Hybrid cloud is most definitely one of the hot topics of the moment, replacing just 'cloud' as the buzz phrase you are most likely to see being bandied around by companies and popping up in news headlines.
There are several reasons why hybrid should be on the agenda at the moment, but I think that a major reason is that many on the vendor side of the IT industry have worked out that it is a good way of preserving threatened business models.
Cloud computing is essentially about data centre automation, and moving to a model where IT services can be delivered in a timelier and more responsive on-demand way, rather than the traditional way of users and developers having to file a ticket and wait months for the IT department to fulfil their request.
The archetype for this method of delivery is firms like Google, or perhaps Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a better example as it has been offering online virtual servers and storage backed by other services and infrastructure for nearly a decade now.
The advantages of deploying on AWS are well known: you can request a new server instance and it will be up and running in minutes with your choice of application stack already deployed.
In addition, AWS offers the option to automatically scale out in response to quality-of-service triggers, while customers pay only for the resources they are actually using at any moment.
For many businesses, the prospect of not having to pay upfront for physical infrastructure must be tempting. In fact, AWS believes that more and more IT infrastructure will be moved to the cloud - and its own cloud in particular, because of its scale and global presence - as time goes on.
There are downsides, of course. Moving infrastructure to the cloud means ceding some control to a third party, and many businesses are still not comfortable with the idea.
There is also the question of data security, which may or may not be a big issue depending on your industry sector and how much faith you place in the cloud vendors' promises that their systems are actually more secure than yours will ever be.
For this reason, many large organisations are likely to maintain a certain amount of on-premise infrastructure for the foreseeable future. This doesn't mean they won't take advantage of cloud, because the self-service and automated delivery aspects of it make a compelling case for implementing a private cloud.
But many IT departments have apparently found it difficult to adapt their existing infrastructure into one suited for operating in a cloud, hence the number of 'cloud-in-a-box' solutions now being offered by vendors.
These comprise pre-configured storage, servers and networking, often delivered in a rack that can be slotted into the data centre and simply plugged in.
This is where the traditional reseller channel comes into the picture, because these specialists are typically the best placed to offer organisations the level of hand-holding and support they need. Far from cloud leading to channel partners being disintermediated, it appears to be making them more vital than ever.
Which brings us to hybrid cloud. Once organisations are happy with the way their private cloud is operating, they are likely to increase their use of it, and this will soon require additional resources.
These might be added by provisioning additional infrastructure, but a more cost effective way for less critical or sensitive workloads might be to put those onto a public cloud.
However, implementing a hybrid cloud strategy isn't as simple as all that; unless you want to end up managing two separate cloud silos, you're going to want to be able to manage the public and private cloud resources using the same admin tools.
In short, it makes everything much easier if there is a high level of consistency between the public and private clouds, and this will often mean using the same cloud platform at both ends.
This is something that many of the cloud firms worked out some time ago, with the result that VMware started its vCloud Air initiative, building out its own public cloud that is compatible with the vSphere platform its customers are running internally. And VMware made sure that capacity on vCloud Air is sold via the same channel partners.
HP is following a similar path with its Helion portfolio, offering private cloud packages such as the recently announced CloudSystem 9.0, backed by compatible Helion services provided from its global data centre network.
Even Microsoft has a similar strategy, although it started from the opposite end by offering Azure cloud services from its network of data centres, and is now set to offer customers the Azure Stack to create a compatible private cloud on their own infrastructure.
What has happened is that the vendors have realised that cloud is the future of IT delivery, but that enterprise customers still prefer a single source for it all, if this can be arranged, and see hybrid cloud as a marvellous opportunity to do just that.
Once again, these solutions are chiefly set to use the local expertise and existing customer relationships of the vendor's respective channel partners to bring them to fruition. Is cloud going to kill the traditional IT market? Not at this rate.
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