Forecast: Partly Cloudy Hybrid Solutions Offer Best of Both Worlds

Many solution providers are finding that the cloud can be a powerful ally for deploying services and applications. However, the cloud is not without its limitations and complications that make it less than ideal for certain solutions. In those cases, solution providers turn to traditional methods, eschewing the cloud and along with it, potential recurring revenue streams.

Surprisingly, there are many situations where the cloud doesnt measure up. Take, for example, businesses continuity, disaster recovery and data backup solutions here, the sheer amount of data in motion can overcome available bandwidth, making it impossible to move all of a companys data onto a cloud service in a reasonable amount of time.

The clouds struggles do not end there; solution providers are finding that the cloud may not deliver an acceptable end-user experience to businesses using enterprise application delivery services, virtual desktops, hosted communications solutions and infrastructure management.

However, thanks to some creative thinking on the part of cloud services providers, there is a way to overcome bandwidth, latency and other dataflow problems and still leverage the benefits of the cloud. It all comes down to a simple matter of physics the closer the resource is located to the end-user and the larger the data path, the better the performance. The solution comes in the form of a hybrid deployment, where onsite hardware, local cloud services and public cloud services come together into a single, cohesive solution.

Marrying the Physical and the Virtual. Although integrating solutions across platforms is nothing new, the nature of the cloud creates unique challenges when combining the virtual technologies of the cloud with physical devices. Whats more, the dynamics of billing for the services can change significantly. Bringing hardware, software and service costs together into a single monthly fee can be a complex endeavor, requiring someone to outlay the funds for the initial investment, for what may be a depreciable asset.

Before delving into the realm of hybrid clouds, it is important to comprehend cloud services. There are three primary layers of the cloud services stack, which Forrester Research defines as:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) end-user applications, delivered as a service rather than as on-premises software
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) application platform or middleware on which developers can build and operate custom applications delivered as a service
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) compute, storage or other IT infrastructure delivered as service rather than as dedicated capability. 

While the definitions work quite well for the cloud services stack, hybridization changes them significantly. The theory creating a service-orientated architecture to deliver IT capabilities to the end-user remains the same while the mechanism to deliver them does not.

Hybridization via Hardware as a Service. Perhaps one of the best examples of hybridization in cloud deployment is found in business continuity and disaster recovery, where a cloud-only solution is hampered by bandwidth limitations and the sheer amount of data involved. Here, hybridization has led to a hardware as a service” (HaaS) model, where premises-based equipment is combined with cloud services wherein a local cloud is synchronized with a private cloud running over the public Internet.

The synergy between on-premises hardware and cloud services can be found over at CharTec, a managed services provider that works with channel partners. CharTec is looking to engage the MSP market with its HaaS solutions, more specifically its recently announced BDR (backup and disaster recovery) product. CharTecs BDR offering combines a premises-based physical server with virtualization software, cloud synchronization, cloud virtualization and a management dashboard into a single product which is sold for a monthly services fee. There are no upfront hardware costs, which from an accounting point of view makes CharTecs BDR a service and therefore an operational expense.

A physical storage appliance located on site is the key to CharTec's high-performance backup and disaster recovery services.The concept behind BDR is quite simple, yet its execution brings significant advantages to organizations looking to protect their data and business processes. Those advantages can be attributed directly to CharTecs use of the cloud. The way it works is by automating the onsite backup process and providing onsite virtualization. Backup data is replicated in the cloud, as are virtualized servers that can be spun up in the event of a failed physical server.

Of course, there are some initial concerns with CharTecs approach, the first being how to get all of the corporate data and applications replicated in the cloud. The answer to that problem lies in how the service is initiated a manual backup of all of the data, applications and servers is accomplished, stored on removable/transportable media and then shipped off to CharTecs office for synchronization on the host environment. After that, all future backups are performed and then stored on the local premises equipment, with a cloud storage synchronization occurring shortly thereafter. That approach provides viable concurrent onsite and offsite backups of data, applications and services.

CharTecs approach also incorporates a rapid recovery methodology, thanks to its hybrid approach. By using virtualization technologies combined with hosted services, failed services can be brought up quickly by either running an on-premises virtual server on the local equipment or,  in the case of a facility loss, running virtual servers on remote hosts provided by CharTec.

Virtual Hybrid Cloud Services. CharTec is one example of how hybridization works using a HaaS model, but HaaS is not the only way to achieve hybridization. Other vendors are focusing on creating hybrid services completely in the cloud, using specialized technologies to combine virtual infrastructures, application virtualization, hosted services and WAN acceleration technologies.

One such company is OS33 Inc., a hosted services provider that melds infrastructure, applications and MSP functions into a single service. Unlike HaaS hybrids, OS33 offers a virtual representation of hybrid services by combining SaaS, PaaS and IaaS together into a unique offering.

OS33 offers applications and desktops in a platform fashion, where users can mix and match services with customized virtul desktops.

OS33 allows channel partners to define customer networks, set up user accounts and provision applications, servers and services from a single console. The OS33 solution replaces onsite servers with hosted virtual servers, onsite storage with storage in the cloud and delivers applications to desktops using Citrixs application virtualization, which actually runs on a remote virtual PC.

OS33 offers pre-installed applications, so that MSP partners do not have worry about installing popular line-of-business applications. The company also handles licensing and support for its pre-installed applications as well.

In OS33s case, the hybrid model allows channel partners to deliver a complete networked desktop experience in a matter of minutes. Partners simply use a browser-based dashboard to define the tenant (company), users, groups, security and other networking aspects, then assign access and applications to a user. When the user logs into their account, a virtual desktop is created that offers the selected applications (virtualized), storage and server access, along with anything else required to build a virtual networked desktop PC.

Another Path to Hybrid Cloud. Hosted storage is another category that lends itself well to a hybrid cloud model that incorporates on-site hardware with cloud-based services. A good example of hybrid cloud storage comes from services provider Egnyte Inc.

Egnyte uses a local cloud paired with a public cloud to make local storage accessible to remote sites, while creating a mirrored copy of the data in the cloud.

Egnyte offers its Hybrid Cloud Storage Solution to channel partners looking to bring storage into the cloud, without sacrificing local access speeds. However, Egnyte puts an interesting twist on the HaaS model: the company only provides the hosting services and software to build a hybrid storage cloud; the onsite hardware must be provided separately.

Egnytes hybrid storage cloud comes in three different flavors, Personal Local Cloud, Office Local Cloud and Enterprise Local Cloud. The concept behind each is much the same store data both locally and in the cloud, giving access to the data from any location. For example, with the Personal Local Cloud solution, a user installs a small client application on their local PC and then designates directories on the hard drive that will be available via the cloud. Those directories are kept synchronized, allowing access either from the local or from the hosted storage store. That solution enables a user with a PC in their office and one at a remote location to access the same data.

With the Office Local Cloud solution, a network attached storage (NAS) device is installed on the offices local area network, and selected data stored on the NAS unit is then replicated into a cloud storage location. That allows those on the LAN to access data quickly yet still have that data automatically backed up and available to remote users via the cloud.

The Enterprise Local Cloud offering ups the ante by switching to a local host that runs a virtual appliance, powered by VMware, which allows enterprises to use existing servers, SAN, NAS or other in-house storage technology. Ideally, a solution provider could set up the Enterprise Local Cloud at multiple sites and automatically replicate those sites via the cloud, while still providing offsite backup and remote access capabilities.

The Hybrid Cloud and the Channel. Some solution providers may view the move to cloud with fear fear that MSPs and cloud services vendors may take their offerings directly to customers, eschewing the channel. However, the way hybridization is beginning to develop, it seems that the channel will be an integral part of its success. Cloud services vendors are coming to rely on channel partners to act as agents in the field and to deliver new business a relationship that for all intents and purposes is symbiotic, benefiting not only the channel partner, but the vendors and customers as well.

Frank J. Ohlhorst is a freelance writer specializing in the IT channel.

Looking for More?

Learn about Understanding and Building Hybrid Cloud Solutions” from the Channel Partners Cloud Convergence Council at the Spring 2011 Channel Partners Conference & Expo, March 13-15, in Las Vegas. For more information, click here.

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