While the concept isn't all that new, many vendors are looking for ways to help IT managers more effectively migrate and manage these mixed environments.
New providers are springing up frequently, which makes evaluating them all that much harder. Some are traditional hosting providers, others offer more virtualization expertise, while some have built their own management tools around their services.
Intel has a hybrid cloud offering. They are in limited beta for providers to offer up a server designed for managed services providers to deploy on a customer premise. It includes a variety of options, including firewall, VOIP PBX, virtual storage and management tools.
Google has its Apps and App Engine along with a series of Web services.
Finally, Amazon's Web Services have been around for many years and includes CloudWatch to manage hybrid clouds.
Amazon has its CloudWatch monitoring service for its various Web services.
Why use a hybrid service? Several reasons. First, they are designed to quickly scale for your demands, making them ideal for peak load projects or to deal with unexpected heavy demands that your in-house servers weren't designed to handle.
For instance, scientific instrument supplier Varian, rather than purchasing its own server hardware, was able to run a complex series of several weeklong mathematical simulations in under a day using Amazon's high performance computing resources. The firm was able to dynamically scale its processing up to execute the simulation, then shut down when calculations completed.
Second, hybrid cloud services operate around the clock and in different data centers around the world, making them appealing to global businesses or those that want to be thought of that way. While this could be an issue for some managers who want to drive to see their servers in a nearby facility, it can provide for a level of redundancy and reliability in case of weather-related outages at headquarters.
Third, hybrid cloud services are reasonably priced, especially when compared with traditional outsourced or managed hosting providers. Some of the fees are quite inexpensive and you pay for the machine on pennies per hour that it is running. There is even a free service available from Cloudshare.com that will allow you to host up to three virtual machines for your account (fees are charged for larger collections, however).
What about the inherent insecurity of the cloud? Some of this is more about managing perceptions than any actual reality.
"The evidence is that data is just as secure and in many cases more secure in the cloud," says Dave Cutler, the general manager with Slalom Consulting, a national consultancy in Chicago. "The larger companies can be more rational about this decision, where smaller companies might have a key executive who can nix the entire deal, such as the CEO, with more emotional rather than factual reasons behind the decision."