How to explain hybrid cloud storage in plain English

What is hybrid cloud storage exactly, and what problems does it solve as data sets continue to grow and applications evolve? Here's how to explain the key issues, in plain terms
273 readers like this.
hybrid cloud storage explained

Hybrid cloud storage is having a moment – for good reason. Digital transformation and the advancing technologies that encompass it, from artificial intelligence to Internet of Things, are driving larger pools of data and increasing the adoption of hybrid cloud storage.

It’s also important to understand that given the reality of today’s dynamic workloads and data sets, simply throwing more and more storage at the problem doesn’t cut it. New ways of dealing with data are needed. For example, enterprises can reap benefits from cloud-native data services. Applications often pull data from multiple sources to carry out a task, and increasingly such aggregation is expected on demand – last night’s batch job is already stale. This is an area where a data services approach really shines; developers can rely on Kubernetes automation to dynamically connect data sources.

[ Read also: How to explain Kubernetes in plain English. ]

“The combination of hybrid cloud and Kubernetes technologies help enterprises bring to bear the agility, efficiency, and security needed for modern cloud-native applications, with underpinnings in data services,” says Mike Piech, VP and GM, cloud storage and data services, Red Hat. “In a sense, data services are to storage what microservices are to application monoliths.” (For more details on this, read his blog post: Data Services for the open hybrid cloud deliver on the promise of cloud-native infrastructure.) 

Overall, the global cloud storage market is predicted to reach $297.5 billion by 2027, growing at a compound annual rate of 25.3 percent from $49.1 billion last year, according to a May 2020 report from Fortune Business Insights.

With its promise of lower costs and increased efficiency, hybrid cloud storage holds a lot of appeal for organizations today. Thus, IT leaders need to know the ins and outs – and answer a lot of questions from the business – regarding the hybrid cloud storage approach.

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

What is hybrid cloud storage? 4 definitions

Hybrid cloud storage is – as its name implies – a combination of cloud and on-premises storage options. Here are some ways of describing the approach.

“Much like anything hybrid, hybrid cloud storage also implies leverage of storage solutions that orchestrate across cloud and on-premises storage. There is a gateway that communicates between three different storage systems and the need to keep data in sync.” – Yugal Joshi, vice president of digital, cloud, and application services research for strategic IT consultancy at research firm Everest Group.

“Hybrid cloud storage is a way of integrating low-cost, easy-to-implement approaches to utilize storage on existing internal IT systems, private clouds, and public clouds. It is an approach to managing cloud storage that uses both local and off-site resources. The hybrid cloud storage infrastructure is often used to supplement internal data storage of the enterprise with public cloud storage provided by various cloud service providers.” –Nayanaraja Naidu, head of Altimetrik’s DevOps cloud engineering capability center in India

“Hybrid cloud storage is a type of cloud storage model that derives and combines the functionality of public and private cloud storage models to provide storage services. These services are accessed using a Web services API framework or cloud applications. [It] uses internal and external cloud applications, infrastructure and storage systems to form integrated storage architecture.” –Techopedia

“Hybrid cloud is a composition of two or more distinct cloud infrastructures (private, community, or public) that remain unique entities, but are bound together by standardized or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability.” –National Institute of Standards

Some people will say that for a storage architecture to be called hybrid, the same workload needs to use both on-premises and cloud storage. “However, most enterprises don’t see it that way,” says Joshi. “If they are using on-prem and cloud storage even for distinct workloads, they end up referring to this as hybrid cloud too.”

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

Hybrid cloud storage benefits

Hybrid cloud strategy can provide IT organizations with the best of both worlds. “Because IT is between a rock and a hard place with tier-two application data, the data is growing by leaps and bounds – faster than any other type of business data,” says Naidu.

"Hybrid cloud storage allows CIOs to adopt a value-driven approach to the technologies that best serve the organization."

Storing that data is costly; there’s storage capacity, power, cooling, and management overhead. “Managing the physical plant is only part of the problem as best practices for data protection are also under heavy pressure,” Naidu says. “Without a different storage approach, many IT organizations are stuck with increasing their annual storage spending, including doubling down to pay for expensive remote disaster sites to immediately failover and restore active application data.”

Hybrid cloud storage addresses all of that. “Hybrid cloud storage preserves on-premises processing speeds for the working set of data on-premises and adds the scalability of the cloud with its controllable costs,” says Naidu. “It allows CIOs to adopt a value-driven approach to the technologies that best serve the organization. And that holds true for public or private clouds. It’s clear that hybrid cloud storage will continue to grow.”

How hybrid cloud storage works

A hybrid storage approach basically turns the cloud into an alternative storage tier.

A hybrid storage approach basically turns the cloud into an alternative storage tier. Hybrid cloud storage can be approached in a number of ways. Generally speaking, though, cloud systems are designed using in-house storage infrastructure with an external Storage as a Service application. Hybrid cloud storage can also mean putting your organization’s own storage application on top of public cloud storage.

On top of all that is a common management interface that unifies the on-premises and cloud environments, enabling IT and application admins to view stored data as an integrated unit, Naidu says. The net result? “Flexibility for the future by letting us manage our actual data management requirements to the public cloud, private cloud, or on-premises resources that are best able to handle them,” Naidu explains.

When hybrid cloud storage makes sense

Hybrid cloud storage is suited only for situations in which a workload needs both on-premises and cloud resources. “Otherwise, running on cloud is enough,” says Joshi. “Hybrid cloud is gaining traction, and that is the reason most public cloud vendors launched their own version of hybrid cloud.”

Generally speaking, enterprises tend to use cloud storage for disaster recovery, backup, or less frequently used data, and on-premises for latency-sensitive workloads, Joshi explains. Thus, tier-one applications are often not a good fit for hybrid storage. “In an organization, running applications on-premises and using the cloud to store active files is not realistic due to latency and bandwidth issues, resulting in bad user experience,” says Naidu. “On-premises tier-one transactional applications with their heavy traffic, high churn rates, and high performance I/O are completely out of the ballgame.”

However, tier-two apps (email, collaboration, and other office applications that generate the majority of business data) are a good fit. “This data quickly ages, resulting in vast stores of dormant data,” Naidu says. “This environment can strongly benefit from integrating on-premises storage with cloud storage. This will make it easier for an enterprises’ mobile workforce to access data easily from anywhere.”

Some use cases ideally suited to hybrid cloud storage include:

Backup and disaster recovery planning. The hybrid cloud storage approach can provide local on-premises storage for faster recovery and lower-cost public cloud for disaster recovery storage durability.

Big data applications. Hybrid storage can transfer data sets from the cloud to on-premises and vice versa, increasing the efficiency of advanced analytics.

Capacity management. With hybrid cloud storage, some data (e.g., older and/or less frequently used data) can be moved to the public cloud, freeing up on-premises storage for recent and/or more frequently used data.

Data sharing. Hybrid cloud storage enables an organization to more easily share data across sites or applications and keep the data consistent.

Caveats and tips

By definition, a hybrid cloud system requires the organization to operate and maintain its own servers. “That requires a massive upfront investment and a dedicated IT team,” Naidu says. “If you are unwilling or unable to commit to keeping up a whole server network, then a traditional cloud storage solution might be a better fit.”

Hybrid cloud storage works best when the IT organization has a good idea of which workloads are suitable for which storage types, says Joshi. “Most on-premises and cloud vendors have hybrid storage solutions that help enterprises orchestrate their storage across different deployment types.” 

Ideally, hybrid cloud storage should operate as a unified storage solution for the organization. “But that isn’t always easy,” Joshi notes, “due to different storage architectures, network topologies, and also enterprise policies.”

And again, hybrid cloud storage can be less cost-efficient than traditional storage methods if an organization has highly predictable data flows or simply needs to archive old data. “In that case, it is easy to manually move data from local storage into cloud storage,” says Naidu. “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.”

[ 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.