Five years later, the hybrid cloud is real

When we surveyed over 300 IT and business professionals back in 2011 on their attitudes to cloud computing, a key trend we identified was that while public cloud definitely had a future in the enterprise, it was as a complement to on-premise IT, not its replacement. We also saw the growing importance of private cloud, and tying the two together we predicted a rosy future for their offspring – the hybrid cloud.

Fast-forward five years, and that hybrid has become reality. We have Microsoft delivering on-premise Azure services, VMware with its cross-cloud technology, hyper-converged upstarts such as Nutanix wanting to be your AWS-compatible ‘enterprise cloud’, and many other examples.

The rationale is clear: hybrid makes sense. The economics of the public cloud are great for short-term or intermittent use, or when you absolutely must minimise your capital expenditure (hello, software-based startups). However, when your IT needs are longer term and more predictable, it can be significantly more cost-effective to have your own infrastructure, whether it is on-premise or hosted in a co-located data centre.

Most organisations have a mix of the two, of course – a baseline of long-term regular needs, plus an element of the bursty and unpredictable. A hybrid cloud covers you for both, and if it is designed well, you can move services between the two as needed. (We’ve also written about other related approaches such as hybrid IT, where the on-site component is rented from and managed by a service provider.)

The caveat is the data. More than just being cost-effective, your data must obey extra rules – in particular, where you store it is covered by the often-complex issues of security and regulatory compliance. The rules vary by industry and region, but one thing they all share is that you can outsource technology, but you cannot outsource responsibility: it is your data, and it’s your problem if something goes wrong.

Fortunately, you can logically separate systems and data. If need be, you can have remotely-hosted private cloud applications accessing data stored on-premise, or hybrid cloud storage with some data hosted on-prem and the rest off-site. So once again it looks like the future’s bright: the future’s hybrid.

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Bryan Betts is sadly no longing with us. He worked as an analyst at Freeform Dynamics between July 2016 and February 2024, when he tragically passed away following an unexpected illness. We are proud to continue to host Bryan’s work as a tribute to his great contribution to the IT industry.