Cloud strategy: All in, or hybrid?

Writing this post freshly back in a UK time zone, following a trip to the west coast last week to the Microsoft Cloud & Hosting Summit. It was my first time at the event, and I had some fascinating conversations with a number of senior individuals. As I think about the takeaway messages, the one that stands out the most is Microsoft's hybrid approach in their go to market message for enterprise cloud.

I thought you hated hybrid?

Regular readers will know that my general approach to 'multi-cloud' is one of n public clouds and that I'm not exactly a massive believer in private cloud deployments. Fundamentally, that all still stands true, but some interesting messages were delivered by Microsoft regarding making the best use of the hardware you already have via their new AzureStack offering. Their view is that, while it will likely be "all in" on cloud for the majority in the future, for medium term we need a robust hybrid offering for the transition period.

What's this 'AzureStack' thing?

Well, it's Microsoft's way of bringing Azure to your existing data centre hardware. It's still in development (Technical Preview 1 is released at the time of writing), but think of it as a combined model for security policies, storage objects, networking, (etc) that spans both private and public cloud in one consistent Azure control plane. In other words, bringing Microsoft's familiar public cloud interface to your private cloud, along with pre-configured integration to Azure to make hybrid cloud a reality.

For those looking for a quicker summary, think "OpenStack, by Microsoft".

Here's an official link for you to read, but expect many more developments during 2016 and a likely GA release during Q4 of this year, pending market feedback of course. There's further reading here and herefor those interested in more detail.

Why are Microsoft pushing it?

Let's be realistic, Microsoft need a message of differentiation vs. AWS as the undisputed (yes, undisputed) leader in the IaaS space and arguably PaaS too. Otherwise, there's a bit of a "me too" race for features and 'land grab' of clients.

With the possibility of one Azure ecosystem to span public and private, comes a strong message to those organisations who will keep an on-premise environment for some years to come. Talk of unified deployment mechanisms, genuine workload portability and a single security model all reinforce this message to the enterprise. And messaging to the enterprise is what Microsoft do best. Arguably, there's no one better.

Microsoft hypothesise, and they know this pretty accurately, that there are thousands of enterprises with data centres which aren't going anywhere fast, and they've identified an opportunity to capitalise on this. They believe, and it feels realistic, that there's a great opportunity to seize market share in the cloud space via: a) Azure, b) Azure Stack on-premise and c) Azure Stack for the hosting market (targeting smaller SMB organisations looking for a packaged environment). The wider the footprint they can obtain now, the more likely Azure success is. Expect an aggressive push from their sales teams.

While I utterly, utterly detest the term "single pane of glass", you have to admit that the concept of a single interface to administer all workloads across both public and private clouds is an interesting vision.

For Microsoft, "cloud is not a place", it's a model of thinking about how to design and operate your environments, it's about architecture, tooling and principles – which can apply in different ways to both to traditional applications and new microservice based development.

So what is AWS's message?

AWS are a lot more bullish about moving to public cloud, now, and it's worked for them to date. They have a number of case studies (some of them Cloudreach customers) for "all in" adoption of AWS and complete data centre shutdown. There's much more of a push via offerings like Snowball to facilitate the mass upload of data and information into their cloud. Perhaps they're chasing a slightly more 'cloud ready' market?

AWS are not stupid however, and have invested heavily in technologies like DirectConnect and Storage Gateway to make it as simple as possible to connect your AWS environment back to your existing hardware (and more importantly, your data).

What's right for you?

Given complete free choice, i.e. starting a company tomorrow, I still believe personally that "all in" is the best approach, and letting yourself be hamstrung by what you did two years ago in terms of data centre technology isn't smart. Just get on with it, embrace the change, and start taking advantage of a major public cloud (or clouds) for the best business advantage, now.

Having said that, if you've already invested heavily, and recently, in hardware and those payment/depreciation cycles are going to run for some years, or perhaps you've got some impossibly strict data legislation requirements which demand on-prem, then perhaps AzureStack and hybrid cloud is an option to consider.

Summary

Whilst these differing approaches from AWS and Azure are not the sole reason for choosing one cloud vs. another, it is important to understand the strategies of the vendors you will be partnering with on what is, let's face it, and incredibly strategic decision.

For a future post, I'll likely touch on where I see Google moving under the direction of Diane Greene, who has surely been brought in to add some enterprise focus to Google's spectacular underlying infrastructure.

More importantly, is hybrid cloud going to change the world in the same way as public? Almost certainly not. But, I believe it is going to provide a strong revenue stream for Microsoft over the next few years.