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The true hybrid cloud definition has been lost in translation

Hybrid cloud adoption is growing, but there's still confusion in the market about what it takes to truly go "hybrid." It's time to separate the hype from the facts.

Analyst reports suggest enterprises are adopting hybrid cloud at astonishing rates. Organizations are choosing hybrid cloud because it's flexible, cost-effective and offers a mix of public and private cloud services. But not all IT pros are on the same page when it comes to the "true" definition of hybrid cloud.

Unfortunately, the original hybrid cloud definition has been lost in vendor marketing jargon. So what is a hybrid cloud? According to the National Institute of Standards and Commerce, "[Hybrid] cloud infrastructure is a composition of two or more distinct cloud infrastructures (private, community or public) that remain unique entities, but that are bound together by standardized or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability (e.g., cloud bursting for load balancing between clouds)."

Still, due to the fast-moving world of cloud computing -- and vendor messaging -- this hybrid cloud definition can seem misleading and confusing. Basically, every traditional hardware and software provider is placing bets on hybrid cloud computing and seeing it as their savior. These vendors typically call their traditional hardware and software that runs in a data center a "private cloud," which, when combined with a public cloud, becomes a "hybrid cloud."

However, that potential to be paired with another cloud doesn't make what you're buying a hybrid cloud. My Fitbit has the potential to be paired to a public cloud, but that doesn't make it a private or hybrid cloud.

The true hybrid cloud definition is something that most in enterprise IT don't understand. As a result, big enterprise software and hardware players -- and especially those that have been walking the halls of Global 2000 companies for years -- can easily manipulate them.

Getting the hybrid cloud definition straight

True hybrid clouds consist of one or more private clouds -- meaning private clouds with tenant management, self-provisioning, auto-provisioning and most of the features of a public cloud -- running on one's own hardware. An OpenStack distribution is the best example of a private cloud. Hybrid clouds also consist of at least one or more public clouds, such as Amazon Web Services, Google or Microsoft Azure.

My Fitbit has the potential to be paired to a public cloud, but that doesn't make it a private or hybrid cloud.

Other features you need to look for include workload portability, or the ability to move applications and data between private and public clouds, and a common management layer, security layer and orchestration. Even though these features will bring you the most value, most traditional IT providers would argue against this take on hybrid cloud.

This stretching and distortion of the hybrid cloud definition results in enterprises buying more "cloud" hardware and software, and expecting both efficiency and cost savings. However, many end up with an IT environment that looks much like it did before, with little value delivered. In other words, it's not a hybrid cloud without the characteristics listed above; it's another dose of hardware and software.

The path to the true hybrid cloud means doing your research. Discover what's available -- in terms of private clouds -- and understand how to localize your workloads there. Also, understand how public clouds fit into private clouds. Both clouds should be active participants in the architecture from the first day of operations, and their instances should work and play well together out of the box.

Next Steps

Avoid performance bottlenecks in hybrid cloud

Optimize hybrid cloud with resource and cost management

Sidestep OpenStack integration challenges for hybrid cloud

This was last published in August 2016

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