Hybrid cloud? What is the actual definition of a hybrid cloud?  Is it a combination of on premises servers and virtual servers hosted somewhere else?  The simplest definition is that it is a cloud computing environment utilizing a mix of computers managed locally by your IT staff and third-party servers and resources that are off premises.

New technologies are popping up each and every day that garner the media’s attention.  You may have heard of “smart” appliances like refrigerators that will scan it’s own contents and order you the food items that you use most and have just run out of.  There are thermostats that will adjust the temperature based upon whether or not you are on you way home.  The Internet of Thing (IOT) will be heard more and more and will give appliances and inanimate objects the ability to talk to each other.  All of this is great.  Some say that this is in the future others argue it is hear now.

Most people my not even realize it yet but they are already utilizing a smaller version of a hybrid cloud.  You keep your photos and documents on your local computer or your Buffalo Network Attached Storage device.  You also keep them in iCloud or OneDrive.  Whatever your strategy at home you have most likely already encountered both cloud and hybrid cloud. The hybrid cloud may not be a household term yet like Facebook yet but it’s certainly familiar to Silicon Valley investors.  It’s the joining of the cloud and the on-premise office.  Hybrid cloud technologies are enabling users to save and then access their information, be it files, databases, spreadsheets or documents from either a cloud based hosted system or their own internal servers, whichever is faster.  It’s the same information, simultaneously stored in multiple places and designed to be served up immediately to the user depending on where the user is.  The data is stored on a “public” cloud and a “private” cloud.  And it’s big, big business.

“Some data is meant to be on premise because it may be higher performance or higher compliance,” Karim Faris, a General Partner at Google Ventures, told me recently.  “The idea is to bridge the two. I’m 42 years old and store all my family photos on Picasa.  But I also store them on a backup drive at home.”

Just last week, online data service Nimble Storage announced plans for a $150 million IPO.  VMware recently expanded its hybrid cloud management capabilities.  Online backup storage providers like Carbonite are deploying a more hybrid approach to their offerings.   And the hybrid cloud has given rise to fast growing firms like Egnyte, whose approach is to deliver a platform independent, software driven service where users can access their information quickly from both their public and private clouds, whichever is faster or more secure.  Stored data is growing at 35% per year, according to the Aberdeen Group.

Why the growth in hybrid cloud technology?  Well, that’s the embarrassing secret no one wants to admit.  Some may say it’s validation of the cloud’s role in a company’s infrastructure.  I’m not so sure.  In my opinion, it actually represents the limitations of the cloud when it comes to security.  If your data is in the cloud then no matter what you do other companies have access to your data and you have to trust that they have the same security safeguards that are present in your environment.  The cloud has received a lot of hype over the past few years.  But now smarter people are starting to better understand its reality.

Experts have stated that IT departments are starting to rationalize the cloud as just part of an infrastructure. However you can’t just let all the bits of your enterprise go to the cloud.  It’s not all or nothing.  The world is becoming a more hybrid enterprise.

Cloud based applications have exploded over the past few years.  Collaboration services, mobile apps, customer relationship management systems and document storage offerings have literally changed the lives of consumers and employees at companies, big and small. A roofer is creating a work-order for a new job while holding onto a chimney and entering the data into his tablet.  A college kid sits on a train from New York to Boston and catches up on the latest episodes of Walking Dead on her iPad.  It’s glorious.  It’s mind-blogging.  And it’s maddening too.

Because with all the hype, with all the excitement, with all the money thrown at it, the cloud has been disappointingly and embarrassingly imperfect. The data pipes are what control your access to the cloud.  If you have multiple redundant connections to the internet, perhaps you have the funds to sit on a Sonet Ring, then you may not be concerned that you won’t have access to your data as the “Cloud” is always there.  But if you are limited in your data connections then you will have to worry when the customer’s credit card information that you are entering into your tablet is being snagged by the guy three streets over who has hacked into your connection.  That college kid audibly groans as the episode freezes and her screen goes black, time and time again, eventually pulling out a book.

The cloud will be wondrous and fast and secure and reliable…one day.  Today, it is not.  And until that day comes we have the hybrid cloud.

Why else would Carbonite, whose model has been built around delivering a cloud based backup service, release an on-premise storage device to complement their online service?  Why would VMWare and Microsoft duplicate data delivery to multiple servers?  Why would venture capital firms plough millions into a software base service like Egnyte so that users can get the same data that is stored in different locations?  It’s because the cloud is useless unless we can get to our data fast and making sure that it is secure.  The cloud is useless if it’s not making us more productive and enabling us to do things quicker than before.  It’s useless if our data is less secure than when it was stored on our own servers.  And without hybrid cloud technologies, many companies are learning that this is very much the case.

So over the course of technology history our data has travelled from server to desktop to cloud and now back to the server again.  It’s not a 360 degree turnaround.  It’s a partial turnaround.  A hybrid solution to make up for the cloud’s defects.  The cloud is great.  But the enormous growth of hybrid cloud technologies only proves that it still has a long way to go before it’s fast and secure.

We have to accept that one day our homes will never lose internet access and we may only have virtualized desktops in Azure or AWS but for now Hybrid Clouds are here to stay.

Hybrid clouds