As a multi-tenant cloud environment, the public cloud offers companies with vast amounts of data a highly affordable option. However, it also presents a number of limitations including reliability challenges, a lack of control and transparency, and information security issues.
First, uptime reliability can be a major issue for public cloud architectures. Popular cloud platforms – including Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, and IBM Cloud – typically offer a 99.99% uptime guarantee, but relying on an average of 99.99% just doesn’t cut it. While on the surface this may seem equivalent to 100% reliability, in practice this is agreeing to hours of disruption each month, which can be a costly decision.
Second, the public cloud offers little operational transparency to its customers. An IT specialist typically has no access or visibility into a public cloud’s back-end infrastructure and has no say in the management or operations of the IT architecture.
This lack of visibility and control over the production environment often means that the public cloud is not suitable to support legacy applications that require a highly stable infrastructure. While due diligence is critical in determining a vendor, with the public cloud ultimately customers have to rely on trusting the provider has sufficient security and risk mitigation strategies.
By limiting control of your data, public cloud companies also limit the ability to create added layers of security. For instance, if your company has specific security requirements, housing sensitive data in the public cloud will limit your control over authorization, authentication, and access control, making it difficult or impossible to meet and evaluate compliance with your security protocols. Further, because your data is stored alongside the data of other companies in a public cloud, security breaches of the environment pose a threat to all tenants.
Additionally, vendor lock-in can be a concern with some public cloud providers. In the event of a data breach or security protocol lapse, companies may have a difficult time removing their data in favor of a different storage option. Exorbitant fees are the norm for data repatriation, and often providers don’t return the data in an easily usable format.
For a large amount of non-sensitive data, a public cloud may offer a sufficiently secure and affordable option for users. For many companies, however, there is a need for the greater reliability, control and security provided by private cloud environments.
A private cloud architecture is under the full control of an internal IT team or vendor, providing full transparency, as well as greater flexibility and agility in risk management and response. This control also allows the IT team to ensure data-specific compliance and security measures are followed and deploy strategies to mitigate potential security risks. As a result, the private cloud is considered a more secure location for legacy infrastructure, sensitive data, and mission critical applications.
Despite the benefits of the private cloud, many companies find management of a private cloud to be both challenging and expensive. In response, we have seen a noticeable shift to companies adopting hybrid cloud environments – a solution that takes advantage of the best qualities of both the public and private cloud.
Benefits and challenges of going hybrid
Companies are increasingly deploying a hybrid cloud approach to balance the benefits and challenges presented by both the public and private cloud. With the hybrid cloud, both types of cloud environments are integrated, allowing data to move seamlessly between platforms.
This hybrid architecture can be designed as a bifurcated system in which the private cloud hosts a company’s sensitive data and mission critical components, and the public cloud hosts the rest. With this type of architecture, the data and applications live permanently in their assigned cloud environment, but the two systems are able to communicate seamlessly. Another option – the cloud bursting model – houses all of a company’s information in the private cloud, but when spikes in demand occur the public cloud provides supplementary capacity.
Both hybrid approaches give companies greater control over and access to their IT environments and the ability to implement more stringent security protocols on the private cloud portion of their deployment. In addition, a hybrid approach gives organizations flexibility to build a solution that meets their current needs, but that can also evolve as their needs change. If a new application is introduced or there is a large influx of data, the company can add additional capacity quickly using the public cloud.
While a hybrid cloud architecture provides a number of benefits, creating an effective and secure solution is not without challenges. When data is stored in multiple locations, safe transfer of that information from one server to another needs to be managed and ensured. The actual act of transferring is a highly vulnerable point for the data, and the best defense for a cyberattack is encryption. Investing in powerful cryptographic tools is a critical component to safely using a hybrid cloud.
A hybrid cloud also brings an added level of difficulty in ensuring compliance with both government and industry regulations. Rather than establishing compliance protocols in just one cloud environment, a hybrid cloud requires those guidelines to be met in multiple instances. As sensitive data moves freely between the environments, each needs to be compliant individually – and compliant together as a system.
Beyond the threats to information security posed in a hybrid cloud, come the physical security threats of maintaining the private portion. An optimal environment with cooling and redundant power is critical for maintaining uptime, as are security protocols to keep systems safe and protected from unauthorized access.
Establishing a secure hybrid environment may pose challenges for many companies, but partnering with a colocation provider to house the hybrid cloud infrastructure can help to minimize efforts for the IT team, ensure security and compliance standards are met, and provide important transparency and flexibility.
Leveraging colocation in hybrid deployments
Colocation facilities are growing in popularity for providing the ability to maintain a private cloud and enjoying all the benefits of hybrid architecture without the associated maintenance.
Despite the impression that the cloud is an amorphous place where data and applications are stored, in reality the cloud relies on physical infrastructure. Colocation can provide that foundational infrastructure and help companies to avoid adding needless operational complexity – shifting the private portion of a hybrid cloud from a capital expenditure to an operating expense.
By partnering with a colocation provider, companies can avoid the need to build and maintain a private data center to operate their hybrid cloud environment. Not only is this approach much more cost-effective, it is also generally more secure. Because colocation providers specialize in data center design and operation, they are known to offer reliability and multi-layered security features that individual organizations may not reasonably be able to replicate.
For example, many providers guarantee 100% uptime, provide proactive protection against DDoS attacks, and offer full infrastructure redundancy. Colocation providers also typically have a strong focus on physical security with a multi-layered approach, strict authentication protocols, biometric access technology, and round-the-clock surveillance. This combination makes colocation an excellent choice for keeping your sensitive data secure when using a hybrid cloud approach.
One area of vulnerability in a hybrid approach is the transfer of data between the public and private cloud. Colocation facilities with cloud on-ramps can help to mitigate this security concern by enabling customers to build point-to-point connections between private and public clouds. Creating a direct connection allows the data to bypass the public internet, providing a more secure and reliable connection. In addition, these cloud on-ramps improve issues of bandwidth and latency by creating an alternative to data transfers over the public internet.
In addition, despite having your IT infrastructure in a multi-tenant environment, colocation does not require you to give up visibility into your deployments. Users maintain control, access and transparency into their own deployments. Many colocation providers also offer advanced technology to assist with reporting and compliance, as well as remote hands services to provide support when your IT personnel are not on site.
Colocation is also much more scalable than a traditional private cloud. When additional storage is needed, customers can adjust their contract to gain access to more bandwidth, power, equipment, and square footage. Fluctuation in data generation is normal in most industries and the ability to securely scale storage needs is more easily accommodated by a colocation provider than in a private data center. With the infrastructure already in place, the implementation time is frequently negligible.
When selecting a colocation facility or negotiating terms and conditions, there are many steps customers can take to ensure the security of their hybrid cloud environment. Starting with the basics, select a facility with redundant power, blended ISP solutions, sufficient cooling, and 24x7x365 access. For most companies, selecting a facility that offers remote technicians to help manage problems or make changes immediately on site, also provides an essential service to consider when setting up a hybrid cloud environment in a colocation setting.
Maximizing the benefits of hybrid cloud
While both public and private cloud solutions have inherent benefits and challenges, many IT leaders are finding that a hybrid approach allows them to customize a solution that balances the best of both environments and is catered to the needs of their company. As this trend continues, using colocation in a hybrid cloud architecture is emerging as an effective and resource-efficient way to deploy a hybrid approach.
While any cloud environment poses its own set of security challenges, following best practices for leveraging colocation for a hybrid approach can open the door to scalable, efficient, and secure data storage.