Bridging the Cloud Gap: Hybrid Cloud is the Technical and Financial Choice

For years, we’ve heard the mantra of “to the cloud” in which pundits have said, with absolute certainty, that a journey to the public cloud is inevitable and will be the platform of choice for every business in the not-too-distant future.
Nope.  Not gonna happen.
Here’s what will happen – and is already happening – instead: organizations across the globe will be supporting hybrid cloud environments under which they leverage a combination of public cloud and on-premises data center services.  There remain, and will remain, reasons that not all applications are suitable for the cloud.  These reasons include cost, security, compliance, performance, and many more.

The Money Question

Why do companies move to the cloud in the first place?  The answer always comes down to money.  “But, wait,” you might say to yourself, “the cloud also allows me more business agility than I can get with an on-premises solution.”
And that, too, is about money.  Wanting and needing business agility is a function of wanting to be able to leverage new business opportunities as they arise.  New business opportunities generally – hopefully – equates to more revenue.

Public Cloud and CapEx

The hardware CapEx spend on a project that leverages public cloud is pretty decent.  It’s one of the biggest reasons that companies seek out public cloud, at least initially.  Everything is an on-demand, pay-as-you-go OpEx model that virtually eliminates massive startup costs – at least those related to infrastructure.  You just pay for what you use.

The Public Cloud is Perfect!  Oh, Wait…

It would seem to be the perfect scenario!  Why would you ever buy any hardware ever again if you could just rent someone else’s infrastructure and run your stuff on it?  As I alluded to previously, the reasons are many:

  • Compliance.  For many, data locality is a really important consideration, particularly with the nastiness taking place with US intelligence agencies.  Many other governments and organizations are actively avoiding anything that could ensnare them in this intelligence net.
  • Security.  Whether it’s real or perceived, there remain organizations that wish to keep all or at least some data in the safe, cozy local data center.
  • Cost.  Cloud is expensive!

Here’s where you are asking, “What?  Didn’t he just say that cloud was cheaper?”

Renting vs. Buying

When you go on a business trip, do you go to a local automobile dealership and buy a car for the three days that you’ll be there?  Probably not. This is the very reason that car rental companies exist.  You get to borrow their car for a few days while you’re traveling and, in return, you give them some money for that use.  The rental company is on the hook for maintaining the vehicle  You just use it.
At home, it’s unlikely that you would rent a car for your everyday needs.
Again… money.  It would get prohibitively expensive to rent a car for 3 years straight.  You save money by buying your own car, but with the understanding that you’re also then responsible for maintaining that vehicle.
You’ve done the financial analysis and understand that renting a car when you’re traveling makes more sense that buying one every time you travel.  You’ve also realized that buying your own car for home makes more financial sense.
This is the exact same thought process that CIOs go through as they consider cloud.  Getting started in the cloud is easy… just like renting a car is easy. To a certain point, keeping everything in the cloud might even be cost effective, just like holding on to a rental car for a certain period of time is cost effective.
However, at some point, it makes more financial sense to re-home cloud-based services and bring them back to the data center.  In fact, a number of companies that initially made the jump to the public cloud have clawed some of it back as they discovered that it made more sense to run certain workloads in-house or store certain data in-house.
This is not to say that these companies are abandoning the public cloud; nothing could be further from the truth.  What is happening is that there is a selective culling going on.  Organizations are more carefully assessing workloads to determine what should run in which location.
The era of the hybrid cloud is upon us.

The Impact on Storage

Storage is obviously impacted when workloads run all over the place.  When everything is completely separated, it’s difficult to gain the efficiencies that are possible when everything is neat and centralized.  With that in mind, some storage vendors have created abstraction opportunities that enable seamless coupling of on-premises data with data housed in the cloud.  After all, administrators shouldn’t need to care about where data resides.  They should just be able to manage it all.  That means that there needs to be a way to seamlessly move data from one location to another without having to mess around with it.
The most successful storage companies in the future will have the ability to help their customers manage their storage resources in a hybrid cloud environment in which some of the company’s data will reside in the cloud and some will reside in a private data center.

NetApp’s View

Recently, I had the opportunity to listen to NetApp’s Dave Hitz (Founder and EVP) and Joe CaraDonna (Sr. Technical Director) discuss NetApp’s Data Fabric strategy.  NetApp’s view is that data management is key.  There needs to be a uniform management paradigm when it comes to supporting data is disparate locations.  To that end, NetApp has built their Data Fabric offering around the following five design principles:

  1. Control: Securely retain control and governance of data regardless of its location: on premises, near the cloud, or in the cloud.
  2. Choice: Choose cloud, application ecosystem, delivery methods, storage platforms, and deployment models, with freedom to change.
  3. Integration: Enable the components in every layer of the architectural stack to operate as one while extracting the full value of each component.
  4. Access: Easily get data to where applications need it, when they need it, in a way they can use it.
  5. Consistency: Manage data across multiple environments using standard tools and processes regardless of where it resides.

Principles are great, but aren’t worth a whole lot without good strategy and execution behind them.

Cloud ONTAP and NetApp Private Storage

NetApp has made is possible to run ONTAP in cloud providers – i.e. AWS – for some time.  This is ONTAP in a virtual machine running on top of a cloud providers storage services.  You still get the data services capabilities found in ONTAP, you you effectively gain the ability to pay as you go with regard to the actual capacity.
NetApp Private Storage enables companies to move data to locations “near” the cloud rather than in the cloud.  NetApp has a partnerships with Equinix, who locates data centers very near the data centers for public cloud providers with very high bandwidth connections to those public cloud providers.  In this scenario, the customer still buys the NetApp hardware, but it’s located in an Equinix data center rather than on-premises in a private, locally owned data center.  As such, you still get all of the data services that you expect.  With SnapMirror, you can replicate data from your local on-premises storage to your Equinix-based storage.  This architecture allows you to avoid huge costs in building a secondary site; you can just colocate your storage at Equinix.
And now, with everything together, you can run some services in your local data center (buy the car and build the garage), in someone else’s (Equinix’s) data center (buy the car, but use someone else’s garage), or run ONTAP atop a cloud provider (rent the car).
The key here is to understand that you’re able to manage all of this storage, regardless of location, centrally.  As an administrator, you don’t need to cobble together a bunch of disparate solutions.  Rather, you can use the same solution across any paradigm.  In other words, you can adopt a hybrid cloud environment with a single storage vendor.
If you’d like to learn much, much more about these offerings from NetApp, and their founder’s thoughts on where IT is heading with regard to private cloud, I encourage you to watch these videos:

Disclosure: ActualTech Media principals – David M. Davis, Scott D. Lowe and James Green – regularly participate in both paid and unpaid events sponsored by a variety of vendors across the technical landscape.  Payment in this case may take the form of direct payments, travel expenses, meals, and various and sundry gifts.  Further, as a part of ActualTech Media, we have direct relationships with a number of technology vendors from whom we accept payment to perform various projects and services.  For this article, Scott Lowe attended Storage Field Day 9.  NetApp paid Gestalt IT and, in turn, Gestalt IT paid for expenses related to our trip to visit NetApp.