Many organizations already embraced public cloud and only that as their target platform for the software applications they create. Despite this, there are a lot of other organizations which are not there yet. Perhaps they have a lot of legacy applications to refactor or they choose a different path: use a hybrid cloud strategy to benefit from both public cloud and their on-prem data-center. This decision can have multiple reasons: the organization does not have enough cloud related knowledge yet or restrictive regulations refrain them from using purely cloud native technologies. Whatever the reason is, a hybrid cloud approach might help them. In this article, we will explore Azure Hybrid Cloud as a stepping stone to the public Cloud.
Definitions of a hybrid cloud
First of all, let’s find out what common definitions of a hybrid cloud are. According to Netapp:
Another definition from Red Hat is as follows:
Hybrid cloud is an IT architecture that incorporates some degree of workload portability, orchestration, and management across 2 or more environments.
Based on this definition and whom you ask, this includes at least one private cloud and one public cloud or two or more public or private clouds. Others argue that it’s about connecting a bare metal orenvironment to at least one public or private cloud.
All of the definitions have the following in common: mixing multiple data-centers.
Public and private clouds are mixed and together to form a unified system for data, applications and workloads. Besides this, a hybrid cloud helps to segregate your data storage requirements. For example store the mission critical data you need every day in your on-prem data-center and expand your backup storage needs towards the public cloud. Another option would be to use two public clouds where-as the first one acts as your main solution and the other one as a fail-over.
Sometimes companies are forced to store their sensitive customer data into their own data-center while they are allowed to utilize powerful cloud solutions to process that data. This way they benefit from a subset of what cloud offers to them.
Main features of Azure hybrid cloud
Besides a “true public cloud”, Azure offers a hybrid cloud for their customers who wish to “remain on-prem” for various reasons. Microsoft supports your business with the following main features:
CI/CD and workflows
- Azure DevOps (workflows) can run on a local machine (easiest solution) or multiple machines (to spread the application and data tier). Besides this, there are various tips and tricks available on the internet to validate pipelines locally.
- One of the latest stages of your CI/CD pipeline is deployment. With Azure Stack you can develop, deploy and run your cloud compatible applications at different environments (both online as well as offline).
Edge Computing and storage
- Azure StorSimple: deploy services locally and synchronize data to the cloud. Using this pattern, you control the way storage solutions are deployed locally in your data-center but benefit from the (almost endless) storage capabilities of the cloud.
- Support for edge computing: run your edge locations locally in your own data-center. A big benefit since this way you can achieve very low latency and fast responses to requests, for example to a website. Less reliable internet connectivity is less of a burden in this situation.
Support for applications
- Migrate applications to the cloud: think of the Azure Hybrid Benefit program which enables you to transfer licenses such as SQL server and Windows Server to the cloud. Bring Your Own License is a popular method significantly save on your cloud bill.
- Mix the deployment of applications on the public cloud part of Azure as well as in your own data-center. Azure Stack HCI offers this feature by applying environments. For the end user it is almost transparent to where your application runs.
All of these feature require a steady data connection between your data-center and the public cloud. You need to establish a reliable, highly available network between each other.
Hybrid cloud architecture
There are several options / best practices available to establish the connection between an on prem data-center and a public cloud.
Virtual Private Network connection
Use Azure Stack to create a Virtual Private Network connection (tunnel). Traffic between your data-center and Azure flows through the tunnel. Using this tunnel you can develop, deploy, run and monitor your applications both online and offline.
Another architecture solution focuses on data warehouse. It’s possible to create, schedule and orchestrate data processing workflows across different environments. Furthermore it also helps offers analytics, dashboards and operational reports.
Using this example, think of Hybrid Cloud architecture like Hybrid cars. They have a battery to generate power and a traditional combustion engine to take over when needed.
It’s main benefits are:
- It offers a “hybrid identity management” so users and applications follow the same security principles in both environments.
- Applications do not need to be changed much for both options.
- The solution is “transparent” to the users.
If you require a more solid and extremely reliable connection between your data-center and Azure, you can opt for ExpressRoute. This connectivity option is offered by a third party connectivity provider and it is dedicated to your environment.
Typically you would see different opinions about this type of connection when it comes to cloud migration strategies.
A stepping stone?
Some companies actively encourage DevOps teams to use the express route connection to facilitate the “in between” period to transform (refactor) and migrate their application to the cloud. Others discourage it since they want DevOps teams to focus on pure cloud based solutions which do not depend “back on the data-center”. With this statement, they try to ban legacy applications and the pressure on the data-center as much as possible.
Whatever direction is best for your organization also depends on the follow factors:
- Team maturity: how much cloud related knowledge is present in the teams?
- Does the business understand the true benefits of cloud and do they actively create a public cloud friendly organizational environment?
- Which critical applications still depend on the on-prem data-center? If the majority of your applications cannot be transformed and migrated easily, you need to carefully decide when to abandon your data-center.
- Costs: sometimes a big bang is not the most cost effective solution (think of re-host your VMs as IaaS solutions in the cloud). It is a very costly solution if you keep running your VMs in the cloud the way you would do in the data-center, but at least you can switch the lights off sooner than later. You do not need to tackle all of the overhead for the minority of services which remain on-prem.
A hybrid cloud solution brings a lot of business benefits especially if teams and the rest of the organization is not so mature yet when it comes to pure public cloud. Think of the following:
- Teams can already experiment with cloud and compare the deployment options, frequency and other aspects when it comes to their CI/CD related topics.
- The learning curve to understand the true characteristics of cloud is less steeper compared to going cloud “all the way”.
- Best of both worlds: select cloud native services for applications and workloads which benefit most from them and use the on-prem services for the applications you
- Faster and more reliable software development processes help to gain management support and traction for other initiatives.
Companies which cannot use pure public cloud services benefit from a Hybrid Cloud solution. Several services help to enable their business departments make the transition from on-prem to the cloud. It offers “best of both worlds” so they can experiment and learn. Azure Hybird Cloud offers multiple features for their application development, data storage as well as connectivity related challenges. Success stories help to gain traction to support their application migration strategies. In the end your business becomes faster and yet again, more focus on application delivery instead of infrastructure maintenance.