Hybrid cloud: 4 trends to watch in 2022

Hybrid cloud figures prominently as companies continue to accelerate their digital transformation plans. Cloud experts share four key issues for IT leaders
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If you’re pressed for time, here’s a one-word executive summary of where hybrid cloud is headed in 2022: Everywhere.

That declaration requires only modest exaggeration. Roughly half (48 percent) of respondents in O’Reilly’s 2021 Cloud Adoption Survey plan to migrate 50 percent or more of their applications to a cloud in the coming year. The same survey found a healthy mix of public cloud (67 percent), private cloud (45 percent), and traditional on-premises infrastructure (55 percent) already in use.

Meanwhile, 38 percent of the organizations included in  Red Hat's 2021 Global Tech Outlook already had a hybrid cloud or multi-cloud strategy in place. The report shows clear growth ahead in 2022, and more organizations plan to use three or more clouds than ever.

[ Related read: How to explain hybrid cloud in plain English. ]

There’s a visible relationship between hybrid cloud and digital transformation, and they’re playing in concert with each other. One of the Red Hat report’s six key conclusions speaks to this: “Digital transformation initiatives continue to progress, and many companies accelerated their transformation plans this year,” the report says. “In these plans to innovate, security remains a top challenge and priority, and hybrid cloud environments continue to grow.”

The reward for a CIO’s strategic vision and their team’s hard work to this point is that the rest of the organization is essentially saying: “More, please.” Hybrid cloud – along with other transformative technologies like containers and AI/ML – will fuel the next phases of growth.

“Expect greater demand for faster innovation and digital transformation to deliver business growth across the enterprise,” Kaushik De, VP, GTM lead for custom software development and cloud CoE lead, Capgemini Americas. “Companies should anticipate accelerated business processes and the need to quickly demonstrate the business value of cloud solutions.”

Predicting “everywhere” as the strategic direction for hybrid cloud isn’t much in the way of hyperbole. We can certainly dive into more specifics, however. Here are four hybrid cloud trends to watch in 2022.

[ Learn more about hybrid cloud strategy. Get the free eBooks, Hybrid Cloud Strategy for Dummies and Multi-Cloud Portability for Dummies. ]

1. Hybrid cloud goes to the edge

Hybrid cloud definitions vary but typically refer to some combination of public cloud, private cloud, and/or bare-metal infrastructure.

That’s historically accurate. The gist of NIST’s decade-old definition of the hybrid deployment model is based on the (still relevant) use case of “bursting” from your data center to a public cloud to handle capacity surges. But the basic definitions are now expanding to reflect the emerging realities of hybrid cloud architecture, which is not actually limited to your datacenter and cloud platforms of choice.

"A hybrid cloud extends all the way out to the edge of a computing infrastructure where data is collected and acted upon."

“Hybrid cloud is no longer just about public clouds and clouds hosted by an organization in its own datacenter,” says Gordon Haff, technology evangelist at Red Hat. “A hybrid cloud extends all the way out to the edge of a computing infrastructure where data is collected and acted upon. This is really today’s hybrid cloud story.”

Put another way, the paths of two major enterprise IT trends are merging. Hybrid cloud is fundamentally about running your workloads in the best possible environments; edge computing is about bringing the environment to the workload and its associated data, or at least as close as possible. It’s a match made in IT heaven.

“Hybrid cloud goes beyond a choice of different isolated centralized sets of computing resources, which sometimes go by the multi-cloud moniker – though it’s often hard to distinguish the hybrid cloud and multi-cloud terms these days,” Haff says. “Rather, it envisions architectures where computing happens where it’s appropriate and data flows where it’s best handled.”

[ Read also: 6 edge computing trends to watch in 2022. ]

2. Tools on top of Kubernetes enable broader use cases

Where there are hybrid clouds, there are likely containers. And where there are containers, there is inevitably orchestration, with Kubernetes the likely engine.

A whole new class of tools is being built on top of Kubernetes that help solve some of the tool’s initial challenges and enable a wider array of use cases, including stateful applications. That in turn helps to fulfill the original potential of hybrid cloud and cloud-native development.

“While we have already seen a wide variety of applications running in containers, we are beginning to see more organizations bring their mission-critical, stateful applications to Kubernetes,” says Brian Gracely, senior director of product strategy, Red Hat. "Databases, event-driven messaging, and mission-critical applications are expected to move to Kubernetes to take advantage of the scalability, security, and portability that Kubernetes brings to all applications."

The growing menu of Kubernetes Operators and the Operator Framework exemplifies the types of tools that extend Kubernetes’ power to a wider range of applications. There are already 37 database operators on OperatorHub.io.

[ Get a technical intro to Operators: Kubernetes Operators 101, Part 1. ]

The word “platform” gets thrown around a lot in tech, but it’s literal in Kubernetes’ case.

“Abstractions above the cluster orchestration layers will make it easier to ‘write once, run anywhere,’” says Waleed Kadous, head of engineering at Anyscale, referring to the common promise of containerization and hybrid cloud or multi-cloud strategy. “While we’ve seen excellent uptake of things like Kubernetes that make it easier to ship [container] images, Kubernetes is only the lowest level of the stack.”

Kadous points to examples like DaprArgoVolcano, and Ray that are helping to enable the kinds of mission-critical workloads Gracely mentioned a moment ago, such as AI/ML models and other compute-intensive workloads. Check out Haff’s article, 5 open source projects that improve Kubernetes for more examples.

[ Kubernetes terminology, demystified: Read How to explain Kubernetes in plain English and get our Kubernetes glossary cheat sheet for IT and business leaders. ]

3. Organizations will demand – and architect for – portability

As Kadous notes above, the maturation of Kubernetes – and the vibrant ecosystem growing atop it – is helping to fulfill the “write once, run anywhere” promise of containerization and hybrid cloud.

That deserves to be unpacked and underlined here. Portability challenges prevent some organizations from taking full advantage of hybrid cloud (and multi-cloud), Jesse Stockall, chief architect at Snow Software.

“Portability is still an issue, and if solved, could be a huge game-changer for hybrid cloud,” Stockall says. "Architecting your technology stack is more important than ever. Otherwise, organizations can create silos where their applications and data are living in two completely separate environments.

Touting the benefits of portability and interoperability is easy – the upside speaks for itself. Attaining those benefits is another: companies (and their vendors) need to design with portability as a goal.

“To achieve true interoperability requires strategic architecting and maintenance,” Stockall says. “Whether organizations lock into one vendor for their public and private cloud needs or choose a multi-cloud strategy, companies need to invest time and resources to ensure their technology environment gains the full advantages of hybrid cloud. Portability has been and remains a key element to hybrid cloud ROI.”

Kadous expects a separate-but-related issue to be a hot topic in IT in the year ahead: Egress costs. It’s often “cheap” to move data into a cloud; it can be (very) expensive to move that data out of the same cloud. This creates “data gravity,” Kalous says.

As cloud strategies mature and companies work to optimize their footprint, Kadous anticipates growing pressure on cloud platforms to reduce egress fees. Regardless, data egress costs will play a bigger role in hybrid cloud strategy.

Over time, “This will change the equation about what it makes sense to do in one cloud and what it makes sense to do on-prem,” Kadous says. 

4. Distributed IT meets centralized control

Hybrid cloud (and multi-cloud) – especially as it intersects with edge computing – reflects enterprise IT’s overall shift from a centralized to a distributed model. Virtually every part of an organization and its IT portfolio, from infrastructure to applications to data, is increasingly spread among multiple locations and environments. Now the same is true of people, too, with many organizations moving to a remote or hybrid work model on a permanent or indefinite basis.

That doesn’t mean IT steps aside and anarchy reigns. Rather, expanding hybrid cloud and multi-cloud strategies redouble the need for strong management and continuous optimization. De from Capgemini foresees CIOs and other IT leaders seeking out platforms that give them control over their distributed environments.

“Leaders should expect to see a push toward a platform that provides control over which environments and services people can provision,” De says. “This platform will integrate multiple point products and solutions into a customized solution with a single interface and will serve as a single source for managing and controlling overall infrastructure.”

Kubernetes is the underlying foundation – see #2 above – of that platform for more and more organizations.

De also sees a related pursuit in 2022 of “digital readiness” as a complementary layer on top of core cloud management expertise – that is, the capability to securely and consistently apply enterprise-class management across multiple cloud providers.

The term “readiness,” of course, implies additional growth: An organization that may have developed core capabilities with one cloud provider will now seek to extend those capabilities to other environments, but with a much shorter learning curve than it may have traversed in the earlier phases of its cloud adoption.

[ 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.