Hybrid Cloud Playbook: How to Get Started

If you've recently decided to move some of your data from a public cloud to a private cloud, congratulations! You're about to become the manager of a hybrid cloud. Although hybrid clouds provide businesses with flexibility in terms of data and application deployment, security, and performance, the convergence of two separate cloud environments can also cause a few headaches for managers and administrators.

In this article, we'll walk you through what you need to consider before building your hybrid cloud, which services you should look into connecting, and how to manage everything via one cohesive console. Although the terminology and technology involved in this process can be a bit intimidating, especially for small to midsize business (SMB) owners without much technical experience, it's important to remember one important thing: the cloud is just another word for the internet.

A public cloud is managed by a third party, a private cloud is managed by your internal team, and a hybrid cloud is a combination of both. So, in essence, by adopting a hybrid cloud, what you've done is outsourced the storage of some of your data and apps to a third party, while maintaining control over sensitive apps and data within your own internal network.

Before you go whole hog into the public cloud, it's important to determine what exactly you hope to accomplish. If all you need is the ability to clear some data capacity associated with software and apps from your hardware, then Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) apps should suit your needs quite well. In fact, most of you are probably already using SaaS-based tools. This is an easy fix that won't require much manpower or financial investment.

For those of you who need the majority of your digital assets to live elsewhere, you should look into a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) solution. These tools let you store all of your hardware, operating systems (OSes), databases, and any web-based software in the cloud. PaaS is a major investment that is most typically associated with mid- and large-sized companies.

However, if you're just looking to host some of your servers, data, and OSes in the cloud, you'll want to look into an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) platform. This is the most common form of public cloud used among hybrid cloud adopters, especially small companies. For the sake of our audience, we'll be approaching the rest of this article from the perspective of a potential IaaS cloud adopter.

Choosing What to Store in a Private Cloud As I previously mentioned, no one will care more about your data security than you will. Think of it this way: If you found a sack of money, would you trust someone to hold onto that money for you or would you want to keep hold of it yourself? This is the basic, unsophisticated explanation for why most companies choose to store sensitive data on their own private clouds.

However, let's adjust the metaphor to take into account the resources that most small businesses have at their disposal. Let's say you find a sack of money but you don't have any safe place to put it, and a reliable colleague with access to Fort Knox offers to hold the money for you while also giving you unfettered access to your cash. You'd be silly not to put your money in the vault, especially if you trust your colleague.

Most SMBs don't have the security chops or financial resources to build out that Fort Knox-level protection. Those who do have the skills and money to do so are better off keeping sensitive data in a private cloud. The data that isn't sensitive but still occupies too much real estate in your network should be offloaded to your public cloud.

Choosing a Public Cloud Service Tools such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure provide the physical servers, switches, and storage arrays on which your information is managed. If a piece of hardware breaks, it's not your responsibility to find a new home for your workloads.

Public clouds are also a lot more flexible than internal clouds. If your company is expecting a sudden influx of traffic, you can spin up and then spin back down once the rush ends, and you'll pay for only the capacity you used. However, if you run your own private data center, you'll have to purchase new hardware, expand the capacity of your cloud, and then you're stuck with equipment and bandwidth you don't need anymore.

So, if you agree that a public cloud service makes sense for you, there are many things to consider before choosing a vendor. Does it operate on 10 Gigabit Ethernet? Does it work with Linux? Is it based on OpenStack architecture? Your IT team needs to get together to determine which specific attributes are most important to your organization, and then run down a checklist to see which vendors offer these particular services. AWS is our Editors' Choice for public cloud services but it isn't based on OpenStack and it can be quite expensive. Conversely, Rackspace is OpenStack-compatible but it doesn't offer nearly the breadth of services that AWS provides.

Choosing a public cloud service isn't as easy as scrolling down a specifications sheet and choosing the most impressive numbers. You'll truly be partnering with your vendor to ensure the performance and security of your business data, so lay out your wants and needs, meet with each individual vendor, and choose based on compatibility.

Map Your Data FlowAs you begin to store you data where it needs to be stored, you've got to figure out the fastest, most secure, and most affordable way to funnel data between your public and private clouds as well as any on premises storage you may have. Work with your IT team to determine the right routes for data exchanges, and automate any processes that repeat themselves.

However, if implementing the public cloud, aggregating your data from both clouds, and syncing the systems become too complex, you might want to look into a cloud services broker. You can hire someone to fill this role, you can ask your vendor to provide an expert, or you can hire an external brokerage firm to manage the integration process.

Once the implementation process is complete, make sure you have someone on board full-time to continually monitor the hybrid environment to make sure things are smoothly running. This person should be an expert in automating, optimizing, and adjusting workflows. He or she is the gatekeeper who makes sure things smoothly run within each specific cloud and within the hybrid cloud as a whole.

This article originally appeared on PCMag.com.