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The Battle for the Cloud Rumbles On

In the battle of the clouds--public cloud vs. private cloud vs. hybrid cloud--which model will win? The answer, if by winning we mean market share, is almost certainly the hybrid cloud.

Let's take a look at some recently published numbers. The first lot come from a white paper, "Think Flat with Ethernet Fabric" by consultants Frost & Sullivan. The white paper was commissioned by Brocade, the California-based networking company that makes "cloud optimized" networking gear.

Frost & Sullivan surveyed 328 people in enterprises in the Asia-Pacific region and found that 35 percent of organizations are using the cloud computing model in one form or another. So far uncontroversial, and it's tempting to imagine that a great deal of that number could be accounted for by companies making use of public clouds for non-mission-critical and non-security-sensitive applications.

But it turns out that it's not public cloud clouds that are the most popular among the organizations surveyed. In fact, private cloud implementations are the most popular: 40 percent of cloud computing users have actually implemented--or say they have implemented--a private cloud infrastructure. The number of companies surveyed that have adopted public clouds is a touch lower than private cloud adopters, at 34 percent.

But What About Hybrid Clouds?

It turns out that about 26 percent of those organizations surveyed are using hybrid clouds, a figure that will bring a smile of relief to the army of strategists at companies like VMware and Brocade, which are counting on the success of the hybrid cloud computing model. 26 percent may not seem like anything to write home about, but given that it's only relatively recently that service providers with public infrastructures compatible with private clouds have started appearing and that the development of management tools for hybrid cloud implementations are also at a relatively early stage, 26 percent is a pretty respectable figure.

In fact Frost & Sullivan's figure of 26 percent for hybrid clouds seems on the low side when you compare it with figures from Forrester Consulting's "Cloud Computing in Asia-Pacific: The Annual Cloud Maturity Index," a recently published study commissioned by VMware. This study found that the proportion of companies using a hybrid cloud infrastructure in the region is almost 50 percent higher than Frost & Sullivan found it to be, at around 41 percent. That's certainly much higher than the 32 percent using private clouds and the even smaller proportion using public clouds. That number may go even higher, following VMware's announcement of the release of vCloud Connector 1.5, its tool for moving virtual machines between private clouds and public clouds built using vCloud technology.

So why are hybrid clouds bound to "win" in the end? The answer has to do with the fact that, rightly or wrongly, many companies appear to have an in-built aversion to a pure public cloud. Worries about security and data privacy are key concerns--as Forrester's study confirms--and it may be that when it comes to putting their jobs on the line, many IT people are unwilling to take the risk of entrusting everything to a third party--even if industry regulations allow it. The benefits of the private cloud model--agility, higher resource utilization, scalability and rapid deployment of applications on demand--are enticing enough, although they lack the almost infinite scalability and negligible capex commitment that a public cloud offers.

But a hybrid cloud really does look like it can offer most of the benefits of both public and private clouds: Keep your secrets in-house, keep less-critical data in a low-cost data center; reduce your capex and your opex; choose your own SLAs for critical applications run in your private cloud, accept less-demanding ones for less-important applications in the public cloud; increase your capacity to scale without moving everything to the public cloud; get access to specialist expertise when you require it; manage it all from a single pane of glass.

It sounds good. If you've got a private cloud, why wouldn't you want a hybrid one. It's like a private cloud, only more so. It's why hybrid clouds are already very popular and why they are going to win.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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This article was originally published on November 20, 2011
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