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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.
Traditional Cloud VendorsLet's start with the traditional vendors: Microsofts effort to capture some of the private cloud market is extensive; this page includes a list of hosting providers that support Hyper-V.
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."
Questions to ask your hybrid cloud providerBefore you get started with any hybrid arrangement, ask these questions of your prospective provider:
Can you use VPNs to connect? You are going to want to have a secure method to access your servers and data, and most providers offer a virtual private network for this access. For example. Amazon offers its Virtual Private Cloud VPN service. Others only make use of secure HTTP browsers or remote desktop connections or SSH terminal sessions.
Can you segment your network into Virtual LANs easily? This helps for extra security and makes your cloud easier to manage too.
Are there any role-based or granular access controls? With some providers, access is an all-or-nothing proposition. Look for more granularity, where you can limit what ordinary users can do (such as prevent them from stopping or starting a virtual server or making changes to your virtual infrastructure).
Are both Linux and Windows virtual server instances available? While you may not need both kinds of servers, it is nice to be able to bring up what you need down the road. Make sure the exact version of OS is available from your cloud vendor, such as 64-bit or a particular configuration, too.
How do you set up and tear down a virtual machine instance? With many providers, this is done via a Web browser connecting to a portal page. Amazon has its Auto Scale and Elastic Load Balancer features to add or subtract computing resources. Others have simple copy commands, so once you have a "golden" server configured, you can easily make clones.
Some cloud vendors use Ciscos AnyConnect VPN as one of various connection mechanisms to your hosted servers in its cloud.
Some leading vendors to look at in your migration to a hybrid cloud include:
· Skytap.com can set up an entire hosted virtual network of various servers, all via a Web browser.
· Vyatta.com has virtual firewalls and other network infrastructure gear to help secure the hybrid configuration.
· Cloudswitch.com sells a virtual appliance that can be used to move any virtual machine into either Amazon or Terremark's clouds.
· VMware offers a variety of cloud management tools, including vCloud Director, vFabrik that can help create a virtual datacenter and set up pre-configured app services and infrastructure.
· Appistry has its CloudIQ servers that can help scale them up or down.
- Dells Boomi helps integrate a variety of cloud-based servces such as Force.com and Google Apps.
Three steps to Hybrid Cloud ComputingWhat are the steps to take to make the move into the hybrid cloud?
First, make sure you bake in the right expectations and plan ahead. "It all starts with design," says Bryan Doerr, the CTO of Town and Country, Mo.-based Savvis. "Make sure you understand the performance and security characteristics of the cloud, so that you can achieve the levels you expect. Also, understand what kinds of support are possible in the cloud. If you are not monitoring the performance by your own staff, you may need your service provider to do that."
Second, consider your bandwidth and latency requirements carefully. "Make sure your existing network is ready for the migration to the cloud and is fast enough internally and with a fast Internet connection. You need to have a sufficient network pipe to support your users so they don't perceive any performance degradation," says Cutler.
Finally, realize that just because your apps are in the cloud doesn't mean that you can ignore what is in your office completely. "There is still a lot of local work that needs to be done when evaluating any cloud-based solution, says Tim Crawford, the CIO at All Covered, an IT services company to the SMB market that is based in Redwood City, Calif.
"Desktops and network need configuration, security has to be set up properly, hardware and firewalls need managing. Even if you move all your servers off site, there is still a lot to touch on-site."
Appistry has its CloudIQ servers to help you scale up or down and deploy your applications across a hybrid cloud.