Hybrid cloud environments combine the advantages of public clouds and private clouds, allowing organizations to choose a computing model that fits their needs.

Hybrid cloud is a mixed computing environment that combines infrastructure from the public cloud, such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, or the Google Cloud Platform, with an organization’s private cloud or on-premises data center. The primary advantage of a hybrid cloud is agility: Organizations can scale compute resources up and down according to need, and choose where workloads are processed based on requirements for data security or workload sensitivity. Organizations can migrate and manage workloads between cloud environments to optimize processing flexibility, cost, and control based on specific business or regulatory requirements. A hybrid cloud can also be used as part of a disaster recovery strategy, or to dynamically scale out capacity based on performance conditions (“bursting”).

Additionally, app teams may prefer developer tools and rich toolsets available in public cloud platforms.

The public cloud allows enterprises to host applications and data in shared computing resources owned by a third-party service provider. The public cloud offers access to almost limitless computing resources, offering organizations massive economies of scale without the need to invest in data center hardware. However, cloud computing’s pay-as-you-go pricing model means that costs can be steep with ongoing use, and the shared responsibility model means organizations have limited control over data security, or even visibility as to where cloud providers process workloads or store data, which can run afoul of data sovereignty regulations. 

The private cloud is dedicated—not shared—cloud infrastructure controlled by the enterprise and can be operated by a third party or hosted in a private data center. Many organizations elect to keep mission critical services in on-premises data centers or private clouds and move other services to the public cloud to reduce costs and improve operational efficiencies. However, organizations are increasingly adopting security as a service offerings in cloud-based platforms for improved threat detection and remediation. 

What Is the Difference Between Multicloud and Hybrid Cloud?

The terms multicloud and hybrid cloud are often used synonymously but they are not the same.

Multicloud is focused on using multiple cloud computing services or platforms from different vendors. For example, an organization might use Amazon Web Services (AWS) for some of its applications and Microsoft Azure for others.

Hybrid cloud is focused on using both cloud services and on-premises infrastructure with cloud services. For example, an organization’s hybrid cloud environment might involve running some applications in a public cloud like AWS, while others are run in a private cloud hosted on-premises.

Key differences between multi- and hybrid cloud environments involve architecture, flexibility, security, and complexity.

  • Architecture: Multicloud spans multiple public cloud environments from different providers. The different public clouds are generally used for different tasks (e.g., one for program logic, another for databases, and a third for machine learning) and the distribution across clouds can vary on a per-application basis. Organizations choose a multicloud strategy to take advantage of the flexibility and features of various clouds.

    Hybrid cloud includes two or more different types of cloud environments (on-premises, private cloud, and public cloud). In many architectures, the public cloud’s role is to extend the functionality of the private cloud or on-premises environments. A hybrid cloud architecture is typically used by organizations that are migrating apps to the cloud or those who have too much technical debt (sub-optimal systems or code) to go 100% cloud native.
  • Flexibility:  By using multiple public clouds from various vendors, multicloud architectures enable organizations to avoid vendor lock-in, optimize their cloud spending, and choose the best cloud for each workload. These decisions can be based on business requirements and factors such as performance, necessary features, and geographic location.

    A hybrid cloud architecture’s flexibility comes from the ability to combine the advantages of a private cloud (e.g., greater control, security, and compliance) with the benefits of a public cloud (e.g., scalability, cost-effectiveness, and ease of use).

  • Security: A multicloud architecture distributes data across multiple public clouds, which improves security by reducing the risk of a single point of failure. When using different cloud providers, an organization can take advantage of each provider’s security features. This approach does introduce a level of complexity, in that there must be management of the variety of security features across the multiple cloud environments. There may also be potential security risks associated with integrating different cloud platforms.

    An additional layer of security for sensitive data and critical applications is provided by private cloud companies in a hybrid cloud architecture. This infrastructure gives the organization greater control over the security measures (e.g., access control, encryption, and data protection) implemented in the private cloud. However, the public cloud component can introduce security concerns—chiefly, the need to protect against data breaches, account hijacking, and other threats that could compromise the integrity and availability of the data.
  • Complexity: Multicloud architecture involves both a deep understanding and management of multiple public cloud environments with their own tools, APIs, and interfaces. Configuring and managing this kind of architecture requires significant planning and coordination. It also requires ongoing management to make sure the organization achieves optimal performance while remaining cost-effective and maintaining data security.

    A hybrid cloud architecture needs to integrate and manage both private and public cloud components. This involves configuring and managing connectivity between the private and public clouds, ensuring data consistency and synchronization across multiple clouds, and maintaining security and compliance across the hybrid environment

How Hybrid Cloud Works

A hybrid cloud combines the advantages of both public and private clouds, but the hybrid environment requires careful integration, orchestration, and coordination so data and workloads can be moved, shared, and synchronized quickly. This means that robust interconnectivity and networking is critical for a hybrid cloud deployment to function correctly. This enables applications to work consistently across different environments, creating a single computing platform that spans across more than one cloud.

Determining where data will be stored and how it will be accessed is an important element to consider while implementing a hybrid cloud environment. One of the most common data storage strategies in a hybrid cloud environment is to use the public cloud to store less frequently accessed data, as well as for use as backup, disaster recovery, and archival purposes. Organizations often choose to store frequently accessed or sensitive data on a private cloud or in on-premises storage to ensure greater control and security, though this may require more upfront investment in infrastructure. Some vendors offer hybrid storage solutions that combine cloud and on-premises storage in a single platform, providing businesses with greater flexibility and control over their data.

Key Features of Hybrid Cloud

Hybrid cloud scenarios include several key features and concepts:

  • Workload portability is the ability to move and adapt data and applications between on-premises systems and the cloud, or from one cloud service provider to another. Portability is a key consideration when designing an application or service, and is often addressed through the adoption of open-source standards and APIs, which also facilitates interoperability and automation. 
  • Data integration is the process of bringing together data from multiple different sources to gain greater visibility and to ensure a smooth transition to cloud computing. Historically, most organizations stored data in stand-alone silos or separate data stores. Having real-time telemetry and insights is especially important to the success of digital transformation strategies and to compete in an increasingly digital world. 
  • Because the hybrid cloud environment orchestrates between two environments, security for the hybrid cloud must protect data and applications both on-premises and in the public cloud, and protect data and workloads as they move between public clouds and private clouds or data centers. InfoSec teams need to ensure there is a consistent security posture between both environments, and make sure that risk is properly assessed between public and private clouds. 

Examples of Hybrid Cloud

There are multiple ways to configure hybrid cloud environments to address specific computing needs and circumstances. 

  • Cloud bursting is a hybrid configuration method in which public cloud resources are employed only when on-premises compute infrastructure reaches peak capacity. In other words, when the internal data center reaches 100% of processing capacity, the overflow workloads burst into the public cloud for processing. Cloud bursting is a cost-effective way to support varying demand patterns and seasonal spikes in need for compute resources. 
  • Cloud replication is a hybrid cloud model that involves duplicating and mirroring data from on-premises storage to the public cloud for backup and disaster recovery scenarios, or to increase the availability and accessibility of data for customers or distributed teams. 
  • Cloud tiering is a data storage strategy that involves movement of data between different storage tiers, based on the importance of the data and how frequently it is accessed. Storage tiers are often defined as extending from “hot” storage, meaning data that must be immediately available for use by applications, through to “cold” storage, which includes archival data that is rarely accessed. In a typical hybrid cloud model, hot data would be stored in the data center to enable fast processing while colder data could be stored remotely in the public cloud for cost savings.

A hybrid cloud computing model is key to the success of several major organizations.

  • Netflix uses a hybrid cloud model to store and manage large amounts of video content and handle spikes in demand. Netflix uses a public cloud provider to organize its massive catalog of content and to track users, their preferences, what they watch, and what they click on. However, to reduce latency and ensure high-quality streaming, Netflix has built its own private-cloud-based content delivery network known as Open Connect, which delivers video content to customers directly from the company's own servers. 
  • Airbnb uses both public and private clouds to optimize its infrastructure for performance, scalability, and cost-efficiency. Airbnb uses its public cloud provider for a range of services, including storage, compute, and database services, as well as for its website, mobile app, analytics, and data processing needs. During times of high demand, Airbnb has the option of leveraging the flexibility and scalability of the public cloud to handle increased traffic. Airbnb uses its own private cloud infrastructure for storing and managing sensitive user data, such as payment information and other personally identifiable information.
  • Adobe uses a hybrid cloud infrastructure to manage software updates and ensure a seamless user experience across different devices while maintaining control over sensitive customer data. Adobe employs a public cloud architecture to allow users to access their creative assets and applications from anywhere and on any device. The system automatically syncs updates and changes across devices, providing a consistent experience for users. At the same time, Adobe uses its private cloud environment to maintain control over sensitive customer data, such as user profiles, purchasing history, and behavioral data. 

Enterprise Hybrid Cloud

Enterprise hybrid cloud is a cloud computing model that combines the advantages of public and private clouds to deliver a flexible, scalable, and cost-effective IT infrastructure. With enterprise hybrid cloud, organizations have the flexibility to deploy applications and workloads in the cloud or on-premises, depending on their requirements. This enables businesses to quickly respond to changing market demands and scale their IT infrastructure up or down as needed. Security is also a key feature of enterprise hybrid cloud, as it allows organizations to maintain control over sensitive data and applications in the data center or private cloud, while still benefiting from the scalability and cost-effectiveness of public cloud services.

Additionally, hybrid cloud can help organizations reduce IT costs by optimizing the use of existing on-premises infrastructure for mission critical workloads and leveraging cost-effective public cloud services for non-critical workloads.

Enterprise hybrid cloud has been successfully implemented across a variety of industries to help organizations achieve their business goals.

  • In finance, Capital One migrated its customer data to a private cloud hosted on-premises and used public cloud services for non-critical applications. This hybrid cloud helped the company reduce costs while maintaining data security and compliance.
  • In healthcare, Mercy Health migrated its patient records and other sensitive data to a private cloud hosted on-premises, while using public cloud services for applications such as email and collaboration tools. This hybrid cloud helped the company streamline operations, improve data accessibility, and comply with industry regulations.
  • In manufacturing, GE Aviation migrated its design and simulation applications to a private cloud hosted on-premises, while using public cloud services for data storage and analysis. This hybrid cloud helped the company reduce costs, increase scalability, and improve collaboration among their global engineering teams.

Challenges of Hybrid Cloud

While implementing a hybrid cloud strategy can bring numerous benefits to organizations, it also poses challenges. For instance, hybrid cloud environments are more complex than traditional IT infrastructures and integrating and managing different cloud platforms, on-premises infrastructure, and third-party services require specialized skills and expertise. Organizations need to ensure that their data is secure, backed up, and available across all hybrid cloud environments, and that the cloud infrastructure is interoperable so that data can be easily exchanged between different clouds and/or the data center.

Security is also a critical concern for hybrid cloud environments. In addition to gaining visibility across all environments, security teams need to consider managing access control, encryption, and identity management across different cloud environments. Organizations must also ensure that their cloud infrastructure complies with industry regulations, and coordinate threat remediation for vulnerabilities that may impact both on-premises and cloud environments.  

Hybrid Cloud Solutions

Hybrid cloud solutions provide the best of both worlds, offering businesses the ability to leverage the benefits of both public and private clouds. Advantages of implementing hybrid cloud solutions include:

  • Increased flexibility. Hybrid clouds allow businesses to choose the deployment model that best suits their needs. Applications can be deployed in private or public cloud environments depending on their requirements.
  • Scalability. Hybrid clouds offer the ability to scale resources up or down based on demand. Businesses can leverage the public cloud during peak usage periods to ensure they have the resources to meet demand, and then scale back down when demand decreases.
  • Cost-effectiveness: By using a combination of public and private cloud solutions, businesses can optimize their infrastructure costs by choosing the most cost-effective option for each workload. This can result in significant cost savings over time.

Hybrid Cloud Best Practices

Organizations should consider the following tips and best practices as they begin to plan and execute their hybrid cloud environment. 

  • Understand business needs and goals. This includes factors such as specific industry workload needs, regulatory compliance, data management, and security requirements.
  • Determine how to use public and private cloud services to meet business objectives. This strategy should include considerations such as the types of workloads that will be hosted in each environment, and how data will be managed and secured.
  • Choose the right mix of public and private cloud services. These choices should be based on factors such as workload requirements, data sensitivity, and regulatory compliance.
  • Implement a cloud management platform with a unified view of the entire infrastructure. This platform should allow administrators to easily move workloads between environments, monitor performance, and manage security and compliance.

Future of Hybrid Cloud

Hybrid cloud has already proven to be a game-changing technology for many businesses, providing them with the flexibility, scalability, and cost savings they need to stay competitive. In the coming years, the potential of hybrid cloud is expected to  grow, with new trends and technologies driving further innovation and growth.

One of the key emerging use cases for hybrid cloud is edge computing, which involves processing data closer to where it is generated, rather than in a centralized data center. This approach can reduce latency, improve performance, and enable real-time decision-making. Another emerging trend is serverless architectures, which allow developers to write code without having to manage the underlying infrastructure. This can further improve agility and reduce costs by changing the cost model to one based on transactions instead of always-on compute. 

Adopting a hybrid cloud approach can be a transformative step for businesses, providing them with the flexibility and agility they need to thrive in today's rapidly changing business environment. By carefully planning and executing their hybrid cloud strategy, businesses can maximize the potential of this technology and position themselves for success in the years ahead.

To help simplify your hybrid cloud strategy, F5 offers a comprehensive set of security and management tools that remain consistent across clouds and protects data and applications across multiple IT environments.