AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform continue to compete for the title of the best public cloud provider. 2019 figures from Rightscale (reported in ZDNet’s annual report) have Amazon’s AWS as the clear market leader on 61% market share but Google Cloud Platform, currently in third spot, have more businesses currently experimenting with the platform (22%) and planning to move to it (14%) than either AWS or second-placed Microsoft Azure.
Over the past few years, there has been an increasing clamour from SMB owners for hybrid cloud solutions and AWS are well positioned to deliver this.
SMBs are often stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to designing the optimal IT infrastructure for their companies. Their main challenge is cost optimization. They have the same need for security and performance as their larger competitors, so don’t want to risk going fully cloud native, but equally they don’t have the cash flow or capital to invest in their own private cloud infrastructures. Even if they did, they wouldn’t want to completely miss out on the cost savings and other benefits (flexibility, scalability, accessibility etc.) of the public cloud.
This article looks at the main benefits of the hybrid cloud model, especially as it applies to SMBs.
High Level Security Where You Need It Most
Despite the deployment of industry-leading firewall and encryption technology, the public cloud is inherently seen as a higher risk environment than a fully enclosed and monitored private cloud. Security features also have to be carefully configured which can be very complicated and introduce the chance of human error. In addition, identifying who is responsible for securing the cloud network at different points is not always clear cut and depends partly on the cloud model used.
On top of that, industry data protection regulations often specify that data must be secured in a specific way. This is often incompatible with the public cloud.
A hybrid cloud solution can solve the security dilemma by providing both a private component for the storage of sensitive data and a public component for less sensitive data. Businesses can choose between different security features depending on their needs and budget. Most SMBs won’t have the security needs of an industrial organization but trust is still important to customers. By offering private storage of sensitive data, SMBs can establish this level of trust and gain an advantage in the marketplace.
If security is the biggest benefit a hybrid cloud offers over the public cloud, then reduced cost is its most significant advantage over private clouds.
Deploying and maintaining the infrastructure needed for a private cloud is usually beyond the means of an SMB anyway. The cost of servers, switches, memory, hard drives, back up devices and more adds up to huge capital expenditure. Then there is the fully resourced IT team needed to run and maintain this hardware.
A hybrid cloud set-up shifts the balance from capex to opex with the public cloud element paid for as a monthly charge based on the resource used. The team needed to run a hybrid cloud network is also much smaller so staff can be redeployed to other areas.
Bulk data storage is also less expensive in the public cloud, particularly when archived in long-term ‘cold’ storage. By diverting their least sensitive data to the cloud, SMBs can benefit from significant cost savings without compromising the security of their privately stored data.v
Increased capacity and power
With the power of distributed cloud computing behind them, SMBs can, for the first time in history, compete with the industry giants on a more or less even footing. By adopting a hybrid network, companies can leverage practically unlimited storage space and compute resources. If an unexpected spike in demand occurs, a hybrid network can cope with it – unlike a private cloud. Hybrid networks are designed to work as one large system. Distributing data between on-premise and off-site storage is normally facilitated by a cloud storage appliance which plays the role of a gateway. Cloud management platforms then enable administrators to manage data storage from one place. Provided they can afford the monthly data storage and egress charges, SMBs will no longer face the technological restrictions of the pre-cloud era.
Ability to Balance Control with Delegation
A hybrid cloud set-up can help an SMB to balance the control and management of their network with sensible outsourcing arrangements. For the private element of their hybrid cloud, businesses will need to draw up a cloud management strategy which sets out various policies (e.g. for configuration and instalment management, access control and budget management). They must also come to a decision about the right set of cloud management tools for the job. A key decision will be whether to use multiple specialized tools or a consolidated solution (aka a ‘single pane of glass’).
Responsibility for managing the public cloud element of the network can be outsourced to a third party IT services provider and governed by a carefully scrutinized SLA. All off-site software and security upgrades will be handled remotely, easing the burden on in-house IT and perhaps freeing up resources for more strategic purposes.
Flexibility and Scalability
Perhaps the biggest advantage that SMBs often have over their larger rivals is their adaptability to changing market conditions. Hybrid cloud infrastructure enables them to remain agile. Rather than having to plan expensive infrastructure years ahead, SMBs can forge ahead with their plans for growth. If demand takes off, extra compute resources can be provisioned to ensure applications and services are in place. If business slows, resources can just be descaled; the business will not be stuck paying for the hardware it isn’t using.
However, having a private element to the cloud adds an additional selling point. New customers can be assured in marketing materials that their data will be secured. This can give SMBs a competitive edge over other small businesses which are operating solely in the cloud and can’t give the same level of guarantee,
There is another benefit for SMBs with a lighter IT infrastructure. This freed up resource can be used to power a DevOps approach to business development. This has the potential to accelerate the creation and deployment of powerful cloud native applications and services.
The new digital marketplace is going to provide plenty of opportunities and challenges over the next few years. The growth of the IoT and digital technologies will generate a huge amount of data and the businesses which can best harness this will stand to make great gains by streamlining operations and spotting trends. On the other hand, the more interconnected businesses are, the greater exposure they will have to cybercriminals.
Mining big data for marketplace insights and stopping damaging cyber-attacks in their tracks have one thing in common: the need for constant and extensive monitoring. The computing power to carry out these tasks only resides in the cloud which is another big reason why SMBs in particular, with their limited resources, should seriously consider a hybrid infrastructure.
It is clear from the benefits listed above that the hybrid cloud is a powerful compromise well suited to the concerns of SMBs. Adopting such a cloud would enable smaller companies to strike a smart balance between the huge cost-saving potential of the public cloud and the tight control and enhanced security of private cloud infrastructure.
The need for SMBs to embrace network transformation is increasingly urgent. Every day they remain tied to a legacy architecture they are paying for servers, maintenance and personnel rather than freeing up that capital for business growth. At the same time, competitors who have taken the advice of IT consulting providers and created a hybrid cloud environment are accelerating their evolution by funding Agile DevOps teams. The danger of putting off change is that the gap between the two types of business will eventually become too wide to close. As vendors continue to work on ways to meet the demand for customized cloud deployments, the age of the hybrid cloud looks to be upon us.
About Brent Whitfield
Brent Whitfield is the CEO of DCG Technical Solutions Inc. DCG provides the specialist advice and IT Support Los Angeles area businesses need to remain competitive and productive, while being sensitive to limited IT budgets. Brent has been featured in Fast Company, CNBC, Network Computing, Reuters, and Yahoo Business. He also leads SMBTN – Los Angeles, a MSP peer group that focuses on continuing education for MSP’s and IT professionals. DCG was recognized among the Top 10 Fastest Growing MSPs in North America by MSP mentor. Twitter: @DCGCloud