Hybrid cloud storage: 7 best practices

A hybrid cloud storage approach can help you control costs and add flexibility, among other benefits. But it's important to understand best practices and avoid pitfalls
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There’s no shortage of hype around hybrid cloud storage and the millions of dollars it could save an enterprise. That’s an appealing proposition – particularly right now. “Economic pressures will continue to drive CIOs and CFOs to look for ways to provide IT functionality for less money,” says Tim Stephenson, director, North American Cloud Center of Excellence at Capgemini. “Government regulations and compliance requirements will continue to put pressure on those CIOs, CSOs, and CFOs by requiring them to retain data for longer and longer periods of time, driving up storage costs while budgets continue to decline.”

However, there is also no lack of challenges and potential missteps associated with hybrid cloud storage adoption. As a result, IT leaders can find themselves disappointed in their results.

Hybrid cloud storage can come up short due to latency issues - or people using it to solve the wrong problems.

Hybrid cloud storage solutions “often come up short due to either functionality shortcomings, such as latency, or more likely making the mistake of trying to use the technology for things it was not designed to do,” Stephenson says.

He describes an extreme example in which one business attempted to split their databases and put the infrequently used records on hybrid cloud storage. “It was a disaster because the latency inherent in the solution affected the local storage that was extremely sensitive to latency and very badly impacted the performance of the entire system,” says Stephenson. “The lesson there is: if you use the technology in the wrong way, it will have negative consequences; if you use it as intended, it can live up to the promise of saving money.”

[ Want to learn more? Get the free ebooks: Container storage for Dummies and Hybrid Cloud Strategy for Dummies. ]

Additional challenges exist around automation, skillset availability, and data governance. However, Stephenson adds, “Ensuring hybrid cloud storage is successfully adopted and scaled, with the right automation capabilities and employees properly skilled to achieve that adoption and scale, will set the program up for the highest level of success.”

Hybrid cloud storage adoption is growing and will likely continue to grow. “Major cloud providers are working diligently to overcome the challenges associated with hybrid storage,” Stephenson says. “In addition, the major storage platform providers are continuing to build in the required functionality needed to connect to and manage cloud storage platforms.”

7 hybrid cloud storage best practices

Hybrid cloud storage architecture can support IT’s objectives to drive economies of scale, improve IT operating model efficiencies, reduce overall spending, and put retirement-ready legacy storage appliances out to pasture – if IT leaders and their teams follow best practices for optimal hybrid cloud planning, adoption, and management.

Consider this advice:

1. Examine what workloads you want where

“Enterprises need to have a good view of which workloads need to be stored in what storage: on-premises or cloud,” says Yugal Joshi, vice president of digital, cloud, and application services research for strategic IT consultancy and research firm Everest Group. “Generally, enterprises started using cloud storage for disaster recovery, backup, or less frequently used data whereas on-premises is used for latency-sensitive workloads.”

[ Evaluating hybrid cloud options? Get the checklist: 5 reasons you need persistent hybrid cloud storage. ]

2. Take a hard look at your applications

As we recently noted, the realities of today’s dynamic workloads and data sets mean that simply adding more and more storage doesn’t cut it. New ways of dealing with data are needed, such as cloud-native data services. Applications often pull data from multiple sources to carry out a task. Here, a data services approach really shines; developers can rely on Kubernetes automation to dynamically connect data sources.

“The vision for data services for the open hybrid cloud is to equip enterprises with a safer and better option to intelligently move, store, transform, and respond to enterprise data and seamlessly operate in an open hybrid cloud environment,” says Mike Piech, VP and GM, cloud storage and data services, Red Hat. “As a result, the overarching aim of digital transformation and modernization becomes easier to achieve.” (For more details on this, read his blog post: Data Services for the open hybrid cloud deliver on the promise of cloud-native infrastructure.)

3. Hybrid cloud storage may be less cost-efficient for some uses

If an organization has highly predictable data flows or simply needs to archive old data, traditional storage methods may make more sense, says Nayanaraja Naidu, head of Altimetrik’s DevOps and cloud engineering capability center in India. “In that case, it is easy to manually move data from local storage into cloud storage. Opting for typical cold cloud storage, which has high latency for data access, can be much cheaper than opting for the hot cloud storage typically used in hybrid cloud systems.”

4. Seek out partner expertise

If you can’t hire hybrid cloud storage experts, partner with someone who already has, advises Matthew Adams, senior cloud architect at ZL Technologies, so you have access to people with experience who can answer your questions quickly.

5. Address data governance, privacy, and residency

“Data security is always the top priority for all parties,” Adams says. Hybrid cloud storage makes data portability, cross-cloud data sharing, and international boundary data governance a key concern. Your CSO (and others) will want to understand how hybrid storage options may impact compliance with the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), and more recently, California’s Consumer Protection Act (CCPA).

“Both of these regulations have varying objectives, but both are targeted to protect and regulate the storage and transfer of data, both corporate and personal,” Capgemini’s Stephenson says. “Know how you plan to store, protect, encrypt, retain, and disseminate the data you manage before you tackle hybrid cloud storage.”

6. Make a plan and stick to it

“[Create] boundaries around what will work well and what won’t,” Stephenson says. “Don’t step outside of those boundaries unless a major breakthrough has suddenly happened. Even then, test, test, test before making the jump onto something new.”

7. Expect to go slow

Storage migration is not a speedy process. “Businesses have to set up the policies and let them ‘cook’ for a while before seeing the benefits. Build that into your timeline,” says Stephenson. “You won’t see savings day one, but over the long run the savings can be significant, so patience and good planning are key.”

[ Working on hybrid cloud strategy? Get the four-step hybrid cloud strategy checklist. ]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.