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An introduction to hybrid multi-cloud storage

When implementing hybrid multi-cloud, IT teams must continually monitor and evaluate their environments. Understand best practices for this new type of storage platform.

Much of the discussion around cloud storage has been on multi-cloud and hybrid cloud strategies, with the assumption that most IT teams choose one or the other. However, many organizations take a hybrid multi-cloud approach in which they use a private cloud in conjunction with multiple public clouds.

Hybrid multi-cloud storage can help organizations maximize their flexibility and store data in the way that best meets their requirements. It's a relatively new concept, so admins should know what it means, how to best use it and what's available from vendors.

Hybrid multi-cloud storage vs. hybrid and multi-cloud storage

Cloud platforms are typically categorized as either public clouds or private clouds. Public clouds are usually what people are referring to when they say "the cloud." Public clouds include platforms such as AWS, Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and Microsoft Azure. The platforms offer a variety of services that users can access over the internet. The services are typically categorized as software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) or infrastructure as a service (IaaS), although other variations exist.

A private cloud is a platform that an organization implements for its own private use. The platform might be deployed on premises or hosted with a third-party provider that maintains the environment for the organization's exclusive use. A private cloud delivers services in much the same way as a public cloud, although it's typically smaller in scope and geared toward the organization's specific requirements. An organization has more control over a private cloud than a public cloud, but that control comes with additional costs and administrative overhead.

Many organizations use a multi-cloud strategy for their storage requirements. At its most basic, multi-cloud means that an organization employs more than one cloud service. Beyond that, the exact meaning of multi-cloud gets a little fuzzy, with some slightly different interpretations:

  • Two or more public cloud services. The services can come from the same vendor or different vendors, as long as they're part of a public platform.
  • Two or more public cloud platforms. Any mix of services qualify, as long as they come from at least two different providers.
  • Any mix of two or more cloud platforms, including private clouds.
Some vendors and industry pundits have adopted the term hybrid multi-cloud, which describes an environment that includes at least one private cloud and at least two public clouds.

At its core, a hybrid cloud is one that consists of both public and private clouds. It typically includes a management component for orchestrating the services between platforms, with the goal of creating a unified platform. As with multi-cloud, however, the meaning of hybrid cloud can get a little muddy, with several slightly different meanings:

  • Combination of one public cloud and one private cloud.
  • Combination of multiple cloud environments in which at least one is a public cloud and one is a private cloud.
  • Combination of public and private clouds, along with traditional on-premises resources.

Although the exact definitions vary, the idea persists that a hybrid cloud includes both public and private clouds. What's not clear, however, is the exact number of each or whether hybrid cloud can be considered a type of multi-cloud.

To help clarify this issue, some vendors and industry pundits have adopted the term hybrid multi-cloud, which describes an environment that includes at least one private cloud and at least two public clouds. As with a basic hybrid cloud, the environment relies on a management component to orchestrate the services between platforms.

Another way to describe a hybrid multi-cloud is that it includes multiple public clouds. Some sources might expand on this definition to include multiple private clouds or traditional on-premises resources, but the basic idea remains the same: It has at least one private cloud component and at least two public cloud components.

Advantages of hybrid multi-cloud storage

With a hybrid multi-cloud, organizations can distribute their data across multiple cloud platforms. This enables them to gain the benefits of each platform without being locked into any one of them. For example, an organization might store archive data on Amazon S3 object storage, maintain document data in Google Firestore to support a web app hosted on GCP and use their on-premises private cloud for highly sensitive data.

Organizations that take a hybrid multi-cloud approach can see several important benefits:

  • Flexibility. Organizations store their data where it makes the most sense, based on available technologies, current requirements, data center locations, supported users and numerous other factors. They can move their data as requirements and business goals change.
  • Cost optimization. Organizations store their data where it makes the most sense from a budget perspective. Hybrid multi-cloud can free up IT teams' time, leading to further cost savings and future profitability.
  • Control. The ability to choose between private and public clouds, and between different cloud providers, enables IT teams to better control data locality. They can make decisions based on their own requirements, such as performance, cost or regulations, without being locked into a specific configuration or any one vendor.
  • Data protection. Organizations choose the data locales best suited to their security and compliance requirements. They can continuously fine-tune their storage strategies to accommodate new information, regulations or security concerns. In addition, they can distribute their data across multiple locations to minimize the repercussions of ransomware and other attacks.
  • Scalability. A hybrid multi-cloud environment is highly scalable because it makes use of multiple public cloud services that enable customers to scale on demand. In this way, IT teams can accommodate their fluctuating workloads without being concerned about overprovisioning or underprovisioning resources.
  • Developer productivity. A hybrid multi-cloud storage environment provides developers with the infrastructure and tools they need to use different development methodologies and build different types of applications, particularly those based on cloud-native technologies.
  • Data durability. IT teams can take the hybrid multi-cloud approach to ensure business continuity and data resiliency in the event of disaster. They can distribute their data across multiple locations to provide redundancy and take advantage of cheaper storage for backups and archives.

Disadvantages of hybrid multi-cloud storage

Despite the many advantages that hybrid multi-cloud promises, these environments have challenges. Decision-makers should carefully weigh the tradeoffs and consider the following disadvantages:

  • Cost. Although a hybrid multi-cloud strategy can help an organization save money, it also increases costs if admins don't carefully deploy it. Cloud storage fees, including egress charges, quickly add up, especially if organizations don't carefully monitor usage.
  • Performance. A hybrid multi-cloud strategy relies heavily on network connectivity as data travels over the internet and between data centers. A slow or unreliable connection at any point along the way can result in performance issues.
  • Complexity. Multiple cloud storage services bring with them increased management complexity. Each platform comes with its own set of tools, requirements, deployment processes and management interfaces. In addition, cloud platforms often use vendor-specific APIs with different structures.
  • Data protection. Although a hybrid multi-cloud strategy can help protect data, it can also raise security and compliance issues when trying to implement and enforce consistent policies across multiple environments. The greater the number of cloud platforms, the greater the attack surface.
  • Data consistency. The distributed nature of a hybrid multi-cloud strategy makes it more difficult to ensure data consistency across all environments where the data is stored. For example, data might be formatted differently across platforms, which can lead to data inconsistencies or errors.

Top hybrid multi-cloud uses

Hybrid multi-cloud is not a one-size-fits-all strategy. Here are some of the more common situations that can benefit from a hybrid multi-cloud strategy:

  • Archiving. An organization can use a hybrid multi-cloud environment to archive historical data or offload infrequently accessed data and then use premium storage for data that supports mission-critical workloads.
  • Business continuity. A hybrid multi-cloud storage strategy makes it easier to implement disaster recovery through redundancy and backups. IT teams can also set up immutable data storage in a separate location to protect against ransomware and tampering.
  • Development and testing. A hybrid multi-cloud helps with an organization's development efforts by providing the type of flexible environment needed to support cloud-native applications and modern development techniques.
  • Dynamic workloads. Because cloud services easily scale, a hybrid multi-cloud environment is well suited to cloud bursting, which makes extra storage available to meet fluctuating data requirements.
  • Distributed workforce. A hybrid multi-cloud environment makes it easier to support a remote workforce, especially when workers are widely distributed. Such an environment can also accommodate sudden workforce shifts, such as the move to remote work in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Analytics. A hybrid multi-cloud environment provides the type of flexible, scalable infrastructure needed to support shifting data requirements and large volumes of historical or streaming data.

What do vendors offer?

Many vendors now offer products that support a hybrid multi-cloud storage strategy. Here are just a few examples of the types of products now available:

  • Broadcom DX Unified Infrastructure Management. The secure and scalable platform monitors hybrid multi-cloud environments, as well as traditional infrastructure. It includes automated device discovery, monitoring and configuration.
  • Cloudera Data Platform. Cloudera's platform provides data management and data analytics across public and private clouds. The platform can move data to or from any source and offers unified security, metadata and governance across all environments.
  • Cloudian HyperStore. HyperStore is an object storage platform for managing data in a cloud-native format. The platform consolidates unstructured data into a single, scalable storage environment that admins can control from a central location. HyperStore also provides data immutability for ransomware protection.
  • IBM Turbonomic. The AI-powered automation and cloud optimization platform helps ensure application performance and optimize costs. Turbonomic continuously determines the best compute, storage and database configurations for applications. The tools work across public and private clouds, as well as on traditional infrastructure.
  • NetApp OnTap. The platform provides a standardized data architecture with built-in security protections that follow the data wherever it goes. As part of OnTap, NetApp offers Cloud Volumes, which provides enterprise storage management that works across private and public clouds.
  • Nutanix Cloud Platform. The unified storage platform uses software-defined data services to streamline data storage operations. The product supports file, object and block storage and includes integrated data security and deep data analytics to prevent, detect and recover from ransomware and other cyber attacks.

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