5 hybrid cloud trends to watch in 2021

As hybrid cloud becomes the go-to model for enterprise IT, watch for these trends. Experts discuss cloud platform changes, workload fit, security, and related issues
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hybrid cloud explained

For a while now, the cloud has been pitched as a one-way choice: Get there as fast as you can, or else. That view has been supported by lots of momentum behind digital transformation – not to mention 2020’s sudden shift to remote work and the added uptake of cloud services to support that transition.

This view is sometimes too narrowly focused on the public cloud, though - and it doesn’t completely capture the hybrid reality of most organizations and their actual IT portfolios, which include a mix of on-premises and cloud infrastructure. These days, it doesn’t even necessarily reflect the portfolio of the major cloud platforms themselves.

Recent developments in the cloud landscape are blurring the lines between the public cloud and the traditional data center.

Red Hat chief architect Emily Brand says that the enterprise shift to hybrid cloud as the standard is evident in recent developments in the cloud landscape that are blurring the lines between the public cloud and the traditional data center. This in turn is giving companies that embraced hybrid cloud earlier an advantage.

“With the recent announcements by the major cloud vendors encouraging hybrid cloud, our existing customers who have been preparing for this are now in the unique position to be ahead of their competitors who may be all-in on one cloud provider,” Brand says.

[ How does your hybrid cloud strategy stack up? Get the free eBook: Hybrid Cloud Strategy for Dummies. ]

Key hybrid cloud trends in 2021

Expect hybrid cloud’s status to be cemented in 2021 as IT leaders and organizations become more intentional and strategic about their hybrid cloud architectures. And that’s the first of five hybrid cloud trends worth monitoring in the year ahead. Let’s take a deeper look.

1. Hybrid becomes entrenched as the go-to IT infrastructure model

Even though plenty of companies “accidentally” adopt a hybrid cloud model, they’re now realizing that it affords them greater strategic control over what runs where. Cloud does not have to be an either/or strategy; you can have your cake and eat it, too.

“We’re finally getting past the notion that infrastructure choice is a bimodal decision – public or private cloud,” says Kim King, director of product marketing, cloud management at Snow Software.

In the year ahead, expect a growing focus on developing smart hybrid cloud strategies that maximize the benefits of this approach. These plans should include essentials like resource utilization and cost optimization, application modernization roadmaps based on what’s best for the organization (rather than abstract benefits), tighter data governance, stronger security postures, and more.

“Despite the increased adoption of cloud services this year, especially those added to support the shift to remote work, organizations are still left asking themselves how to make the best use of the investments they’ve already made,” King says. “This provides a huge opportunity for businesses who have embraced the hybrid cloud reality, and we expect to see more businesses take advantage of the strategic implications of a hybrid approach that balance costs, performance, security, compliance, and governance requirements.”

2. Cloud platforms themselves turn increasingly hybrid

The “rush to the public cloud” phase is likely to ebb relative to recent years. That’s because organizations no longer always need to actually move an application to a public cloud platform to achieve the benefits that come with doing so. They increasingly can gain the same or similar advantages in their own datacenter; cloud-native technologies like Kubernetes should not be confused with “cloud-only,” per se.

"Any borders that existed for cloud technology to be widely accessible across any infrastructure environment are being broken down."

“Any borders that existed for cloud technology to be widely accessible across any infrastructure environment are being broken down,” says Eric Drobisewski, senior architect at Liberty Mutual Insurance. “Major technology providers and open source software are delivering the innovative capabilities of the cloud where the customer needs them most, by way of extending platforms in an infrastructure-agnostic manner to work across hybrid environments hosted in data centers and multiple cloud providers.”

Drobisewski anticipates that the lift-and-shift approach to cloud migration – wherein the application is moved from a traditional data center to a cloud platform with little changes to its underlying code or dependencies – will lose at least some of its appeal in the year ahead as hybrid cloud continues to mature and companies are increasingly able to achieve their goals.

"Cost savings are typically a key factor when considering lift-and-shift to the cloud, which is beginning to look less and less attractive due to the highly optimized on-premises cloud environments of the future," Drobisewski says.

[ Also read This old COBOL app: Should you modernize it? ]

Essentially, the lines are blurring between public cloud and the data center, and there are more options in terms of matching the right workload to the right environment.

“These new hybrid-cloud platforms will enable agility anywhere that is sustainable through a consistent development, operations, and security model,” Drobisewski says.

3. Workload-environment fit is a major priority

All of the above points to a growing trend toward more holistically and thoughtfully rationalizing the application portfolio on a case-by-case basis. Put another way: Forward-thinking organizations are better able to match workloads to the best environment based on a range of criteria that matter to them most, whether cost, performance, compliance, skill sets, industry-specific needs, and so forth.

King thinks we’ll hear more about repatriation – essentially, cloud migration in reverse – and it will simply be the result of more priority being placed on workload fit, not because of some generalized abandonment of cloud and its benefits.

“While there has been chatter around repatriation, the workloads we see shifting from public back to private are those that were poor candidates for public cloud migration in the first place,” King says. “Most organizations that are moving these workloads back to private cloud are not discontinuing public cloud usage altogether, but rather being more thoughtful about the applications and projects they choose to run in the public cloud. As we move into 2021, it’s likely that this repatriation use case will continue as businesses seek to deploy each application on the best-fit infrastructure within a hybrid IT strategy.”

That’s in line with anticipating that the lift-and-shift approach may lose a bit of its allure. Hybrid cloud eases the pressure to rush, especially with applications that may be better served by a different strategy.

“Although there is considerable value to be gained through the move to cloud and modern platforms, this comes with its own set of challenges – decomposing large traditional data models, re-platforming efforts, and refactoring applications – all take significant investment to achieve the greatest benefit,” Drobisewski says.

4. Edge computing drives hybrid cloud adoption

Gordon Haff, technology evangelist at Red Hat, notes that companies end up with hybrid cloud architectures for many reasons. But there’s one that is increasingly fueling intentional adoption.

"Edge computing has emerged as one of the most important drivers given that edge is an explicitly hybrid approach to computing."

Edge computing has emerged as one of the most important drivers given that edge is an explicitly hybrid approach to computing,” Haff says. “It spans from the enterprise computing core out to the edge of telco and other service provider networks and from there, to user sites and sensor networks. Edge contrasts sharply with multi-cloud silos given that consistent platforms and management is a necessity for edge architectures to function effectively.”

The main idea to keep in mind here: If applications and data are essentially everywhere, then infrastructure must be similarly elastic and flexible. As Stu Miniman, director of insights on the Red Hat cloud platforms team, wrote recently in his article about 2021 Kubernetes trends: “If there is any remaining argument that hybrid or multi-cloud is a reality, the growth of edge solidifies this truth: When we think about where data and applications live, they will be in many places.”

[ Want to learn more about implementing edge computing? Read the blog: How to implement edge infrastructure in a maintainable and scalable way. ]

Drobisewski from Liberty Mutual sees an emerging era of “hyper-connected” computing that will go hand-in-hand with mature hybrid cloud architectures.

“Cloud technology has fueled the digital-first movement through a centralized deployment model that will be extended with the arrival of a new localized deployment model enabled through a hyperconnected fabric comprised of 5G, edge computing, and IoT devices,” Drobisewski says. “The combination of these technologies will create a new hyperconnected computing ecosystem that will move us beyond cloud and into the future of distributed cloud, where cloud capabilities are now delivered through hyper-connected networks, localized processing, and ambient technology.”

5. Security thinks cloud-native

Drobisewski also expects 2021 to be a year in which security strategies begin to more tangibly adapt to the hybrid cloud reality and the cloud-native ecosystem that surrounds it.

“There is a new evolution in security that will come into focus as the number of microservice-based workloads continues to rise and cloud-native technology takes hold as the means to deliver modern digital capabilities,” Drobisewski says.

This is an intersection of two realities: Security threats remain a mix of old and new, just as applications and infrastructure have also taken their own hybrid path.

[ Related read: 7 security trends to watch in 2021. ]

Drobisewski notes that Zero Trust security strategies are increasingly a norm as one adaptation to the modern IT world. In general, the direction of security needs to shift from “let’s figure out what went wrong” to “let’s build security in from the outset.” It’s obviously not a given that this will happen in every organization, but it’s a worthwhile ideal.

“Cloud-native will require security to take an application-out approach to providing software-defined security and authentication controls at all layers of the cloud-native technology ecosystem, including source-to-artifact builds, CI/CD pipelines, core platforms such as Kubernetes, microservices, gateways, and databases,” Drobisewski says.

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

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.