Last year Gartner predicted that by 2017, 50 percent of large enterprises would be using hybrid cloud models, which blend two or more cloud models: a private cloud used by a single entity; a purpose-built community cloud; or a public cloud available to any organization.

Historically, large enterprises have opted for private cloud solutions, wary of the security concerns public clouds present. Today, hybrid clouds are making it possible for enterprises to take advantage of the mobility and convenience of managing some resources via the public cloud without sacrificing the security of managing critical applications and sensitive data within an on-premise private cloud. 

The hybrid cloud is not without its challenges, however. If you’re considering joining the ranks of hybrid cloud adopters, take the time to ask yourself some key questions to decide if hybrid cloud is right for you. 

Would You Benefit From On-Demand Infrastructure? 

One of the major challenges IT departments face is accurately predicting today what equipment will meet their needs in the future before making a purchase. Rather than underestimating future needs, IT will pad their purchases with extra equipment to avoid having to request more money in the future. Most companies rotate out their equipment every three, five or seven years, which means unused equipment is quickly rendered unusable and sits idle, taking up valuable storage space. 

If you’re looking to free up physical storage space without limiting your ability to meet your company’s technology needs, a hybrid cloud might just be the answer. 

“With cloud, you don’t have to over-purchase equipment,” says Brandon Tanner, who is senior manager for Rentsys Recovery Services, a disaster recovery and business continuity services provider that offers a private cloud solution. “You can quickly deploy more resources as your business needs change and turn them off when you’re done using them.”

Do You Have Compliance Objectives to Meet? 

If your data center infrastructure is subject to federal or industry regulations, you need to be conscientious about how you implement a hybrid cloud and be aware of what examiners will be looking for in a cloud model. 

To effectively evaluate the risk and risk mitigation associated with the use of third-party services, it’s important to determine the adequacy of a service’s internal controls. Depending on which cloud service or deployment model you choose to use, there are five trust service principles around which you can build your cloud vendor requirements: security, availability, processing integrity, confidentiality and privacy.

These are the principles included in the Service Organization Controls (SOC) 2: AT101 attestation, which provides a framework for examiners to validate whether an organization’s controls are functioning appropriately.

“You should request a SOC 2 report from potential cloud services providers, and if it’s not provided, move on,” says Tanner.

Does Your IT Team Have the Availability and Skill Set Required to Handle the Necessary Networking? 

Hybrid cloud environments require intricate networking to avoid hiccups in data transfers. Before making any decisions about moving to a hybrid cloud, make sure your IT team has the skills and cycles necessary to accommodate the necessary networking. Encourage their feedback and be realistic with your expectations of hybrid cloud capabilities.

“Cloud is not a perfect science,” says Tanner, “so you need to understand that not everything will go perfectly, but on the other hand, there are unexpected outcomes that often prove advantageous.”

What Tools Will You Use to Administer the Hybrid Cloud? 

One of IT’s biggest potential challenges of the hybrid cloud is a fragmented virtual infrastructure as workloads are split between different cloud environments. 

In a 2012 report on hybrid cloud integration technologies, Enterprise Management Associates Association, Inc. found that customers’ top complaint about cloud integration solutions was a deficiency in cross-platform data-sharing capabilities. For example, survey respondents indicated that they wanted to be notified via their production monitoring platforms when an integration error had occurred, but only a handful of tools had that capability. In order to integrate two sets of systems and processes, automation tools often become necessary for efficiently addressing issues related to cross-platform interoperability, load balancing and management tasks. The problem is, finding a tool that can effectively bridge the gap between disparate solutions that are each constantly evolving can feel like a never-ending puzzle.  

Some public cloud providers offer their own management tools, which can alleviate some of the compatibility issues that come with using a third-party tool. However, using a provider’s proprietary management tool becomes problematic if you ever decide to switch cloud providers (more on that below). 

To avoid interoperability issues, Tanner recommends working with a managed services provider that’s already worked through the hybrid issues.

What Challenges Will You Encounter If You Switch Cloud Providers? 

One of the primary benefits of the hybrid cloud is that it’s flexible in terms of load balancing and creating testing and development environments. If you decide to switch from one cloud provider to another, though, the hybrid cloud is not always so accommodating.  

“Public clouds are very specific, and like Hotel California, once you’re in it’s hard to get out,” Tanner comments.

Hybrid cloud models using the public cloud pose the risk of vendor lock-in, whether due to gaps in SLAs or significant resource investments in a particular cloud management tool that’s only compatible with specific cloud providers.

Tanner adds, “Our solution is purpose-built and based on a compliance framework, so it’s not as proprietary.”

Is Your Cloud SLA Comprehensive Enough?

If you’ve decided that your organization is ready to move forward with implementing a hybrid cloud model, the key to success is the SLA. Hybrid cloud SLAs are notorious for being complicated, so review it thoroughly and make sure all terms used are clearly defined to ensure that you and your provider are on the same page with their expectations. 

The SLA should set clear, realistic guidelines for use of the cloud, data management and your relationship with the vendor. Also make sure the SLA is enforceable with existing management tools.

Is Hybrid Cloud Right for You?

Whether or not a hybrid cloud model is a good option for you will depend on business functions, applications and the type of data your business handles. Ultimately, you should decide what type of cloud to implement — public, private or a combination of the two — based on what works for your business strategically. No matter the deployment model, cloud is here to stay, so be prepared to use it for your advantage.