Hybrid cloud examples: 3 ways enterprises are using it now

Among  IT leaders and teams building out hybrid cloud strategies, these three example use cases come up frequently. Which one could help address pain points in your organization? 
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The path to hybrid cloud can be paved by a series of accidental steps.

As Red Hat technology evangelist Gordon Haff recently noted: “Many organizations fall into hybrid cloud through some combination of acquisitions, lack of coordination among lines of business, or just a lot of ad hoc actions taken on a project-by-project basis.”

In many cases, that less-intentional adoption of hybrid cloud is driven by various pressures to move certain applications to a public cloud, and quickly.

[ Learn the do's and don'ts of hybrid cloud: Get the free eBook, Hybrid Cloud Strategy for Dummies. ]

The first essential in any hybrid cloud strategy is having a strategy in the first place.

“Data center hardware refreshes, the need to modernize legacy applications, and more recently spikes in demand caused by COVID can all drive the decision to build out public cloud consumption,” says Mark Jamensky, VP of products for cloud management at Snow. “What I have found interesting, however, is the change in mindset from pure public cloud to hybrid cloud.”

That shift in mindset reflects a more intentional approach to hybrid cloud use. As Haff says, the first essential in any hybrid cloud strategy is having a strategy in the first place. 

Hybrid cloud examples: Three use cases

As IT leaders and their teams more consciously build out their hybrid cloud strategies, here are three overlapping use cases that those strategies reflect.

1. Going cloud-smart rather than cloud-first

The phrase “cloud first” became a widely used term for describing IT strategies that prioritized moving as many workloads to the cloud – and in particular to public cloud – as feasible. But it came with a catch: Applied unilaterally, the mindset suggests that any and every workload is best served in a public cloud, which isn’t necessarily the case, especially when you consider the diverse nature of many enterprise application portfolios.

“A couple of years ago I was hearing much more about a ‘cloud-first’ strategy, where everything new was being deployed to public cloud,” Jamensky says. “While this certainly drove some innovation, in other cases it also caused unexpectedly large cloud bills, and enterprises have discovered that there is still a significant part to play for their private cloud.”

Teams want to determine for themselves the right environment for their applications based on the criteria that matter most to them.

This is becoming one of the foremost drivers of hybrid cloud strategies: Enabling teams to determine for themselves the right environment for their applications based on the criteria that matter most to them, whether cost, compliance, performance, scalability, or other reasons.

“Of late I am hearing much more of a ‘cloud-smart’ strategy, which takes into account all factors when considering application workload placement,” Jamensky says. “Coupled with the right automation to orchestrate between and across private and public cloud, it is these true hybrid environments that I believe are becoming the norm.”

[ What can automation and orchestration do for you? Read also: 3 reasons to use an enterprise Kubernetes platform. ]

This is the overarching use case for William Young, who runs AutoDealerData.com, which provides automotive market data on roughly 430 million vehicles and 40,000 dealerships. 

“We make use of a combination of cloud and on-premises infrastructure to power our API,” Young says. “We chose a hybrid approach after considering the costs and performance trade-offs of each option.”

Young says his site uses public cloud for processes that are “bursty” – meaning likely to have traffic spikes – or that require outside access, like web and API hosting. But that’s not applicable to all of the company’s workloads.

“We typically run steady-state processes or ones that don’t require outside access with our on-premises infrastructure,” Young says. “Typically these are workloads that we will run for months or years and will require a predictable amount of compute, so many of the benefits of cloud providers aren’t applicable.”

It’s not just a case of static versus scalable applications, either. Performance, cost, and other factors play into the “cloud-smart” approach. Young shares an example:

“When we took one of our back-end databases off of the cloud, we realized significant application speed improvements from both lower network latency and an order of magnitude storage speed improvement,” Young says. “Additionally, the cost savings covered the hardware cost of the new server after just a few months.”

[ Want to improve your hybrid cloud strategy? Get the four-step hybrid cloud strategy checklist. ]

2. Fulfilling dynamic business requirements

Think hybrid cloud and/or multi-cloud environments aren’t a thing? Don’t tell that to Alexander Freund, president and CEO of the managed services provider 4it. Here’s a quick breakdown of their infrastructure mix:

  • Private cloud (hosted on one of the major public cloud platforms)
  • Bare metal servers (managed in their physical offices in Miami, Florida)
  • Colocated servers (in a Boston-based colo facility)
  • Two different public cloud platforms

“Each has its own advantages in terms of use case,” Freund says.

Similar to the “cloud-smart” approach, the driver here is 4it’s business: when your customers’ requirements become your business requirements, you need optimal flexibility. That’s compounded by the modern reality that those requirements change with regularity. A more homogenous, centralized infrastructure would make fulfilling those needs nearly impossible.

“Our decision to build a hybrid cloud was driven by the dynamic requirements of our business,” Freund says. “Building a hybrid cloud allows any organization to take maximum advantage of what each platform offers and choose where to put workloads based on the requirements, [such as] scalability, reliability, performance, business continuity, and cost.”

4it’s business may demand this approach, but those requirements – which are not always compatible with one another – should ring familiar to any enterprise IT leader.

In 4it’s case, “dynamic” means just that: It’s infrastructure needs can shift rapidly, especially when it acquires (or loses) a large customer. Its private cloud is the backbone of that flexibility.

“Private cloud affords us the ability to rapidly allocate more infrastructure resources anytime they are needed, often temporarily, for ourselves and our clients,” Freund says.

Each piece of its hybrid cloud infrastructure serves a particular business purpose.

Meanwhile, each piece of its hybrid cloud infrastructure serves a particular business purpose. It uses its bare metal infrastructure for Active Directory and for time-sensitive data recovery work that involves large files: “Moving 5-10TB of data to the cloud for an attempted recovery would require way too much time,” Freund says.

It uses one public cloud for a specific archive storage application, and another for publicly accessible websites. And finally, there’s the colo infrastructure: “We use our co-located infrastructure in Boston to store offsite backups and to host non-critical static permanent workloads that require larger storage at a cost well below public or private cloud,” Freund says.

3. Application modernization

Jamensky from Snow notes that there are several common or typical use cases for hybrid cloud, such as handling capacity spikes or managing granular data residency or security requirements. Those are legitimate, but from an innovation perspective, Jamensky sees application modernization as an increasingly important use for hybrid cloud.

"To truly gain the benefits of public cloud, one must consider the concept of refactoring or re-architecting these applications."

The lift-and-shift approach to cloud migrations is one of the ways organizations “accidentally” go hybrid. Over time, however, Jamensky thinks they need to consider whether they’re better served by other approaches to modernization.

“Certainly many enterprises continue to lift-and-shift workloads from private to public cloud, thus resulting in a hybrid cloud for their existing workloads,” Jamensky says. “However, to truly gain the benefits of public cloud, one must consider the concept of refactoring or re-architecting these applications.”

Intentional hybrid cloud strategies can enable teams to optimize their application modernization strategies, rather than choosing a path simply because it’s easier or faster.

Jamensky notes that using hybrid cloud to drive a more thoughtful approach to application modernization – one that also leverages PaaS and other cloud technologies rather than solely focusing on IaaS – can pay longer-term dividends beyond simply saying “we moved this app to the cloud.”

“Enterprises can improve their business continuity and more importantly, achieve true business agility,” Jamensky says. “The latter often goes hand-in-hand with the adoption of DevOps practices, thereby transforming the application delivery and operations teams.”

[ Learn more about hybrid and multi-cloud workload strategy: Get the free eBook, Multicloud Portability for Dummies. ]

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his InformationWeek.com story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.