Our 5-minute guide to hybrid cloud storage

What are the benefits and challenges of hybrid cloud storage?

Hybrid cloud storage is quite simply using a mix of internal and public cloud storage to suit the organisation's needs. It is of particular benefit to companies who, for reasons of compliance or security, wish to retain some or all of their data on-premises, whilst taking advantage of the benefits of the public cloud.

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This approach means that businesses can take advantage of the scalability, reliability and cost savings of public cloud storage, whilst also utilising the additional security and full control of private cloud storage.

With an estimated 68% of businesses either having deployed a hybrid cloud storage model or planning to within the next year, it's clear that companies can see the benefits of the technology and are finding ways to address some of the primary concerns around security and cost.

Benefits

Improved data sharing, mobility and elasticity are the fundamental benefits for hybrid cloud storage environments. By leveraging accelerated networking and cloud gateway caching technologies, organisations are now able to expand the flexibility of their cloud deployments.

To plan an optimal hybrid storage program, I&O groups must have full information about their current storage, so taking steps towards a hybrid cloud model can kickstart having improved visibility into the storage environment as an internal process.

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Furthermore, the ability to choose between public cloud and on-site storage ensures a level of confidence for businesses that may need to be careful about where and how certain parts of their data corpus is stored. Organisations in heavily regulated industries like banking or healthcare, for example, will need to ensure that sensitive information remains stored in-house, and a hybrid cloud environment allows them to do this while still taking using the public cloud for the rest of their data. 

A shared storage cloud deployment will also allow customers to apply familiar enterprise storage feature sets such as volume sharing, optimisation and application integration to their cloud workloads. The cost of such developments is high as they entail storage system, physical rack space and networking costs, but for burst and seasonal workloads, organisations should see a significant cost saving since they'll be taking advantage of the elasticity of cloud services.

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Risk-averse enterprises can justify the cost of the deployment by emphasising the ability to leverage familiar data protection and storage management capabilities while learning how to optimise workloads in cloud environments. Also, switching cloud providers is likely at some point in the future, so consider colocation networks to make the switch easier.

A good hybrid cloud storage environment should offer the flexibility to utilise resources both on-premises and off, based on a framework capable of policy-based management and intelligent oversight, regardless of physical location. This framework can then automate data lifecycle management, minimise excessive duplication and provide long-term visibility into data.

Challenges

The adoption of hybrid cloud storage adds a new set of concerns that never existed for storage environments that remained behind the corporate firewall. Security always leads the list of major issues across enterprise storage with 62% of organisations citing it as a top concern, so it is no surprise that the prospect of extending a storage environment outside the relative safety of the company datacentre via the internet involves additional risks.

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Data security can often appear at odds with the accelerated development expectations in the age of the cloud, but it doesn't have to be if there's a hybrid cloud framework in place that can automate data security policies while continuing to enable the on-demand capabilities of hybrid cloud storage.

Cost management is another key concern, as a hybrid cloud environment introduces a whole new set of pricing variables based on storage capacity, performance, location, movement and availability options - not to mention that it is challenging to track storage usage across multiple cloud platforms.

There are a number of other challenges such as performance, legacy application support and system management which at present have no straightforward solutions, but many of these will likely be resolved with future advancements in hybrid cloud storage management technology.

Recommendations

Hybrid cloud represents what can be the most effective method for incorporating the highly flexible capabilities and cost reduction afforded by cloud technology, while at the same time maintaining the security and internal control capabilities offered by on-premises infrastructure. That doesn't make concerns around adoption invalid, but few obstacles are insurmountable to businesses who want to utilise the benefits of a hybrid solution.

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It's important to remember that cloud adoption doesn't have to be a binary decision. Cloud storage resources should be considered simply as another tool in the toolbox, and one that should be utilised based on the appropriate combination of business application suitability, security and management issues - as well as cost savings.

Storage technologists should approach hybrid cloud storage as an opportunity to explore capabilities and services that most IT environments could never afford to implement on-premises.

There are also opportunities for storage vendors and cloud storage providers to help customers address security, cost and implementation concerns around hybrid cloud storage, as the benefits of the technology become more widely accepted. 

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