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How to Prepare for the Hybrid Cloud: A Checklist

This is a guest story by Gilad Maayan, a technology writer having 20 years’ experience in developer tools and IT infrastructure. 

As more enterprises look to leverage the benefits of cloud computing, the hybrid cloud has emerged as a popular option. Let’s clarify exactly what defines each type of cloud service in modern IT architecture:

  • In the public cloud, computing and storage are provided as services by third-party providers such as Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure to external customers using the public Internet.
  • The private cloud is a distinct cloud computing environment accessible only by one client, whether over a private network connection or hosted internally on-premises.
  • The hybrid cloud is an integrated cloud setup combining internal (private cloud) and external (public cloud) services, with organizations orchestrating workflows between the two.

In the hybrid cloud, public and private cloud services are connected using encryption technology over a wide area network. The hybrid cloud’s popularity is evident in the fact that 73 percent of surveyed organizations are pursuing a hybrid cloud strategy.

Hybrid Cloud Computing: Reasons to Migrate

Flexibility: enterprises can leverage the scalability of public cloud services to store growing data volumes or run applications with high workloads, all while maintaining the governance required for sensitive data by restricting it to the private cloud.

Easy Scalability: upgrading on-premise systems to incorporate growing workloads or more data is costly and time-consuming. The hybrid cloud solutions offer effortless scalability by simply provisioning more public cloud resources (or in the case of serverless computing – scale automatically), and the provider takes care of the rest.

Agility: when heavy application usage arises for mission-critical apps, organizations can quickly leverage the public cloud for more computing resources and switch some workloads to the public systems, meaning less downtime, better performance, and fewer outages.

Cost-effective: the ability to dynamically adjust the amount of capacity you use in the public or private environment can lead to impressive cost-effectiveness. Many public cloud providers offer a pay-per-use pricing structure, providing even more cost benefits.

With that understanding of the hybrid cloud and what it offers, let’s go through a checklist of some important points you need to consider when preparing for a transition to hybrid cloud infrastructure.

Transitioning to Hybrid Cloud: A Checklist

Research your provider options and perform due diligence

When preparing to implement a hybrid cloud setup, you’ll harness the services of one or more public cloud providers. It’s a good idea here not to just dive in and choose one of the more popular names like AWS or Microsoft Azure without performing appropriate due diligence and research.

After all, moving to the cloud, even though it has the potential for many benefits, still represents a significant investment of time and resources for your company. Your choice of public cloud provider is a decision you need to get right, ultimately by thoroughly assessing the services offered by each provider and deciphering how well those services align with your planned use of the public cloud.

Perhaps you want to use the public cloud solely for application workloads. In that case, you’ll want something like AWS EC2 or Microsoft Azure. The key is to recognize that there are a slew of options out there. Thoroughly researching the alignment of available public cloud services with your business goals will help you choose the right cloud provider, one that gives you the performance, reliability, and availability you need.

Prepare for outages and back up your data

It’s always prudent to have a disaster recovery plan in place that clearly documents the processes, policies and tools you plan to use in the event of a natural or human-induced catastrophe.

Downtime costs enterprises an estimated $100,000 per hour, so it’s clearly a real priority to cope with any unexpected outages promptly and minimize downtime, particularly for those mission-critical applications that are central to your infrastructure.

As part of a hybrid cloud movement, cloud backup solutions are also essential. If you choose to use the public cloud to store data, you must  realize that cloud providers can experience outages too. This is where cloud backup solutions are useful. Top cloud vendors offer built-in backup and recovery solutions, such as Azure’s site recovery solution or AWS’s disaster recovery services, while third-party vendors (such as N2WS) offer managed disaster recovery and expanded features on top of the default DR offerings.

By backing up data in the cloud to some sort of backup or disaster recovery service you ensure that you are prepared for the worst-case scenarios with your hybrid cloud implementation.

Check compliance requirements

It’s important to have a full understanding of your compliance requirements before the transition to the cloud. If any sensitive data will enter into public cloud systems, you must ensure the cloud provider has the required certifications to comply with any government policies pertaining to sensitive information you handle.

The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) in 2013 extended the compliance rules to businesses that store protected information on behalf of their clients. This means that for any sensitive health information, there’s shared accountability between your public cloud provider and your business. Appropriate investigation is necessary to make sure your cloud provider complies with HIPAA rules.

The Payment Card Industry Security Standards Council published a revised set of guidelines in 2013 in relation to cloud environments, specifying that, “There is shared responsibility between the cloud service provider (CSP) and its clients,” when protecting credit card information.

In summary, you at least need to check your cloud provider’s website for a specific compliance section, and require proof that its systems have been independently verified as complying with relevant regulations for data in your industry.

Introduce a virtual private network

Any successful hybrid cloud environment relies on the low-latency connection between public and private cloud systems for everything to function smoothly. This all comes down to efficient network management; the last thing you need is to go to the effort of implementing a hybrid cloud set up only to encounter bandwidth issues and network bottlenecks.

An option often considered is updating Internet lines for increased speed, but this can quickly become costly. A private networking option such as a virtual private network can provide the asset you need for a dedicated connection between private and public clouds. You could also boost public cloud reliability by availing yourself of a direct connection service, offered by both Azure and AWS.

Segment application workloads

The whole point of using a hybrid cloud set up is to leverage the scalability and convenience of the public cloud to reduce the burden on on-premise systems and reduce the cost of your IT infrastructure. On this note, it makes sense to plan properly and balance workloads for applications. Decide which apps it makes sense to host on public versus private clouds.

The best advice in this regard is to perhaps segment your applications, first into those requiring the most control, monitoring, and performance management; these apps can be hosted in your private cloud. Other considerations include the need to keep information confidential and the data volume or scale of data produced by your apps. Additionally, match the business use case with the most appropriate solution. For example, Microsoft Azure would be best used for running a .NET-based application because it naturally has an advantage with such apps.

Migrate in phases

Instead of doing everything at once, first identify any processes, applications, or tools you could easily migrate to a public cloud system. These initial workloads can act as pilot projects, giving your company the chance to learn a lot about the intricacies and nuances of smaller migrations before tackling a larger migration to a public cloud provider.

Also, with each migration phase, check its impact on applications before making the move. This way you can figure out which applications need updating before or during the migration process.

Balance your budget

The ability to orchestrate workloads and data between public and private clouds can provide impressive cost savings; however, you need to carefully budget for your hybrid cloud IT investment. Provisioning a private cloud infrastructure requires significant upfront investment in software and possibly hardware. However, heavy reliance on public cloud resources can lead to large monthly usage bills. The key is finding the right balance that fits your company.

Choose a scaling strategy

One of the main draws of a hybrid cloud setup is how easy it is to extend your IT capabilities by simply provisioning more resources from the public provider when your storage or computing needs grow. Since private clouds are scalable too, the right scaling strategy is important.

You must decide on an appropriate scaling strategy that includes factors such as anticipated costs, the sensitivity of data, and the control you need over the applications that you scale. These factors will ultimately dictate whether you scale out particular data or apps to the public cloud or private cloud.

Implement a security policy

Security is obviously imperative in any IT setup, and in the hybrid cloud, it can be tricky to get right. There is a need to bridge security between private/on-premises systems and public cloud systems into a cohesive whole.

The most important thing is to identify security needs early and put a consistent security policy into operation in advance of migrating to a hybrid cloud setup. The cloud computing security policy should consider network security (encryption), unprotected APIs, risk assessments, regulatory compliance, data redundancy, and proper authentication.

Wrap Up

The checklist outlined here has overviewed some of the most important things you should be thinking about to prepare for your organization’s move towards implementing a hybrid cloud IT infrastructure. Putting it all together, the cloud can seem like a byzantine process that isn’t worth the effort or the complexity. However, the benefits of more agility, increased scalability, and much higher flexibility are worth it in the long run. Furthermore, and even more telling because cost is nearly always the key constraint for a company’s IT infrastructure, the hybrid cloud leads to cost savings of between 5 percent and 30 percent for enterprises.

Gilad is the CEO and Founder of Agile SEO, a digital marketing agency focused on SaaS and technology clients. He has done strategic consulting, content marketing, and SEO/SEM for over 150 technology companies including Zend, Oracle, Electric Cloud, JFrog and Check Point. Together with his team, he’s helped numerous tech startups move from zero to tens of thousands of users, and driven double to triple digit growth in conversion and revenue for established software businesses.

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