Having an on-site IT infrastructure is a safe and secure way to store confidential data and run applications. It is, however, a high-cost solution that involves procuring and maintaining heavy IT equipment, servers, and often a whole IT in-house team to run support. On the other hand, we have cloud-based structures where companies do not need extensive in-house equipment and can put all their applications on a public or private cloud. Cloud networks are cheaper and easier to use. They have almost no in-house maintenance hassles and can be remotely accessed from anywhere the user needs.
The downside of cloud networks, in the case of public networks, is the security of confidential data, which can be mitigated to some degree by using a private cloud. The second issue is a dependence on a good internet connection for remote access. High latency applications can also underperform and cause lags on a cloud network due to connection speed issues.
The cost issues of both on-site IT infrastructure and security concerns of cloud networks are addressed by The Hybrid Cloud Network. It is a network where the user can run applications on a combination of different networks and environments. A Hybrid Cloud Network is a structure made using different environments and resources and combining their features to provide the best value for the end-user.
A hybrid cloud is created by merging on-premises IT infrastructure, private cloud computing environments, and public cloud environments. It enables computing, data transfer, storage, and services to be run across these platforms. Hybrid Cloud Networks comprise telecommunication connections that connect the various environments together and the infrastructure that supports these connections.
Figure 1. Benefits and Challenges of Hybrid Cloud Networking
What are the Benefits of Hybrid Cloud Networking?
A Hybrid Cloud Network combines the features and capabilities of all three environments. Some prominent advantages of using a hybrid cloud network instead of a public or private cloud independently include:
Agility: The primary benefit of a hybrid cloud network is agility. In a hybrid cloud network, companies can easily switch between environments and can expand as required. When a company needs more computers on its network due to an increase in demand, it can easily expand its on-site network onto the cloud. This cloud can either be a private cloud or a public cloud that does not give access to third parties. Companies can match and select either one of the three environments for different data. They can store more critical and confidential information that requires extensive security on the on-site infrastructure while using a cost-efficient public cloud for less sensitive data. It really depends on the company's security preferences for different types of data. But in general, distributing the data among these environments can have good cost benefits. Moreover, agility also comes with the ability to rapidly move between environments and switch as needed. The company can transport data from a cloud to an on-site IT infrastructure, or vice versa, easily through a hybrid cloud network. Any enterprise can combine public and private clouds with an on-premises IT infrastructure to gain a competitive advantage in agility.
Digital Transformation: Apart from being agile and promoting cost savings, hybrid cloud networks also help fast-track digital transformation in any business. These networks are especially helpful to businesses who are running a total on-site infrastructure, to expand and move data onto a cloud-based system without completely abandoning their current IT infrastructure. This will not only help them expand but will also enable them to unlock a number of potential future benefits and uses of cloud computing.
Privacy and Control: A hybrid cloud network approach enables you to decide where your data and applications will be stored. Which parts can be moved onto a public cloud and which ones should stay in a more secure location? This freedom of choice and flexibility can give the company more control over its data security and ensure compliance with the requirements of regulated applications while still giving them the benefit of agility and cost-saving.
Flexibility in Operations: Hybrid cloud networks also give you the flexibility to operate in the most well-suited environment for any operation. For example, you can develop portable applications using containers that can easily move between public and private clouds, allowing the user to use the application in whichever environment is preferable. Companies usually work with various types of data in various environments, and they may need to adjust their infrastructure accordingly every time there's a major change. Using a hybrid cloud system allows them to continue using their traditional system for processes and applications that cannot be moved to the cloud and use the advanced cloud network technologies in other relevant departments without having to fully commit to a single system. Hence, organizations can adjust and migrate their data and applications from one environment to another effortlessly whenever necessary in a hybrid cloud network.
Scalability: Hybrid cloud networks, through their access to public clouds, offer significantly more resources than a company's on-site physical IT infrastructure. This makes it easy to meet an increase in demand for resources as a company expands. As the company reaches the capacity ceiling of its on-site IT network, it can expand onto a cloud to access extra capacity.
Compliance: In a lot of highly regulated industries, it is often required by the law or regulatory bodies to maintain data storage and data security compliance. These compliances often restrict the company from putting up sensitive data onto a public cloud network. For such companies, a hybrid cloud network gives them the option to keep the sensitive and regulated data stored in their on-site infrastructure while operating their workload in the cloud. A hybrid cloud network will enable the data to be moved between the private data centers to the cloud applications as needed. Hence, companies can comply with the regulatory requirements while still reaping the benefits of the cloud network's flexibility and agility.
Cost Management: In a private cloud network or an on-site IT infrastructure, companies have to incur significant capital costs to first establish the infrastructure and then additional costs of maintaining the system. Public cloud networks, however, are much cheaper, don't require fixed capital expenses, and only require operational costs depending on the usage of the company. Hybrid cloud networks allow companies to choose how much of their operations need to be run on fixed on-site networks and how much can be transferred onto a cloud to reduce costs.
What is a Hybrid Cloud Platform?
For a hybrid cloud network to work and function properly, we need a hybrid cloud platform. A Hybrid Cloud Platform builds the structure and a central management system that helps effectively manage the network. It enables users to access, organize, and process data and applications on various on-site servers, private clouds, and public clouds together in a single hybrid network.
Some current vendors that provide hybrid cloud platforms in the market include:
- Microsoft: Microsoft has its own offerings of public and private clouds as well as a hybrid cloud stage. Microsoft has had a tradition of providing software and application solutions that are made for on-site IT infrastructure. However, applications like Microsoft Azure Stack are able to copy the whole Azure infrastructure of a company onto a private cloud network so that the company can use a combination of on-site and cloud-based environments to run its applications.
- Google & Cisco: Google has its own Google cloud platform that started with public cloud services. While Cisco is a well-established private cloud service provider, Google and Cisco have now started collaborating with each other to offer hybrid cloud solutions. Their combined platforms perform well for disaster recovery and data compression, as well as high-speed application and data processing.
- Amazon: Amazon is one of the most dominant service providers for cloud services in the market. Although AWS is mostly known for its public cloud platform network and management, it also offers a hybrid cloud network infrastructure with part on-site installation.
- NetApp: NetApp is another private cloud service provider that collaborates with other prominent platforms like Amazon Web Services to provide hybrid cloud network solutions.
How Do Hybrid Cloud Networks Connect?
There are a variety of ways a company can establish a hybrid cloud network connection. They can use a direct interconnection between their on-site infrastructure and cloud networks. This connection is highly important because if these different environments are not connected with each other efficiently and data cannot be transferred between them quickly, a company can not claim to be truly running a hybrid cloud network. To have proper hybrid cloud infrastructure, all environments need to be interconnected seamlessly with easy switching ability.
Hybrid Cloud environments (Public Cloud, Private Cloud, and On-site IT infrastructure) and applications are connected with each other using one or a combination of the following methods:
- Virtual Private Networks (VPN): A VPN, or a Virtual Private Network is an encrypted and secure connection between two devices over the internet. Any communication carried out through a VPN is as secure as using a private internal network because all traffic on the VPN is encrypted. Any cloud server or network can be connected to an on-site network safely and securely through the public internet.
- Wide Area Networks (WAN): A WAN, or Wide Area Network, is a very simple network connection between multiple devices through the open internet. Compared to LAN (Local Area Networks) that connect computers locally through physical LAN cables, WAN covers a much larger area and a lot more devices. Connections made using WAN are much more reliable than connections made through the public internet. However, while using a WAN for a hybrid cloud network's connection, companies should still use a VPN to encrypt the communication taking place on the WAN for added security.
- Application Programming Interfaces (API): An API, or Application Programming Interface, is essentially a set of rules and programming codes that enable data to be transmitted between devices and also dictate how these two devices will communicate with each other. Application Programming Interfaces are a key component for making a hybrid cloud network functional. It connects the environments, databases, applications, and all other components of a hybrid cloud network together. The API sends calls from one cloud/on-site device to another cloud/on-site device in the form of HTTP (HyperText Transfer Protocol) requests. These requests can be sent over the open internet, a WAN, or a VPN.
What are the best practices for hybrid cloud network security?
Vendors that provide public cloud platforms and networks offer a variety of security features such as access controls, firewalls, authentication controls, customized user configurations, and auto-encryption. When choosing to implement a hybrid cloud network, you should also implement some internal security measures on the on-site infrastructure as well as on the network's bridges between the different environments. When planning to implement a Hybrid Cloud Network, the following are some of the best practices in the industry:
1. Encrypt Data
One of the primary and most important steps to securing data in a cloud network is to encrypt it. Companies should put special focus on encrypting data that will be moving between various environments and data stored on the cloud. For additional security, companies can also track all data transfers between devices and changes made to the data.
2. Manage Access
Another important control that needs to be put in place to increase data security is restricting and managing access to the company's data and related applications. The company should control and manage who has access to confidential and sensitive data and applications. If an application has inbuilt segregation of access, then it can also implement the same segregation in the public cloud. The company should also make sure that customer data is separated from operational data or company financial data and that different data with different levels of security do not mix.
3. Storing Sensitive Data Carefully
Companies should plan where and how they will store sensitive data. Compared to public clouds, private clouds and on-site data servers are often more secure. It's a good measure to divide and categorize data in terms of importance and confidentiality and store it accordingly in different environments. Hence, even if an intruder gains access to one part of the network, the data in all other environments would remain secure and inaccessible.
Apart from putting in security features like encryption and firewalls, companies also need to test and make sure these features work effectively. Companies need to protect their networks from any outside interference and must monitor and fill any gaps in their systems that may emerge. Strategies like penetration testing and other third-party tools can be used to test the strength of the network's defenses and identify any vulnerabilities.
What are the Challenges of Hybrid Cloud Networking?
Even with all the above-mentioned advantages and benefits of installing a hybrid cloud network, companies need to keep in mind that there will always be challenges associated with any new technology. Hybrid Cloud Networks, while being much more stable than other environments, can still present the following challenges:
- Costs: Hybrid Cloud Networks are much more cost-effective than other environments in the long run. However, for companies historically running their operations on public clouds, the initial development of a hybrid cloud network requires significant capital costs to install on-site IT infrastructure or a private cloud server. As your business scales up and operations expand, your maintenance costs also increase accordingly.
- Compatibility: The concept of a hybrid cloud network entails forming connections between multiple environments and devices. So, it is essential for these environments to be compatible with each other to work properly. The company needs to choose its cloud service providers carefully while keeping in mind the compatibility requirements of its existing environment. If the cloud is incompatible with the speed of the on-site IT network, processes will lag behind, and face difficulties running applications.
- Maintenance and Staff Requirements: There are a lot of differences between the operations of a public cloud-based network and a private cloud or on-site network. Moving onto a hybrid cloud network can induce a need for additional staff and training to develop the necessary technical skills. Moving ahead with a Hybrid Cloud Network without acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge, can cause disruptions and human errors. Therefore, proper planning, acquisition of skills and expertise, and investment in employee/user training such as certifications can go a long way in helping the company transform its network into a hybrid cloud infrastructure smoothly.
- Data Management: Data management is a key concern and challenge for a company in any cloud or non-cloud environment. Companies need to plan carefully on where to store sensitive data and how it is secured. There is a balance that needs to be achieved between how much sensitive data needs to be stored in the on-site infrastructure or private cloud, and how much data can be stored on public clouds to induce cost savings. This is one of the biggest decisions a company needs to make when opting to implement a hybrid cloud network. The company then also needs to make sure the data is safe not only while it is stored on the network, but also while it is in transmissions between environments through data encryption.
- Access Management: As hybrid cloud networks involve working with different environments simultaneously, data access management becomes increasingly important as well as much more complex. Managing and securing access to confidential data is a primary security concern and needs to be taken very seriously. Companies need to form and enforce centralized policies and protocols for data access in both public and private cloud environments. They can use sign-in tools, password protection, and identity verification to control access. To stay vigilant, companies can also have periodic control reviews so they can evaluate the effectiveness of their tools and come up with new strategies to improve.
A hybrid cloud network is one that uses different environments and networks. It is a solution that combines the capabilities and benefits of an on-site IT infrastructure, a public cloud network, and a private cloud server into a single network. This allows companies to reap the benefits of having an on-premises IT infrastructure while still having the flexibility to expand onto public cloud networks. Applications can be run in any environment, and data can be easily transmitted between various networks.
Hybrid Cloud Networks have a number of benefits that include increased agility, the ability to easily expand as required, a fast-track boost into digital transformation, and the freedom and flexibility to control data security and run operations effortlessly in any environment.
A Hybrid Cloud Network runs with the help of a Hybrid Cloud platform. It is a platform that provides the tools, architecture, and connections that are used to create and run the Hybrid Cloud Network. These use various tools to create strong connections between the various environments and establish functionality within the network. These connections are made using tools such as Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), Wide Area Networks (WANs), and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). We also discussed some vendors that currently provide Hybrid Cloud Platforms in the market like Microsoft, Google, Cisco, Amazon, and NetApp.
We also discussed the importance of some key best practices in relation to managing a Hybrid Cloud network, which can help improve the functionality and security of a network.
These practices include high-end data encryption to secure transmissions from one device to another, managing access to sensitive and confidential data, being careful as to how and where data should be stored depending on its confidentiality, and periodically testing your controls and strategies through methods like penetration testing in order to find gaps and weaknesses in the system. All these practices will help any company build an efficient and secure hybrid cloud network that can be used to reap the benefits of all three environments in a single network while reducing costs and increasing efficiency.