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4 hybrid cloud obstacles to overcome this year

Zack Busch Research Analyst, Cloud & IT, G2

With both multicloud and hybrid cloud infrastructure approaches on the rise, many businesses—particularly those handling sensitive information, such as those in healthcare and finance—are pulling back from fully public cloud-borne operations in favor of a hybrid cloud approach.

At this point, most IT operations professionals are familiar with the reasons behind this shift. Sensitive data can be held close to the chest while offloading simpler processing and workloads to public cloud. Public cloud resources scale significantly better (and more cost-effectively) than on-premises ones. Cloud workloads are easily accessible and generally integrate into on-premises systems with relatively low difficulty.

These advantages are so sound that 85% of enterprises rank hybrid cloud computing as the most beneficial cloud approach for their business model, according to the 2019 Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Index, a study of over 2,650 IT professionals conducted by independent research firm Vanson Bourne. Some 73% are already actively moving some public cloud-hosted resources and data back on premises to take advantage of private infrastructure, the study said.

This year presents several challenges for hybrid implementations. You're probably familiar with some issues; others may surprise you. 

1. Cloud management is key

A multicloud approach—in other words, diversifying cloud infrastructure across multiple cloud service providers (CSPs)—is the modern norm. According to a report from IBM, at least 85% of enterprises currently use multicloud environments for daily workflow. Notably, though, those cloud environments are expected to get more complex, with 98% of enterprises anticipating one or more hybrid cloud setups by 2021.

In other words, companies are using many different clouds, in many different places.

The growing and complex cloud infrastructure stack has generated a significant need for overarching management tools— a "single pane of glass," to fall back on an old term.

Cloud management platforms (CMPs) are the answer. With CMPs receiving a 33% increase in unique viewership on G2 in the last quarter, businesses are craving a way to manage all their cloud infrastructure from one place. The convenience, oversight, and applications related to cloud optimization and orchestration are too practical and important for businesses to ignore.

CMP utilization is a trend that's not going away. The high demand for quality cloud infrastructure in the last few years is evidenced by an explosion in infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) reviews on G2, up by over 300% since fiscal year 2018.

Between this and the aggressive trend toward hybridization, there will be no shortage of necessity for CMPs in 2020 and beyond.

2. Cloud performance matters

At a bare minimum, running a hybrid infrastructure means utilizing at least one public cloud resource and one private, on-premises resource. However, many would find it laughable to use just two cloud environments. Complexity comes with the territory, and that includes working with many different cloud environments on a daily basis.

On top of the initial worry of how to manage your various cloud environments, one immediate question should be around efficacy. The performance of any given process is gated by the weakest link in the interaction chain; that is, if one environment's running slow, the whole process is.

Infrastructure adoption must be an essential part of adopting hybrid computing. In other words, if you've containerized an application environment, then whatever infrastructure that runs on should be optimized for containerization. Investment in best of breed—for both your cloud and on-premises environments—can save you from lots of hassles down the line.

While no one really likes talking costs, ROI impacts from either relatively or particularly slow environments can stir up conversations about whether your hybrid investment was worth it. With the ROI of cloud infrastructure implementation being a murky subject, and with the implication that you’re then in it for the long haul, the last obstacle you need is inefficacy.

3. Interoperability is the linchpin for success

With processes happening across both local and cloud environments, infrastructure interoperability is a major key to success. Hybridizing your infrastructure is effectively a decentralization of your data and computing capabilities. This necessitates, then, fluid information exchange among those environments. None of your initial performance configurations matter if you can't ensure interoperability.

Interoperability adds massive value to hybridization if done correctly—which is why enterprise hybrid cloud professionals say it's one of the most highly valued potential benefits of hybrid cloud. Because of that, the pressure is on to do interoperability properly.

Thankfully, a slew of tools exist just for this; enterprise service bus (ESB) and integration platforms as a service (iPaaS) can help. These types of tools are built for improving how your infrastructure and applications work together—both on premises and in the cloud.

Companies are starting to get some cloud interoperability assistance from vendors as well, although perhaps not in the ways you might think. Undoubtedly due to Amazon's almost 50% ownership of the global public cloud market, 2019 saw a slew of new cloud partnerships among the major CSPs.

With more major cloud infrastructure players cooperating, interoperability should improve significantly over the next year or two.

4. Privacy and security are more important than ever

Privacy and security are where most businesses are least sure of themselves or are less prepared. Both are important to hybrid cloud implementation.

Security is a major factor driving many businesses toward hybrid cloud infrastructure; 60% of enterprises said cloud security was the highest-impact factor for cloud deployment plans going into the 2020s, according to the Nutanix survey.

Businesses handling significant amounts of sensitive information, such as healthcare or financial data, prefer to hold it locally to increase overall security customization and immediate control.

The appeal of that level of control has expanded outward across industries for maintaining general business data, choosing to prioritize key data locally, and pushing processing and computing needs up to public clouds. This allows a tighter lock on data without sacrificing computing capabilities at large.

Aside from the more obvious security benefits of various on-premises and cloud systems harmonizing, there are major advantages in terms of backup and disaster recovery. Fluid cross-environment backups can improve the speed of restoration to get businesses back up and running quickly.

Additionally, hybridization allows for increased backup security, with backups being held either securely on premises within company infrastructure or securely off-site with disaster-recovery-as-a-service (DRaaS) providers.

For further consideration, G2's senior research analyst on cybersecurity, Aaron Walker, offers these words of advice regarding hybrid cloud security for 2020 and beyond. "Don’t rely on cloud service providers for security," he said. With the shared responsibility model, "businesses shouldn’t underestimate their role."

Providers will protect the hardware and software that create the cloud, but customers must secure everything in the cloud—that includes data, workloads, networks, and applications, Walker added.

Dealing with multiple providers means different contracts and on-premises infrastructure, which requires significant effort. So err on the side of caution and take extra steps to ensure protection. Teams must prioritize visibility across clouds above everything to ensure workloads are protected, misconfigurations are identified, and no sensitive data is exposed.

After that, continuous workload protection and compliance must be maintained at all times. "Small businesses operating in heavily regulated industries or working with sensitive data" should consider managed security services if they can't provide the attention or afford the skilled staff necessary to ensure proper management, Walker said.

Protecting data and avoiding lock-in

When considering privacy for hybrid cloud implementations, portability is the name of the game. Data portability—the de-siloing of user or personal data to prevent inaccessibility or inadvertent vendor lock-in—will only increase in importance as we advance through the next decade.

And now, with the release of the GDPR, privacy—a topic most businesses knew almost nothing about—vaulted to the forefront of their concerns. With even more privacy laws on the way, businesses now cannot avoid understanding privacy and how it affects their day-to-day workflow, especially as they hybridize their infrastructure.

Merry Marwig, G2's research analyst on privacy, advises the following regarding approaching data privacy and portability in 2020: To comply with data privacy legislation such as the GDPR or the CCPA, "you need to know where personally identifiable information (PII), user data, and other sensitive data resides."

This includes your on-premises storage, cloud storage, and applications. Once you discover your sensitive data, you need to figure out what to do with it. Minimally, data privacy laws call for data encryption.

You can also choose to protect your data while in use by employees using data masking software that masks or redacts PII, but retains the actual values. For even more protection consider replacing your PII with artificial but realistic data that can be used for research, but not used to identify individuals.

This can be achieved with data de-identification/pseudonymization. Note that the difference between data masking and data de-identification is that masked data can be re-identified, while de-identified data cannot.

Hybrid clouds will only grow from here

Continued hybridization is inevitable. Businesses are acquiring massive volumes of data every day—especially user-oriented or sensitive data—and business processes are becoming more complex and sprawling.

Hybrid cloud approaches can help manage this growth, the resulting sprawl, and the evolving complexity, but there's lots to keep up with as it happens.

The key is to properly manage your cloud environments, optimize their performance, maximize cloud interoperability, and get ahead of security and privacy concerns. Keep all that in mind, and your hybrid journey should be off to a solid start in the coming year—and beyond.

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