In a world of integrated services, hybrid cloud is king

In a world of integrated services, hybrid cloud is king

For upcoming fiscal year 2015, the Office of Management and Budget estimates federal agencies will spend over $2.8 billion on all types of cloud solutions. Yet, just $144.6 million of that budget is slated for so-called hybrid solutions. That makes hybrid clouds look like the poor stepchild of government computing. But appearances can be deceiving. 

Once you peel back the layers, it becomes immediately clear that hybrid cloud solutions are all around us, and they're growing fast. We just don't officially label them as hybrid. So let's start with the definition itself; then we can look at why this form of cloud computing is very much the wave of the future.

Most people define hybrid as a mixed deployment of public and private cloud services working together as an integrated system. That itself provides a huge clue of the significance of the hybrid cloud.

Government computing is all about systems. Few IT systems are truly stand-alone anymore. Data is tagged and shared. Databases can be integrated with several different applications. Application programming interfaces specify function sets that allow applications to call and interact with other software components.

Hybrid solutions are also under development when programmers use a variety of cloud features to "roll their own," creating mash-up applications. Think of map layers that build on top of a Google Earth foundation or how analytics at fusion centers is conducted, as data is imported from multiple resources – some in the cloud and some not.

Now consider this: Recently, Amazon Web Services was granted a provisional Authority to Operate to provide Impact Levels 3-5 of the Defense Department's Cloud Security Model. It's likely the AWS backend will be used as a key part or host of some larger DOD systems. Systems integration plays a key role in building these multipart solutions, and agencies end up with a mix of internal and external systems, as needed.

>It's even fair to say that typical system development life cycles dictate the need for a hybrid approach. Parts of a system get swapped in and out as they age and as technologies change. What is hosted internally today may be hosted in a public cloud in the future, and visa versa.

So if hybrid cloud is the wave of the future, why do official reports indicate that overall federal spending on hybrid is extremely low? The main reason is the way government program offices track IT spending, including cloud. Budgets tend to be attached to a discreet solution or contract. If a cloud solution is part of the process, it tends to be purchased discreetly, from dedicated funding.

Larger hybrid systems tend to be built after various cloud services are purchased, while new systems routinely need to be tied into IT services that the organization already operates. It's how data gets shared, how applications interact and how business gets done.

So hybrid remains important, but not necessarily as a discreet spending category tracked by OMB. That’s because cloud solutions are not a black and white choice. The line between public and private clouds has been blurring for some time as commercial providers meet the highly specific security and compliance demands of government systems then extend the required settings across even their public cloud systems.

In developing such systems, IT architects are able to leverage their own data centers, external cloud resources and wide-area networks of other government agencies as a fully hybrid environment.

The hybrid cloud can transform the dynamics of enterprise IT and give individual lines of business greater access to new computing resources, including infrastructure, platforms and software.

At a time when government IT architects find themselves challenged to deploy, manage and update their infrastructure, hybrid cloud can help organizations balance on-demand flexibility and usage-based pricing with subdepartment-level control.

The hybrid approach to cloud adoption is likely to continue to expand as public cloud usage accelerates and more systems integrators build turn-key solutions from a mash-up of multiple cloud services. A hybrid approach also enables continued leveraging of existing IT investments and centralized control of increasingly decentralized IT infrastructures.

Public clouds generally mean a one-size-fits-all approach for each workload. Private clouds offer control, but limit scaling and sometimes availability. Hybrid, at least in theory, provides the correct environment for the right workload at the best time.

About the Author

Shawn McCarthy, a former writer for GCN, is senior analyst and program manager for government IT opportunities at IDC.


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