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After some sputtering, hybrid cloud adoption gathers steam

As enterprises become more pragmatic about their paths to the cloud, company adoption is increasing.

As enterprises seek to be more agile without breaking the bank, they are turning to hybrid cloud computing models -- after years of giving cloud a wary eye.

For much of the past decade, hybrid cloud computing has drawn plenty of enterprise interest  but less adoption. Companies hesitated about sending data off-premises -- initially for security and management reasons, but also because cost-effective data integration appeared too difficult. In some cases, applications couldn't migrate easily to the cloud. For years, the lack of integration between public and private inhibited the agility and flexibility that a cloud computing model promises.

A COBOL database might not be possible to move as-is to a public cloud, said David Linthicum, a consultant, formerly of Boston-based cloud consultancy Cloud Technology Partners. "So, you'd have to rewrite the software, and if that's going to cost $5 million, it's economically unfeasible."

“In the real world, companies require flexibility,” said David Davis of ActualTech Media, an IT consultancy. They won’t choose a technology “that requires all or nothing.” Davis said that, for some time, the public cloud choice has been too binary: “Use a cloud-native app or rewrite legacy applications to become cloud-native.”

The technology tipping point for hybrid cloud adoption

Circa 2016, though, objections began to give way, and enterprise hybrid cloud adoption gathered steam. A 2016 Gartner study predicted enterprise use of hybrid cloud services would increase from 20% to 40% in a year. McKinsey & Co. predicted enterprise use of cloud services versus traditional data center ownership models would grow from 10% in 2015 to more than 50% in 2018.

A key tipping point for hybrid cloud adoption is the "pragmatic hybrid cloud" model, as Linthicum dubs it. In this scenario, enterprises don't have to use private clouds or rewrite legacy applications, but can instead create data service calls to give public cloud environments access to on-premises application data. It also helps companies circumvent time-consuming and costly migrations to private cloud infrastructure.

Linthicum noted that cloud management platforms (CMPs) help companies bridge the gap between legacy, on-premises technology and modern public cloud environments by enabling data center managers to complete tasks without undertaking laborious translation.

"You can move things to containers, [as well as] provision and deprovision things," Linthicum said. "You can abstract some of the complexity of doing that behind a single interface."

"You don't have to retrain people, [and] you don't have to retool applications," Linthicum said. "You don't have to port those applications back to a private cloud to be part of a hybrid cloud, and the public cloud can still participate in terms of automation, development cycles and so on."

For companies with a lot invested in data center infrastructure, pragmatic clouds offer an opportunity "to suck all the value out of it that they can," Linthicum said.

'Hybrid hybrid cloud,' multicloud and other trends

A related trend is the emergence of better bridges between private and public clouds. VMware recently announced a partnership with Amazon Web Services, for example, designed to make migration between clouds more seamless -- again without requiring applications to be rewritten.

"A lot of organizations don't want -- or can't use -- the full 'cloud-native' solution stack, and this meets them in the middle," said Bob Plankers, an infrastructure architect at a large Midwestern university.

The pragmatic approach also augments other trends in the market, including the multicloud model, which enables an organization to use multiple public clouds. Linthicum noted that many businesses, in addition to having a primary public cloud, will use a secondary cloud to meet other application needs. Pragmatic clouds can help with a multicloud strategy by masking some of the complexity of these multiple environments.

"We're seeing multicloud in about 80% of the cases," Linthicum said. "If you leverage a CMP, you can manage multiple clouds and hide the complexity behind a degree of abstraction."

According to 451 Research's "Voice of the Enterprise: Cloud Transformation, Workloads and Key Projects" survey, 36% of respondents said they dynamically move workloads to the most appropriate IT environment based on cost, performance, security, data sovereignty and other requirements; 31% said they use on-premises resources mainly for existing workloads, and use infrastructure as a service, public or hosted clouds for new workloads.

"Enterprises are looking at multiple execution venues both on premises and off premises," said 451 Research analyst Carl Lehmann. "They understand the various characteristics of each execution venue ... and then allocate workloads to the best execution venue."

Ultimately, that may mean deploying a mix of hybrid cloud computing and multicloud models to get the most cost-effective and efficient result.

"Finding your IT balance is not a zero-sum game; you don't have to choose legacy IT, public cloud or private cloud," wrote Curt Hopkins, a senior editor at Ready State, in "Cloud Control: 4 steps to find your company's IT balance." "You can mix those options based on your workloads."

"There's a hybrid use of hybrid. People are getting wiggy with it," Linthicum said. "Things are getting more complex, but they are getting better."

Lauren Horwitz

Lauren Horwitz is the managing editor of Cisco.com, where she covers the IT infrastructure market and develops content strategy. Previously, Horwitz was a senior executive editor in the Business Applications and Architecture group at TechTarget;, a senior editor at Cutter Consortium, an IT research firm; and an editor at the American Prospect, a political journal. She has received awards from American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), a min Best of the Web award and the Kimmerling Prize for best graduate paper for her editing work on the journal article "The Fluid Jurisprudence of Israel's Emergency Powers.”