CIOs are adopting the hybrid cloud paradigm in droves, as we recently pointed out in a contributing article. As public cloud adoption continues to surge, organizations are turning their attention to connecting public compute resources to infrastructure residing in on-premises data centers. Can you just set up a VPN between the sites and call it a day? Hardly. Establishing a meaningful hybrid cloud requires considerate planning across many dimensions. How will you secure it? What does it mean to maintain services across organizational boundaries? Are workloads portable between environments? In this first of four blog articles, we’ll look at some of the biggest challenges that you’ll face as you set up a hybrid cloud environment.

What Challenges Will You Face?

Any vendor or consultant who promises a “seamless and straightforward” hybrid cloud is not being realistic. There are technical, cultural, and logistical challenges that await you. Let’s discuss a few that you should prepare for.

Security. This is usually the first item in any list regarding cloud computing, so why not this one too? As you plan out or mature your hybrid cloud, issues like compliance, identity management, and data protection will be front and center. Can you ensure data sovereignty policies are followed once a workload leaves your local infrastructure? Does your cloud environment require unique credentials that don’t meet your corporate complexity requirements? Do users of your public cloud environment have more permission than they should, especially compared to your private cloud? “Security” is an umbrella term for a wide range of considerations that may impact your vendor choice and implementation strategy. 

Networking. Meaningful hybrid integration requires thoughtful network design. What is the impact of latency between the public cloud location(s) and your private infrastructure? Do you have chatty applications that will struggle to work over wide area networks? Is there proper bandwidth for transferring large data sets? Can the hybrid network topology use your existing IP blocks? Do the same network security appliances you leverage in your private cloud work in the public environment? Cloud providers are increasingly offering sophisticated networking options, but you’ll likely find it challenging to natively extend your existing topology to the cloud.

Data and Application Integration. This is one of the first areas of integration between public and private environments that organizations focus on, but you still will face challenges when doing hybrid integration. Does the public cloud platform throttle inbound queries? Can you use the same patterns and tools to move data or process business events regardless of where the application resides? Can applications gracefully handle downtime of individual components that reside in different parts of the hybrid cloud? It’s wonderful to have a choice of which workloads to run where, but the nature of the integration with that workload may be a deciding factor in selecting a host.

System Management. Lifecycle management of hybrid cloud systems can be gruesome if done incorrectly. How can you do effective configuration management when infrastructure resources are provisioned in a self-service fashion across environments? Are you capable of securing and patching servers that sit across multiple environments? The nature of capacity planning changes when dealing with elastic resource pools, but nothing is truly infinite. Each environment has unique, natural constraints that have to be taken into account when assessing planned usage. When it comes to monitoring, all environments aren’t equal. The public cloud environments may only track a subset of monitors that you are used to capturing, and you might be faced with using multiple tools for monitoring system health. Depending on how tightly you’ve set up your network integration, it may not be possible to monitor, configure, or administer cloud servers with the same tools and processes you use for the private cloud.

Compatibility. There’s a good chance that your public and private clouds are running different infrastructure and software stacks. If you have an existing dependency on a particular hypervisor, you may face challenges when dealing with a public cloud that uses a different hypervisor – or doesn’t expose one to you at all! Can you use the same change management processes across your hybrid cloud, or are each unique depending on the provider? Core services and capabilities will probably differ greatly in a hybrid environment as a web-scale public cloud environment is inherently built differently than most any private cloud. Check your expectations with regards to compatibility, and expect to face challenges when the inevitable mismatch surfaces.

Portability. Is portability a holy grail of private cloud? To be sure, many start down the hybrid cloud path with visions of moving workloads easily between hosts as the business need dictates. Moving virtual machines and applications between clouds has gotten easier, but you will struggle to move metadata and configurations seamlessly between environments. If the hybrid cloud is based on identical platforms on both ends, this wont’ be as big of a challenge, but if there’s any compatibility mismatch, this will turn into an area of frustration.

Tooling and Skills. Hybrid cloud skills – and cloud skills in general – are in high demand. Some are finding it very difficult to find people with the architectural skills needed to deploy a successful hybrid cloud. A hybrid cloud plan requires expertise in infrastructure configuration, network architecture, application design, and business process automation. Do you have the skills and courage necessary to remake IT in a way that can advantage of the new cloud model? Gartner points out the difficulty of the cultural transformation needed to take advantage of private and hybrid clouds.

_Certainly the technologies to deliver private cloud are relatively immature and evolving, and many enterprises find that custom work is required to meet their needs, but much more difficult are the transformational adjustments needed to use the technology. Cloud services require operational processes that are designed for speed and customized for the services offered. An ingrained IT culture focused on technical expertise doesn’t fit a fully automated, self-service model that requires a service-oriented, team approach. _

Even if this transformation is under way, you’ll be challenged to find tools that offer the same capabilities across clouds. Ideally you can employ the same tools that your organization has already invested in, but it may be difficult to avoid new tools (and training) required to properly deliver hybrid cloud services.

Setting Yourself Up for Success

A hybrid cloud brings all sorts of complexity along with its tangible business benefits. Organizations are adopting hybrid clouds because they need the agility that the cloud paradigm brings. However, it takes thoughtful consideration and ongoing effort to stand up a maintainable, functional, integrated hybrid cloud that delivers on its promised efficiency. The good news is that there are answers to each of the challenges listed above! Join us for part two of this series where we provide some practical solutions to each challenge you face on your hybrid cloud journey.