Now that all of the major public cloud providers have a clearly defined hybrid cloud solution on the market we can start to compare the different approaches from Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.
Hybrid cloud is an enterprise IT strategy that involves operating certain workloads across different infrastructure environments, be it one of the major public cloud providers, a private cloud, or on-premise, typically with a homegrown orchestration layer on top. Multi-cloud is a similar idea but tends to not involve private cloud or on-premise infrastructure.
This approach is particularly important to organisations with certain applications that will need to remain on-premise for the time being, such as low-latency applications on a factory floor, or those with data residency concerns.
According to the RightScale State of the Cloud report 2019, hybrid cloud is the dominant enterprise strategy, with 58 per cent of respondents stating that is their preferred approach, with 17 per cent opting for multiple public clouds and just 10 per cent opting for a single public cloud provider.
The advantages of hybrid cloud include the ability to diversify spend and skills, build resiliency and cherry pick features and capabilities depending on where they see a vendor's strengths, all while avoiding that dreaded vendor lock-in.
It is in the public cloud vendor's best interests that customers run everything in the public cloud, but they are increasingly aware that customers don't necessarily want to work this way and are providing more flexible options to accommodate for that fact.
As DataStax CEO Billy Bosworth told Computerworld UK: "It really has only been, I would say, the last 12 to 18 months, where I feel like the market has hit that decided tipping point, that multi-cloud is not an option, it's a reality."
Taking them one by one, here are the major vendor's options for running hybrid.
Microsoft Azure Stack
Microsoft has long been the go-to option for hybrid deployments amongst the big three with its well established Azure Stack, which was available in technical preview as long ago as January 2016.
It allows customers to leverage various Azure cloud services from their own data centre and, in theory, eases the transition to the cloud for highly regulated or more cautious organisations. Applications can be built for the Azure cloud and deployed either on Microsoft cloud infrastructure or within the confines of your own data centre without rewriting any code.
Azure Stack brings a set of core services to customers own data centres, such as virtual machines, storage, networking, VPN gateway and load balancing, as well as platform services like functions, containers and database and identity services like active directory.
The Azure Stack can be run on hardware from a variety of partner vendors, such as HPE, Dell EMC, Cisco, Huawei and Lenovo.
It is priced in the same flexible manner as Azure public cloud, so you pay for what you use, starting at US $0.008 per virtual CPU per hour, but you will be contracted for software support with Microsoft and hardware support with the chosen vendor.
For a more detailed breakdown of Azure Stack our friends over at Network World have gone under the covers.
AWS signalled its first serious move into hybrid deployments at its re:Invent conference in 2018 with the launch of Outposts, a fully managed service where AWS delivers pre-configured hardware and software to customers' on-premise data centre or co-location space to run applications in a cloud-native manner, without having to operate out of AWS data centres.
"Customers will order racks with the same hardware AWS uses in all of our regions, with software with AWS services on it - like compute and storage - and then you can work in two variants," AWS CEO Andy Jassy said at the time. Those two flavours are: run VMware Cloud on AWS, or run compute and storage on-premises using the same native AWS APIs used in the AWS cloud.
Currently customers can configure their outpost with a variety of EC2 instances and EBS volumes for storage, with the vendor planning to add services like RDS for database, ECS and EKS for containerised applications and SageMaker for machine learning use cases in the near future."
"Symbolically, Outposts is another acknowledgement by AWS that most enterprises want or need to split workloads and data between on-premise systems and public cloud services," Kurt Marko, an independent technology analyst, told Computerworld UK at the time.
AWS Outposts is not yet generally available and pricing information has not yet been announced.
Google Cloud Anthos
Google Cloud made a splash in April 2018 when it announced the general availability of Anthos: a new platform which promises the ability to run applications on-premise, in the Google Cloud and, crucially, with other major public cloud providers like Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services (AWS).
Under the covers, Anthos is a combination of Google's Kubernetes Engine (GKE), GKE On-Prem and the Anthos Config Management console for unified administration, policies and security across hybrid Kubernetes deployments.
It is hardware agnostic and can be run on customers' existing servers or with VMware, Dell EMC, HPE, Intel, and Lenovo racks.
In fairly typical Google style the key differentiator here is its interoperability and open source credentials. "Anthos will also let you manage workloads running on third-party clouds like AWS and Azure, giving you the freedom to deploy, run and manage your applications on the cloud of your choice, without requiring administrators and developers to learn different environments and APIs," the vendor outlined in a blog post at the time.
"Today, if you talk to Azure they will say you can run Azure Stack on-premise and on the cloud, Amazon will say you can run Outposts on-premise and in the AWS cloud. They are fine companies, but they're not solving the multi-cloud problem," Google Cloud CEO Thomas Kurian added.
Nick McQuire, vice president of enterprise research at CCS Insight said: "With the arrival of Anthos, and in particular its support of open source, particularly Kubernetes, Google is now taking a much more realistic path in meeting customers where they are on their cloud journeys and is aiming to become the standard in hybrid, multi-cloud services in this next phase of the cloud market."
Anthos is charged as a monthly term-based subscription with a minimum one-year commitment. It's then priced on incremental blocks of 100 vCPUs, starting at $10,000 per block regardless of where that workload is running.
Oracle Cloud at Customer
Oracle's Infrastructure-as-a-Service business may not be booming, but it has long provided a hybrid option for customers called Cloud at Customer.
Launched in 2016, the service brings together cloud infrastructure and platform services, such as database, big data and app development, as well as software-as-a-service (SaaS) applications like customer relationship management (CRM), enterprise resource planning (ERP) and human capital management (HCM), into customers' own data centres.
Oracle provides converged Oracle hardware, software-defined storage and management services to run applications for customers. The company simply asks for data centre floor space, networking and power, before implementing everything on-premise and managing the cloud services, complete with regular upgrades.
The only difference is that Oracle asks customers to sign a longer-term deal - three to four years minimum - to account for the capital expenditure involved with the shipping and installing of dedicated hardware.
Nirav Mehta, VP of product management at Oracle, describes the service as if "Oracle Cloud stretched from our data centre to the customer, so the same stack but all the data lives at the customer site."
"We go in to size, build, ship, deploy and manage the software, so we go in for a turnkey deployment," he added.
Oracle says the service has proved popular with public sector customers, including within the UK government, as well as in financial services. Bank of America and AT&T are two customers willing to be named.
IBM has made a clear strategic shift towards being a hybrid cloud vendor since its $33 billion acquisition of the open source Linux company Red Hat in 2018.
"IBM will become the world's number one hybrid cloud provider, offering companies the only open cloud solution that will unlock the full value of the cloud for their businesses," IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said at the time of the acquisition.
It's still early days but IBM clearly wants to set itself out as an independent partner to customers looking to run hybrid, multi-cloud environments by bringing a set of tools and services "to help businesses migrate, integrate and manage applications and workloads seamlessly and with security across any public or private cloud and on-premises IT environment," the vendor said in a press release.
More specifically, this includes a new IBM Cloud Integration Platform to help operate cloud services across cloud and on-premise environments under one secure operating model and toolset. The 'container-based' platform promises easy porting of data and applications across infrastructure and aligns API management, events and enterprise messaging.
On the services side, IBM seems to be aligning much of its sales and consulting teams around advising customers on "how to architect the right holistic cloud strategy from design, migration, integration, road mapping and architectural services to navigating their journey to cloud," the vendor said.
An early reference customer for this is Santander Bank, which announced that it will be investing $700 million over five years to place IBM as "one of Santander Group's main transformation partner - helping Banco Santander to implement their hybrid cloud strategy."
IBM is supporting the bank with its "methodologies and processes to accelerate that transformation journey. Additionally, the bank is using a range of technologies including IBM devops solutions and IBM API Connect, aimed to develop, iterate and launch new or upgraded applications and digital services much more rapidly," according to a press release.
There are of course other options outside of the big cloud vendors that can help customers run hybrid too, such as Cisco CloudCenter or VMware vCloud Suite.
OpenStack is another option that springs to mind. With the open source alternative customers can bridge the gap between multiple cloud software and hardware vendors, but to do so requires some pretty hardcore skills and expertise within your organisation.