Lots of up-and-coming technologies have been receiving the media’s attention this year. Wearable tech promises emails and search capabilities with a glance at our watch or just by uttering the words: “Google Glass.” 3-D printers will soon be manufacturing parts and clothing in our own factories again instead of China. Driverless cars may be taking us to our destinations faster someday. The Internet of Things will give inanimate objects the ability to talk to each other. All of this is great. All of this is in the future.
But there’s one new technology that’s real and live and attracting millions in venture capital funding and being utilized by thousands of companies right now. This same technology has also revealed something embarrassing about the cloud. It’s that we need a hybrid cloud.
The hybrid cloud is not a household term yet. But it’s certainly familiar to Silicon Valley investors. It’s the joining of the cloud and the on-premise office. Hybrid cloud technologies are enabling users to save and then access their information, be it files, databases, spreadsheets or documents from either a cloud based hosted system or their own internal servers, whichever is faster. It’s the same information, simultaneously stored in multiple places and designed to be served up immediately to the user depending on where the user is. The data is stored on a “public” cloud and a “private” cloud. And it’s big, big business.
“Some data is meant to be on premise because it may be higher performance or higher compliance,” Karim Faris, a General Partner at Google Ventures, told me recently. “The idea is to bridge the two. I’m 42 years old and store all my family photos on Picasa. But I also store them on a backup drive at home.”
Just last week, online data service Nimble Storage announced plans for a $150 million IPO. VMware recently expanded its hybrid cloud management capabilities. Online backup storage providers like Carbonite are deploying a more hybrid approach to their offerings. And the hybrid cloud has given rise to fast growing firms like Egnyte, whose approach is to deliver a platform independent, software driven service where users can access their information quickly from both their public and private clouds, whichever is faster or more secure. Egnyte is also eyeing an IPO for sometime in 2015. Stored data is growing at 35% per year, according to the Aberdeen Group and research firm Gartner is predicting that 50% of firms will be using hybrid cloud technology by 2017.
Why the growth in hybrid cloud technology? Well, that’s the embarrassing secret no one wants to admit. Some may say it’s validation of the cloud’s role in a company’s infrastructure. I’m not so sure. In my opinion, it actually represents the limitations of the cloud. The cloud has received a lot of hype over the past few years. But now smarter people are starting to better understand its reality.
“IT departments are starting to rationalize the cloud as just part of an infrastructure,” says Mike Maples, managing partner at Palo Alto-based FLOODGATE Fund. “You can’t just let all the bits of your enterprise go to the cloud. It’s not all or nothing. The world is becoming a more hybrid enterprise.”
Cloud based applications have exploded over the past few years. Collaboration services, mobile apps, customer relationship management systems and document storage offerings have literally changed the lives of consumers and employees at companies, big and small. I am accessing my customers’ data from a smartphone on a plane at 30,000 feet. A roofer is creating a work-order for a new job while holding onto a chimney and entering the data into his tablet. A college kid sits on a train from New York to Boston and catches up on the latest episodes of Walking Dead on her iPad. It’s glorious. It’s mind-blogging. And it’s maddening too.
Because with all the hype, with all the excitement, with all the money thrown at it, the cloud has been disappointingly and embarrassingly imperfect. Yes, I am accessing my customers’ data from 30,000 feet but the connection is so slow and drops so many times that it takes me ten times as long to retrieve the information I’m looking for. The customer’s credit card information that the roofer is entering into his tablet is being snagged by the guy three streets over who has hacked into his connection. That college kid audibly groans as the episode freezes and her screen goes black, time and time again, eventually pulling out a book.
The cloud will be wondrous and fast and secure and reliable…one day. Today, it is not. And until that day comes we have the hybrid cloud.
Why else would Carbonite, whose model has been built around delivering a cloud based backup service, release an on-premise storage device to complement their online service? Why would VMWare and Microsoft duplicate data delivery to multiple servers? Why would venture capital firms plough millions into a software base service like Egnyte so that users can get the same data that is stored in different locations? It’s because the cloud is useless unless we can get to our data fast. The cloud is useless if it’s not making us more productive and enabling us to do things quicker than before. It’s useless if our data is less secure than when it was stored on our own servers. And without hybrid cloud technologies, many companies are learning that this is very much the case.
So over the course of technology history our data has travelled from server to desktop to cloud and now back to the server again. It’s not a 360 degree turnaround. It’s a partial turnaround. A hybrid solution to make up for the cloud’s defects. The cloud is great. But the enormous growth of hybrid cloud technologies only proves that it still has a long way to go before it’s fast and secure.
“In the end, customers and users don’t even care about the cloud,” says Maples. “They just have a job to do. It’s performance and convenience that an all-or-nothing cloud approach can’t deliver.”