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Hybrid vigour boosts Cloud formation

Head in the cloud, feet on the ground

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Cloud computing was always going to be about hybrid models, as we have already discussed (Cloud says No). This was brought up some three years ago by our colleagues at Freeform Dynamics.

The idea behind hybrid models is to take advantage of the benefits of both on-premise applications and cloud solutions by making them work together.

On-site applications can be extended using cloud-based services and extra value can be added to hosted applications by plugging them into on-site systems. The research shows that organisations that understand IT as neither completely internal nor completely cloud-based are best placed to make the most of both.

Keep it private

Some organisations also deploy a mixture of resources on both public and private clouds. According to an IDC survey published in February, IT directors view "some applications as "more suited for a public cloud – especially when it comes to communication applications, while most enterprises … may prefer a private cloud approach for their core systems".

This is good news for anyone who has been deterred by huge amounts of pure cloud rhetoric. But what does it mean in practice?

In practical terms, there are several flavours of public cloud, which also means there are several types of hybrid model, based on the kinds of services involved.

Let’s look at some examples, starting with those most relevant to desktop users, to see where the hybrid model helps.

The simplest use of the cloud has been in word processing, spreadsheets and the like. Using a cloud-based office application suite is attractive financially and avoids complexity, but most vendors now agree that some kind of offline access is also required. You don’t want to lost your edits when your train goes through a tunnel.

Once documents are in the cloud, they can be passed around more easily. What matters is not where the data is stored but whether it is there when you need it.

A drop at a time

Data sharing does not have to be complex to be profoundly useful. Dropbox, for example, recognises that files should be accessible everywhere and is quietly achieving a great deal of success as a result.

User security can also benefit from a hybrid model that balances cloud-based and local processing. In the past, security has been either/or, with email virus checking in the cloud, for example, and desktop-based endpoint protection, both running independently.

Recently we have seen hybrid security solutions that process content in the cloud and check for malware, but also work with security software running on the local machine – and, most importantly, co-ordinate the actions of both.

Moving up a level, the hybrid principle also applies to more complex software-as-a-service applications. Offline access can be vital, particularly for apps such as customer relationship management (CRM).

Cloud-based CRM systems also work with internal IT systems such as analytics and reporting, finance and enterprise resource planning, adding another dimension to the hybrid model.

Few large applications operate alone. Integration with internal systems and with other cloud-based services make a hybrid software architecture inevitable for all but the smallest companies.

Perfect blend

This works both ways: it may be necessary to extract information from a cloud service, but equally, an organisation may want to extend the purpose of an in-house system by adding integration with a cloud-based facility – for example synchronising an internal content management system with a social networking site.

Once everyone concurs that the future is hybrid, all manner of potential combinations spring to mind.

In the software development world, for example, developers, testers and integrators can work on local machines and test servers, running real or virtual machines, and also build test environments in the cloud that they can tear down and replace with minimal up-front cost.

If anything goes, how do you avoid a free-for-all?

The question then becomes one of management. If anything goes, how do you avoid a free-for-all where nobody knows what’s what?

For office documents version control looms large. Which is the most recent copy, the one on a local machine, the one on a server or the one in the cloud-based shared space? Similarly, for larger-scale applications it can be difficult to discern the single view of the truth.

Just as outsourcing begat rightsourcing and offshoring begat smartshoring (we don’t make these things up), in the future IT will be based on the ability to create the right mix of IT suppliers and architectural models.

Cloud computing may have increased the range of options available, but there can be no offloading of responsibility.

Neither those who want to keep everything in house nor those who think it can all be dumped onto someone else’s hosting will do as well as organisations that can discern how to make the best use of both. ®

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