer the price, capacity and provisioning speed of the public cloud while maintaining the security and governance tools the organization requires for compliance and protection of sensitive information. Gartner also predicts application workloads will soon move freely between internal and external cloud environments.
Similarly, more than half of respondents to a recent North Bridge Venture Partners survey — consisting of growth companies, startups and established market leaders — indicated their focus would be on hybrid clouds within five years.
Realizing the vision of a true hybrid cloud will not be without its challenges, however. These challenges include:
- Integration and orchestration: Reasonably tight integration across internal and external cloud services are vital to orchestrate business processes, provide workload mobility and flexibility, and to offer a coherent user experience. Integration is also a key driver for the big-data insights companies hope to achieve. There are few cloud standards and compatibilities, so integrating private and community clouds with multiple public cloud services and internal legacy applications will not be easy.
- Management: New or upgraded tools are required to manage internal and external IT services as a coherent whole. IT must deal with different architectures, hypervisors and APIs, as well as migrating applications and data across hybrid environments. Cloud services must offer visibility and transparency to provide configuration and performance features for effective management.
- Security: Organizations must develop clear security policies and architectures that govern the placement and protection of applications and data across the hybrid environment, and a consistent security model across internal and external services.
- Silo elimination: To make this flexible, fluid IT environment effective, IT must work on eliminating silos that isolate applications, storage, servers, networking and virtualization. Instead, IT will have to find ways to make these functions work together seamlessly, and hire people with more varied skill sets than are typical today.
The challenges are formidable, but the tools to address them are already starting to appear from major vendors, including VMware; and economic and time-to-market pressures are bearing down on IT and cloud providers.