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Latest hybrid cloud services put public cloud into the data center

AWS, Google and Microsoft provide businesses with more deployment choices with cloud-extension services. See how these offerings can enable hybrid capabilities.

The public cloud battle has shifted to an unlikely venue -- enterprise data centers. Rather than move workloads from legacy data centers up to the public cloud, recent hybrid services have come down to the data centers instead.

IT vendors have pushed hybrid cloud for years because organizations want one set of tools to manage their on-premises infrastructure and public cloud systems. Ideally, enterprises also want to be able to quickly and easily move their applications or data between environments.

Initially, that meant the public cloud was largely an extension of a private data center. But more recent services from AWS, Google and Microsoft are flipping that model and putting the public cloud at the center of an organization's IT architecture.

Get to know these hybrid cloud services to see if they could help your company get one step closer to interoperability between environments.

AWS Outposts

In November 2018, AWS teamed up with VMware to make Outposts. This appliance-based service is housed within a company's data center and AWS manages it remotely. The system features AWS-designed compute and storage racks that work with Amazon's cloud services. Outposts supports Elastic Compute Cloud and Elastic Beanstalk, but the vendor plans to add additional services, like Elastic Container Service for Kubernetes and SageMaker.

The service comes in two variations, one AWS-native and a second based on its work with VMware, which previously included the hybrid service VMware Cloud on AWS. VMware has been a popular data center option and many of its customers have been looking for more hybrid cloud options.

"AWS has made it very easy and attractive for companies to order and deploy Outposts," said Marco Alcala, CEO of Alcala Consulting. "The users plug it in and power it up, and it shows up on their VMware management control panel."

The hybrid cloud service also offers deployment flexibility.

"Businesses can place the hardware either inside or outside of their firewall," said John Webster, senior partner at the Evaluator Group. Organizations that have strict compliance requirements or security concerns may opt to stay inside the firewall.

In addition, application requirements can prompt interest.

"In some cases, companies have applications with low latency requirements, such as voice processing, video editing and robotics," Alcala said. Because the hardware sits in the data center rather than the public cloud, latency problems decrease.

The service may also be attractive for disaster recovery on premises, but there are a few caveats with Outposts. First, it makes businesses that want to use the VMware variant more dependent on both vendors, as it relies on AWS proprietary hardware and software, as well as VMware management systems. Also, to maximize use of the service, enterprises need to build a staff that is conversant in not only VMware but also AWS.

Google Anthos

In April 2019, Anthos became generally available, formerly known as Cloud Services Platform. It is a software-based, hybrid cloud service in which Google sells the software and customers select the hardware.

For management functions, the system relies on Kubernetes. The service includes Google Kubernetes Engine (GKE) and GKE On-Prem, a managed Kubernetes service that provides remote lifecycle management. With Cloud Services Platform Config Management, businesses can create multi-cluster policies that enforce role-based security access controls.

The service also works with Istio, an open source technology designed to help developers connect, manage and secure microservices. The Anthos configuration engine enables businesses to automate policy and security profile generation and deployment so companies have more consistent system images.

With a Kubernetes focus, the Google service is geared toward companies that build new applications rather than connecting legacy apps to the public cloud. Still, it remains to be seen if the vendor will succeed with this strategy.

"Google is coming into the market very late," Alcala said. However, it does have the financial and technical resources to become a key player.

Microsoft Azure Stack

Among the major public cloud providers, Microsoft was at the vanguard in the hybrid cloud market since Azure Stack was revealed in 2015 and delivered in 2017. Azure Stack supports a unified application model that shares the same self-service portal and common APIs with Azure Resource Manager.

For operations teams, Azure Stack works with Azure VMs for Windows and Linux, Azure Web Apps and Functions, Azure Key Vault, Azure Resource Manager, Azure Marketplace, Azure Containers, and Azure IoT Hub and Events Hub. For developers, it features integration using Jenkins and Azure DevOps. To automate configuration functions, Azure Stack supports Chef and Azure PowerShell Desired State Configuration extensions.

The hybrid cloud service consists of both software and hardware, but Microsoft markets it through its hardware partners. Cisco, Dell, Fujitsu, HPE, Huawei, Lenovo and Wortmann deliver Azure Stack on autonomous servers or storage, network or hyper-converged platforms.

However, interest in Azure Stack has been tepid. The reliance on buying it from hardware vendors can turn off some businesses. In addition, the company requires its customers to start with a four-rack plan, and the price tag could discourage some potential customers, according to Alcala.

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