Feature

Is hybrid the future?

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As the benefits of the hybrid cloud data centre model become clearer, enterprises will begin to weigh up whether its costs justify using it. Saf Malik looks whether the model could become widespread

Data centres remain some of the most reliable locations to secure sensitive information. And as the telecoms industry evolves, modern enterprises must adapt their business requirements to data centres and private and public clouds anywhere around the world.

The growing speed at which highly distributed applications must grow poses a dilemma for data centre managers. This is why, in recent times, enterprises are turning to hybrid data centre architecture to support their growing needs.

Hybrid data centres support a mix of IT infrastructure types, including the traditional colocation, and private, multi-tenant and public cloud models, and are often connected to an enterprise’s on-premises systems.

According to advocates, they offer greater IT efficiency, automation and agility, and support the delivery of new application workloads. As well as support for multiple cloud platforms, they offer integration of disparate cloud and non-cloud platforms and unified security strategies to protect their entire environments.

“Properly integrated and secured, these systems work together to keep critical business applications and data highly reliable, available and recoverable,” is how PJ Farmer, vice president for product management at TierPoint describes them.

The hybrid cloud market, which was worth US$1 trillion in 2020 according to Palo Alto Networks, will allow data centres to play vital roles in the storage, management and computation of data, applications and information in the near future.

According to Farmer, a direct correlation exists between the growth of cloud environments and the increasing need for hybrid data centres and service providers that can integrate and secure diverse platforms.

A game changer

Despite some confusion among the general public around the cloud and its capabilities, those within the industry are fully aware of what a hybrid approach can bring says Terry Storrar, managing director at Leaseweb UK.

“There are still people who think it’s a sort of mythical creature,” Storrar laughs.

But there has been, in recent years, a growth in knowledge in the industry about what the cloud can bring to enterprises, he says. “Our customers know far more now about the capabilities of the cloud and the capabilities of the hardware.”

A report from Mordor Intelligence supports those claims. It indicated that the global hybrid cloud market is expected to grow more than 21% by 2026. And with that growth will come an increase in the number of data centres adopting hybrid approaches.

“That’s where hybrid cloud has come into its own,” Storrar says, referring to when enterprises begin to realise its benefits. “You can put whichever workload that works best, into any environment that suits you as an enterprise. And that’s the game changer.”

“Every single piece of infrastructure environment all goes back to hardware,” he adds, noting the importance of the cloud to enterprises today. “The cloud is a kind of hardware in someone else’s data centre, and you’re not accessing the infrastructure, you’re accessing the software layer.”

Enabling transformations

The phrase “digital transformation” has been a buzzword in the industry in the past few years. It is generally agreed to mean the integration of digital technology into all sectors of a business, fundamentally changing how that business operates and delivers value to customers.

This process is undoubtedly “made easier” by hybrid cloud environments, Storrar says, because “you’re no longer having your data and assets stored on your own hard disks in your own environment”.

He stresses that companies’ digital assets must be accessible from more than one place, and it is up to providers to develop the services needed to enable that.

“The days of sitting there with the servers in the basement are pretty much gone,” he says.

Farmer agrees, noting that when organisations recognise the benefits hybrid offers regarding supporting diverse applications, end-user needs and distributed workforces, they are eager to reap the rewards and to “jumpstart” their transformation processes as a result.

“That’s a primary reason why we updated TierPoint’s messaging focus on powering the modern CIO’s ‘digital breakaway’,” she says. “From conversations with customers and prospects across a diverse range of industries, it’s clear these CIOs are ready to make the leap, untangle the hybrid complexity of modern IT, and free up resources to innovate, exceed customer expectations, and drive revenue.”

Remote working

One example of digital transformation is the adoption of remote working.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, remote working was adopted by many firms and became a prominent policy of enterprises across the globe. This has continued as the pandemic eases, with employers embracing flexible schedules for their remote teams, leading to more remote working options for employees.

This trend had been on the rise since 2009 but accelerated since the Covid-19 began. Since then, the number of people working from home has risen by around 159%, according to figures from Global Workplace Analytics.

With several firms now having geographically distributed, rather than centralised, workforces, end-user needs have become increasingly complex.

“As workforces spread out, the variables with which the modern CIO must contend likewise expand to include not only application performance, latency, data transport costs and security, but all of those factors times hundreds, if not thousands, of access points,” Farmer says.

In the face of this increasingly complex “matrix” of requirements, Farmer adds, legacy approaches, such as those for colocation facilities or one type of cloud backed up to another, will not address every worker’s needs. In contrast, she says that well-integrated, hybrid approaches increase the likelihood that a CIO can effectively serve more workers in more locations across a spectrum of applications.

Challenges

When enterprises adopt hybrid IT infrastructure, including multiple cloud platforms mixed with legacy systems, they must plan for several costs and challenges, as they must manage connectivity for all platforms and workloads, reduce latency and control transport costs.

Farmer says that workloads and end-user needs are not created equally, with some performing better in one type of infrastructure than others.

“For instance, public cloud services are often ideal for providing work applications to a geographically distributed workforce,” she says. “In contrast, other applications – such as those that were not developed as cloud-native or were not re-factored for a public cloud environment; or those that require super-low latency or have stringent regulatory requirements – may be best run in a private cloud environment.

Another challenge attached to hybrid data centres is staffing.

“It’s no secret that recruiting employees in cloud development, security and integration has become a major challenge due to the rising demand for, and limited supply of, these professionals,” Farmer says.

This is why some data centre firms outsource portions of projects to consultants, which is typically less expensive and faster than recruiting in-house staff.

Farmer adds that enterprises must also plan how to integrate systems, so they effectively communicate, and share, backup and restore data if needed. And they must also secure all of the platforms so that increasingly sophisticated cybersecurity threats can be detected and mitigated across multiple systems and points of access.

While there are benefits with regards to security protocols, namely “not putting all your eggs into one basket”, Farmer warns that there is an expanded risk of attacks on access points.

“Fortunately, there are plenty of strong security solutions available to protect hybrid environments, offering analytics-driven threat management; real-time threat alters, web application firewall services, and AI and machine learning to aid the detection of emerging threats.”

Farmer believes disaster recovery is critical for safeguarding data and systems that may be compromised by ransomware or other cyberattacks. Cloud-to-cloud or server-to-cloud recovery solutions can make it easier to restore IT systems quickly after an outage, avoiding the payment of large ransoms or enduring weeks-long delays to restore operations.

Cost control

Speaking of payments, cost control is a key responsibility for data centre managers in their cloud services provision. Storrar believes that keeping budgets in line with expectations is “crucial”.

As many data centre managers continue to see the benefits of a hybrid model, Storrar thinks enterprises will begin to weigh up whether the cost of using them is worth it.

“Many organisations will be familiar with the frustration of paying for IT infrastructure that has been over-provisioned and subsequently not used,” he says.

However, he cites an International Data Corporation study which indicated that over a five-year period, a bustling workload on a hybrid cloud cost 44% less than its native public cloud equivalent, after taking all the costs of computer and storage infrastructure management, application installation and software licensing fees into account.

Thus, Storrar feels that with the right management, a hybrid solution will pay dividends for enterprises moving forward.