How to build a successful hybrid cloud strategy

Hybrid cloud has become the IT infrastructure of choice, providing the interoperability and portability organizations need to access data where and when they need it. Yet navigating the complexities of building and managing a hybrid environment poses unique challenges. To capture the most value from hybrid cloud, business and IT leaders must develop a solid hybrid cloud strategy supporting their core business objectives. 

Hybrid cloud architecture

A hybrid cloud computing environment combines and unifies public cloud, private cloud and on-premises infrastructure to create a single, flexible IT infrastructure: 

  1. On-premises infrastructure (also referred to as “on-prem”) is a traditional form of computing infrastructure that includes on-premises data centers and computing resources that a business owns and operates at its own physical location.
  2. Public cloud infrastructure is a type of cloud computing where a third-party cloud service provider (e.g., AWS, Google Cloud Services, IBM Cloud, Microsoft Azure) makes computing resources—like ready-to-use software applications, virtual machines (VMs), enterprise-grade infrastructures and development platforms—available to users over the public internet.
  3. Private cloud infrastructure is a dedicated cloud infrastructure operated solely for a single organization, either on-premises or hosted by a third party. 

Modern hybrid cloud environments also include orchestration and management tools. These software applications integrate off-premises and cloud-based environments to deliver unified cloud deployment and management capabilities. 

Cloud computing services and management products fall into three primary categories: 

  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offers applications hosted on a cloud server and distributed to end-users over the public internet. Common SaaS product examples include Zoom (for video conferencing) and Google Drive (for file management).
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) offers consumers fundamental compute, network and storage resources on demand.
  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offers complete hybrid cloud platform capabilities for developing, running and managing applications.

The hybrid multicloud model

Today most enterprise businesses rely on a hybrid multicloud environment. Multicloud is a cloud computing solution that combines public cloud services from more than one cloud vendor and is portable across multiple cloud providers’ cloud infrastructures. A hybrid multicloud approach creates greater flexibility and reduces an organization’s dependency on one vendor, therefore preventing vendor lock-in.

Hybrid multiclouds are typically built on open-sourcecloud-native technologies like Kubernetes. Also known as “k8s” or “kube,” Kubernetes is a container orchestration platform for scheduling and automating the deployment, management and scaling of containerized applications. Hybrid multicloud cloud environments also include tools for managing workloads across multiple environments. These include single consoles or dashboards that help create a single pane of glass (SPOG) so teams can easily view and control resources. 

A hybrid multicloud environment supports microservices (or microservices architecture), the cloud-native architectural approach in which a single application comprises many loosely coupled and independently deployable smaller components or services. Microservices enable faster development and deployment of software because each service can be developed and deployed separately. For instance, a DevOps team can quickly scale or extend an application’s functionality by adding new microservices without having to add a line of code or affecting other aspects of the application. Examples of industries that have switched from monolithic architecture to microservices include subscription-based streaming services like Netflix, which uses microservices to track user activities, their history and other data to make real-time recommendations for enhanced engagement and better customer experiences.

Building a successful hybrid cloud strategy 

Every organization must contend with its own infrastructure, distinct workloads, business processes and workflow needs. To that end, developing a hybrid cloud strategy is not a one-size-fits-all approach but must be tailored to meet individual business needs. 

To map out a successful hybrid cloud strategy, here are a few critical steps:

1. Create a vision

The initial phase of a hybrid cloud strategy should center on defining a clear and compelling hybrid cloud vision plan that reflects both immediate and long-term business goals. For instance, organizations can capitalize on a hybrid cloud environment to improve customer experience, comply with regulations, optimize costs, enhance data security and more.

Start by carefully analyzing your existing systems, applications and workforce skills. Identify the current and emerging business and technology challenges that a hybrid cloud approach could address and allow you to achieve digital transformation without significant disruption or downtime. Does your company need services to accelerate cloud migration? Or are you looking to accelerate business transformation by leveraging cloud-native technologies like containers and microservices to optimize and modernize your workloads?

2. Outline business use cases

A well-defined hybrid cloud strategy should clearly articulate potential business use cases that would bring overall benefits to your organization. Many enterprise businesses use a hybrid cloud approach for backup and disaster recovery, which involves periodically creating or updating one more copies of files, storing them in one or more remote locations, and using the copies to continue or resume business operations in the case or of data corruption, cyberattack or natural disaster.

Hybrid cloud-based backup and disaster recovery solutions can support both on-premises and cloud-based production environments. For instance, hospitals and health systems used to store all of their business and medical records on-premises. In response to rapid data growth, healthcare entities have turned to hybrid cloud as an effective way to better help store and secure data in a private cloud. Additionally, healthcare and medical providers now governed by HIPAA (link resides outside regulations must retain redundant business and medical records. A hybrid cloud setting is ideal for extensive cloud storage and cloud backup, as both capabilities ensure business continuity and data recovery (BCDR) to protect sensitive data in the event of a disaster.

Another potential use case to consider when mapping out a hybrid cloud strategy is cloud bursting, a configuration between a private cloud and public cloud that uses load balancing. This technique is used to redirect traffic overflow when spikes in demand require more computing power, thus eliminating the need for over-provisioning. Online retailers, for example, can use cloud bursting during peak holiday shopping seasons by shifting necessary workloads to public cloud infrastructure where processing demands won’t exceed capacity. 

3. Determine cloud migration needs

Cloud migration has become a pivotal business imperative for streamlining IT operations, implementing cost-saving measures and accelerating overall digital transformation. To create a successful cloud migration, organizations should create a workflow that includes comprehensive planning, execution and optimization. 

While each company’s exact cloud migration approach is different based on their business and technology needs, several migration strategies can help streamline the process. These strategies include “lift-and-shift” (the process of migrating an exact copy of an application or workload from on-premises to public or private cloud), refactoring (modifying an application by leveraging cloud-native capabilities) or rebuilding new applications to re-architect as needed.

4. Assess workloads

In cloud computing, a workload refers to any service, application or capability that consumes cloud resources (e.g., virtual machines, databases, applications, microservices and nodes). A hybrid cloud strategy includes assessing workloads and determining where you want to locate them in a hybrid cloud environment. 

Workloads involving web content, big data analytics and AI are ideal for a hybrid cloud infrastructure. For instance, hybrid cloud can help accelerate generative AI for customer service. By supporting access to high-performance computing resources needed to support large volumes of customer data, hybrid cloud enables technologies like virtual agents to deliver personalized answers and recommendations and offer tailored suggestions and solutions to enhance the customer experience.

5. Choose the best cloud service partners

Translate your vision into an action plan by carefully choosing the right cloud service providers. Your hybrid cloud provider should help you bridge private and public infrastructures by supporting technology you may already have in place, such as virtualized machines, to create minimal downtime and limit costs.

By choosing a unified hybrid cloud platform approach, your organization can harness a full range of services. Choose a hybrid cloud management platform that can run on any cloud and an orchestration tool that spans clouds to support workloads that can be deployed seamlessly across a multicloud environment for optimal business and operational performance. Then align your multicloud ecosystem partnerships under one strategy to bring together the best cloud services and technologies.

6. Evaluate overall costs

Bear in mind that cloud service providers offer different pricing models and service levels to help you align cloud IT resources and costs with application needs and business value. These pricing models include a range of service costs—including cloud storage costs, platform costs, server costs and software maintenance costs—that are often complicated and need to be evaluated carefully. For instance, some public cloud providers charge extra for data egress (e.g., removing data from the cloud), which makes the act of switching cloud providers more expensive.

Cloud service provider costs can climb higher than anticipated, especially with multiple vendors involved, which is why monitoring cloud spend is critical. Cloud cost-optimization software tools can help monitor workload demands for maximum cost-efficient performance.

7. Weave in robust security

The IT industry has traditionally relied mainly on perimeter security strategies like firewalls to protect valuable resources, such as user data and intellectual property. A hybrid multicloud infrastructure where resources are distributed throughout multiple IT environments with many endpoints (including IoT devices and edge environments) with varying levels of visibility and control calls for an end-to-end holistic security approach. Organizations need to implement a zero-trust framework where data must also be encrypted to ensure only valid users can access it.

Overall, your hybrid cloud strategy must include a unified security program that steers business initiatives, optimizes security resources and transforms operating culture to be security first. Today, hybrid cloud security platforms combine artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and automation to ingest high volumes of complex security data, enabling near-real-time threat detection and prediction.

8. Consider compliance and regulatory standards

Building a hybrid cloud strategy includes incorporating the regulatory environment specific to your industry. For instance, companies that must adhere to GDPR compliance can specify locations where data is not permitted to reside, whether in a public or private cloud, and tailor data migration and protection rules accordingly. The beauty of a hybrid cloud environment is that it offers organizations the agility to keep up with the ever-evolving regulations that alter rules governing the use and storage of personal data.

Key hybrid cloud benefits

A hybrid cloud approach helps businesses achieve significant benefits, including the following:

  • ScalabilityUse public cloud compute and cloud storage resources to scale up quickly, automatically and cost-effectively.
  • Business acceleration: Harness the latest cloud technologies, such as generative AI and machine learning, to gain a competitive edge.
  • Developer productivity: Enable DevOps and other teams to collaborate with greater agility and velocity.
  • Infrastructure efficiency: Carry out mission-critical digital transformation initiatives like application modernization (i.e., shifting legacy apps to the cloud).
  • Risk and compliance management: Draw on the latest cloud-based security and regulatory technology tools to ensure data protection.
  • Long-term strategic flexibility: Meet ever-changing market demands and integrate new cloud-based technologies with ease as they emerge.

IBM and your hybrid cloud strategy roadmap

With a solid hybrid cloud strategy that leverages both public and private cloud resources, you can transform your IT infrastructure, enable enterprise agility and unlock the power of data and AI to meet complex market demands.

At IBM, we help clients customize their hybrid cloud strategies based on a single integrated platform and application architecture built on a secure framework and deliver true business value.

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