Productivity expert David Allen has an interesting insight about why so many of us put off dealing with complex projects. As Allen explains, you can’t actually “do” a project the way you do a task. Projects must first be broken down into actionable tasks, often many of them. That’s the step that overwhelms us. We don’t know where to begin, so we often put off the whole project. Respond to a coworker’s email? That’s a task, and it is doable right now. Move your company’s computing processes to the cloud? That’s a project, not doable right now, so where the heck will you begin?
This insight might help explain why, according to recent research from Gartner, only about 62 percent of small and mid-sized businesses are using cloud computing today. Yes, industry experts expect those numbers to increase; an IBM study forecasts 80 percent of businesses will be using the cloud by 2020. Nevertheless, given all of cloud computing’s well-publicized benefits - cost savings, increased productivity, reliability, flexibility, etc. — why aren’t 100 percent of SMBs already fully leveraging the cloud?
Often the issue is simply that a company-wide cloud-migration project is too complex and time-consuming for a small business’ IT team, which likely lacks extensive resources or budget, and is already stretched thin putting out fires every day. These teams must often put off the cloud question until later.
In fact, even among those 62 percent of SMBs utilizing some form of cloud computing today, many are still struggling to find the best setup to manage their applications, data and infrastructure. One major challenge for these companies is to determine which apps and data they’re even comfortable hosting offsite in the first place. For security, regulatory or reliability concerns, these organizations might prefer to keep some of this infrastructure onsite, where their IT teams can keep a watchful eye on it.
One answer to such challenges is to implement a hybrid cloud infrastructure, which can enable a business to leverage the cloud for some of its applications and computing needs while still keeping its mission-critical or sensitive data closer to home.
Let’s discuss this infrastructure, including some of its advantages and disadvantages, so you can get a better sense of whether it makes sense for your organization.
What is hybrid cloud?
As its name suggests, hybrid cloud is a computing environment in which two different types of technology infrastructures — often called public cloud and private cloud — work together, enabling an organization to leverage the specific benefits of both offsite and onsite computing.
On its website, Microsoft summarizes hybrid cloud this way: "When computing and processing demand fluctuates, hybrid cloud computing gives businesses the ability to seamlessly scale their on-premises infrastructure up to the public cloud to handle any overflow — without giving third-party data centers access to the entirety of their data. Organizations gain the flexibility and computing power of the public cloud for basic and non-sensitive computing tasks, while keeping business-critical applications and data on-premises, safely behind a company firewall.”
Hybrid cloud is sometimes described as “the best of all computing worlds.” This is because it allows a business to customize its IT infrastructure based on its own unique cost-benefit analysis of specific functions. These can include the desire for affordable high-speed processing (which might be available only through a cloud provider) and the desire to maintain certain mission-critical data or applications in-house, so that even Internet connection problems won’t slow the company’s normal operations.
However, hybrid cloud isn’t without its potential drawbacks, particularly for an SMB that tries to deploy this type of environment without the benefit of trusted third-party companies, such as managed cloud and managed security experts. Here are a few of the key advantages and disadvantages of hybrid cloud you should consider.
Advantages of hybrid cloud
Because businesses can leverage public cloud services using a pay-as-you-go arrangement, an organization could use a cloud environment to host resource-intensive applications, using and paying for that processing power only when necessary, as opposed to trying to build an in-house infrastructure to host that processing capability at all times. A public cloud provider like Amazon Web Services (AWS) will also let a small business automatically and immediately scale up (or down) its computing needs on the public cloud, so an SMB will be able to add capacity without delay when the need arises.
Moreover, with a hybrid cloud environment, a business may also find a far more cost-effective means of backing up, archiving and securing its corporate data than it could if it tried to build out and manage an on-premises backup infrastructure (or several of them for redundancy) on its own. This is because public cloud providers can provide data backup services (as well as the disaster recovery and business continuity services that often go along with them) far more cost-effectively by leveraging both their expertise and the economies of scale in their offsite, secure data centers.
One ongoing risk to any business relying exclusively on a cloud service is the potential that the connection between the business and that cloud provider fails for any reason. It could be something as simple as a problem with a business’s own onsite routers or a glitch at their ISP. If the company cannot connect out to the rest of the world via the Internet from its offices, then any business operations dependent on that connection will suffer downtime.
However, if that company were using a hybrid cloud environment, then it would likely not be relying 100 percent on that persistent Internet connection and therefore would be less likely to have its normal operations compromised. The company might maintain copies of its mission-critical applications and customer data onsite, for example, meaning that even if communications were cut temporarily, the company could continue processing data and conducting normal business operations.
Another benefit of hybrid cloud is that it can allow a business to empower its staff to be productive anytime by giving them access to key applications and company data via the public cloud from their smartphones, laptops or even home computers.
As we just pointed out, one ongoing risk to a business’s Internet-dependent operations is the potential for an Internet outage (or even a severe slowing of service in the area). When this happens to a company that is also leveraging the public cloud with staff remotely accessing key applications and corporate data, these employees can now rapidly shift to Plan B by getting to an area with better Internet service so they can resume normal communications and business operations.
Disadvantages of hybrid cloud (and pitfalls to avoid)
Steep learning curve
Because they have limited IT resources and already busy teams, most small companies have neither the in-house expertise to structure an effective hybrid cloud environment nor the time to learn these best practices on their own.
The decisions involved in implementing this complex infrastructure — those actionable tasks the project must be broken into before an IT team can make any real progress on hybrid cloud — often have a steep learning curve. If an IT department is forced to rush this process or undertake it without the help of third-party experts, they will probably create a sub-optimal environment where performance is low, costs are high, and applications are underutilized.
Security and compliance risks
A hybrid cloud environment set up properly can provide the highest levels of data security and regulatory compliance for a small business. Failing to implement security and compliance best practices, however, can result in a corporate data environment that is both vulnerable to cyber criminals and more likely to raise red flags of that company’s data-privacy regulations — whether HIPAA, SOX, GLBA, FERPA, or any of the other strict, complex and ever-changing laws governing how businesses protect their customers’ personally identifiable information.
Businesses need to know, for example, what level of physical security the industry experts consider sufficient today for a data center (remember, these best practices change regularly), what level of encryption is deemed the most advanced both for data in transit and while at rest on servers, etc.
The importance of getting these details right when deploying a hybrid cloud infrastructure is why SMBs should not try to develop these environments on their own, but should instead engage the services of experts, such as managed security services provider (MSSP).
Finally, deploying a hybrid cloud environment without the benefit of guidance from third-party experts can lead to performance issues across the organization. This is because hybrid cloud involves the integrating of several different platforms, technologies and vendors into a seamless, customized computing environment. Unless you know exactly what you are doing, merging these different tech stacks between your public and private clouds could cause compatibility issues.
This is yet another reason that a best practice for deploying hybrid cloud includes enlisting the help of a third-party expert with experience specifically in such implementation projects. You do not want to learn after you’ve rolled out a complex new hybrid cloud architecture across your organization that your private cloud isn’t playing well with your public cloud.
A smart next step: consult with experts on whether hybrid cloud is right for you
Clearly, hybrid cloud can offer a small business significant benefits in terms of cost savings, increased productivity and reliability, and even enhanced security and regulatory compliance. This all assumes, however, that the company implements its hybrid cloud the right way—and this will almost certainly require outside help.
If your team is considering a hybrid cloud implementation - and you should be - your next step should be to break this complex project into a series of actionable tasks. Your first task: Consult with a team of experts about your company’s operations, budget, needs, and current IT environment - and let them advise you on whether hybrid cloud is right for you and how best to implement it.