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New on-premises cloud systems look to redefine hybrid cloud

Hybrid cloud management continues to be a challenge for IT. Providers have stepped up to address those challenges with public cloud-like, on-premises systems -- but hurdles remain.

As more enterprises adopt hybrid cloud, they face new management challenges. Scripts can't easily span public and private cloud segments, storage compatibility can become an issue and organizations must evolve their virtual LANs, among other challenges.

Hybrid cloud management is improving, but the fact that both public and private clouds can use the same servers and storage platforms raises an obvious question: why not use the same technology across a public and a private, on-premises cloud to simplify management?

This idea has already come to vendors including Microsoft Azure, IBM and Oracle, whose on-premises cloud systems, while not in mainstream operation yet, aim to do just this. Let's look at the three offerings in a bit more detail, along with their potential challenges.

Microsoft Azure Stack

Azure Stack, slated to become available in mid-2017, is essentially the Azure public cloud in a prepackaged system. Limited operation and proof-of-concept (PoC) versions of Azure Stack are currently on the market, but these, along with the early production software, are constrained to three hardware vendors -- Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Lenovo and Dell Technologies -- and just a few of their SKUs, at least for now. The PoC itself is a single machine, which doesn't allow for any serious scale testing or networking between systems. Instead, it's intended to demonstrate operational concepts and approaches.

The production version of Azure Stack will be a fully featured version of the Azure public cloud, bringing the uniformity that many enterprises demand. Having one version of images, application code, APIs and network scripts is a big benefit of Azure Stack.

IBM Bluemix Local

IBM Bluemix Local is a local, private version of the standard public Bluemix Cloud. It gives users a secure, in-house environment to meet compliance requirements. It also gives them a way to develop apps securely, and then decide whether they want to deploy those apps into a private cloud, a public cloud, or a dedicated private cloud zone within the public cloud.

One advantage of the Bluemix approach lies beyond the cloud itself. For example, the system gives users access to a range of Bluemix APIs and services, including those that support IBM Watson. The cloud management tools also provide a way for legacy apps to access these services via a VPN.

Oracle Cloud Machine

Oracle Cloud Machine is a local version of Oracle's public cloud, and largely appeals to current Oracle users. With consistent operation between public and private zones of operation, the Oracle Cloud offering simplifies both hybrid cloud deployment and use.

One of the issues with any hybrid cloud is maintaining performance as applications and workloads cross the public-private cloud boundary, with latency, especially, being an issue. Oracle's experience in latency management for in-memory, clustered databases may prove to be an edge, and help businesses address this issue.

Challenges with these on-premises cloud systems

Another issue that vendors need to address with these on-premises cloud systems is control over instance performance. In the ideal hybrid cloud, all instances are equal, and I/O would flow at the same rate and latency. But this is impossible to achieve in the real world. The economics of a highly competitive, cost-driven cloud business dictate the way public cloud vendors configure their platforms. Enterprises, however, make their own decisions based on different criteria and, ultimately, a different level of economics.

As configuration options expand for these on-premises cloud systems, admins might want to support mission- or time-critical workloads, rather than general-purpose computing. In these cases, orchestration could pose some challenges with a single system like Azure Stack that is optimized for the public cloud and may lack monitoring or tuning tools to handle inhomogeneity.

Limiting the number of supported configurations available for these on-premises cloud systems may be the vendors' response to this issue. The consequence, however, is that users will miss out on the cost advantage major cloud providers enjoy by going to original design manufacturers for their products. This is why it's important for organizations to measure the cost of any hybrid cloud platform against the total cost of ownership of an all-public cloud.

Given the appeal of a unified hybrid cloud, we may see Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Google enter the fray with their own offerings. AWS is, in many ways, already in the game, with available dedicated zones and government-specific private cloud deployments. Even though AWS espouses the public cloud-only model, enterprise demands and the value of hybrid clouds may prompt the vendor to change. AWS has a rich service portfolio that leads the market today, and would benefit private cloud instances.

Since the on-premises public cloud approach is less than a year old, admins would be wise to hedge their bets until the technology matures. That also means they shouldn't give up on in-house private clouds based on OpenStack, for example, especially as the open source community partners with public cloud vendors to unify interfaces and APIs. If successful, this open source model could also help unify operations, even when the cloud platforms are from multiple vendors.

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