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All Signs Point to Hybrid Cloud for Modern Data Center Cloud Services

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News of Cisco’s purchase of cloud services provider  Metacloud dominated headlines not related to iPhone sales, kicking off the week of September 22. The Pasadena, California-based company deploys and operates data centers for its customers; their stated goal is “giving companies a private cloud experience that rivaled that of public clouds.”

It is no surprise that Metacloud was bought up by Cisco. The networking giant announced in March they would be investing $1 billion in the next two years to build its expanded cloud business. In that announcement, Cisco president Rob Lloyd envisioned a new “Global Intercloud” which would leverage OpenStack stack software to develop a standards-based global infrastructure capable of supporting workloads of all sizes, compatible with any hypervisor and able to interoperate with any existing cloud.

Metacloud offers exactly this type of solution. They deploy and manage  on-site data centers for companies (private cloud), host virtualized data center services on their own equipment (public cloud), and most importantly, they offer a hybrid combination of the two. This sort of linked public-private solution is the emergent trend in cloud computing—one in which Cisco wants to position itself as a key player.

This trend is called hybrid cloud.

With a hybrid cloud solution, some of the hardware—servers, switches, firewalls, etcetera—is physically housed at the company.  Other data is virtualized on remote hardware beyond company walls. Users access both private and public clouds with a proprietary application programming interface (API), which conveniently puts configuration, deployment, and monitoring services in one place for the user. The API has built-in authentication systems intended to streamline user management functions.

Now, here’s where clarification is needed.  A company that uses both publicly- and privately-hosted cloud networks can be said to use a hybrid cloud only if the public cloud and the private cloud are paired together and there is orchestration and automation between the two. A hybrid cloud should permit load scaling between public and private, and provide a seamless expansion of virtualized instances when called upon to do so. This type of orchestration should be scalable, have automated features, and allow customers to switch cloud providers should they find a better pricing or service, says Jim O’Reilly, a thought leader in cloud networking.

Hybrid Cloud: The Best of Both Worlds?

Hybrid cloud services have grown in popularity because of the options and flexibility they offer. The goal is to achieve the best of both worlds when it comes to public versus private cloud hosting. Here are the main differences in a nutshell:

Public cloud hosting offers a simple approach to cloud computing. It has lower up-front costs since it does not require that a company spend on physical hardware and the cost of maintaining it. Public cloud hosting is usually purchased under a pay-as-you-go model. Certain security features are bundled in behind an enterprise-class firewall. Fees are pay-as-you-go, and dependent on the number of users accessing the network. It is usually governed by monthly or yearly contracts.

While it is more costly to deploy and maintain, a private cloud offers a company greater control over security and reporting features. This can be critical in industries where regulatory compliance is a must. Private cloud setups enjoy freedom from rules of deficiencies imposed by a public hosting service. Private cloud hosting fosters better performance since it operates via intranet rather than onthe Internet.

Not All Data Is Equal: Why Hybrid Cloud Makes Sense

At the end of the day, the question of public versus private cloud comes down to weighing cost and control. Since not all data demands the rigorous security, analysis, and fast recall that a private cloud offers, having both types of clouds makes sense for many companies. Now that software applications are able to facilitate orchestration between public and private cloud hardware, hybrid cloud solutions are becoming more and more desirable.

That’s the reason Cisco is putting up billions acquiring hybrid cloud companies like Metacloud.  That, and the public cloud price war between the big three providers—Amazon Web Services, Google, and Microsoft—has forced other industry players to look elsewhere for market share.

Stacks and Racks: The Future of Hybrid Cloud Hardware Offerings

What does this mean for the future of networking hardware? Hybrid cloud operations demand a dynamic association among components–a quality in IT that is called orchestration. We are starting to see vendors offer stacked solutions that operate on open-source networking software designed especially for such dynamic orchestration. For example, just this week, Canonical, the parent company of Ubuntu® Linux, teamed up with AMD in rolling out a high-end data center rack powered by a SeaMicro™ SM15000 server. The rack uses Ubuntu-based Metal-as-a-Service networking language and Juju® DevOps for deploying scalable, dynamic hardware orchestrations.

But is buying brand new hardware a necessity for hybrid cloud networking? Perhaps not right away. “Users today report little difference in orchestration and integration between cloud and legacy IT,” writes Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corporation, a cloud solutions provider.  “As cloud computing continues to evolve, however, that will change. Today, companies are looking at cloud applications that never ran on their traditional data center systems at all.”

This evolution points to the future of hybrid cloud networking being done all on commercial off-the-shelf products. Major vendors like IBM, Dell, and HP already have products compatible with the orchestration requirement needed for hybrid cloud operations. Major cloud providers Microsoft Azure, VMware, and Red Hat deploy equipment that meets this requirement as well.

This type of synergy in the industry tends to drive the technology. What this means is you will probably see more stack-type server offerings from the big players in the industry to accommodate companies opting to bring at least part of their data center back on premises.

While technological movements are always exciting, remember there is no one-solution-fits-all scenario because all companies have unique data needs. The good news here is that the options continue to grow more flexible and customizable. No matter what, choosing between public cloud, private cloud, and hybrid cloud demands a full understanding of your data needs in order to choose the best cloud solution for your company.

Photo by Torkild Retvedt, taken from Flickr Creative Commons
Adam Lovinus

Adam Lovinus

A tech writer and Raspberry Pi enthusiast from Orange County, California.

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