The days of straightforward hosting infrastructure solutions are over. Its no longer just about racking and stacking a box, loading the OS, connecting to the Internet and turning things on. Infrastructure requirements are complex, constantly changing and increasingly difficult to fit into a single bucket. End users want optimized performance but also crave cost efficiency. They want fast provisioning, security and need to be in compliance. All these considerations are pointing organizations to hybrid and mixed environments and this in turn is paving the way to the outsourced hosting infrastructure provider.
What is hybrid infrastructure?
There are basically two ways to think about hybrid infrastructure.
On one level, hybrid is simply about having the choice between different types of infrastructure from a single provider. A user can choose a dedicated server or a virtual server. Perhaps they can even manage them from a unified management console and pay for them through a single bill. But in this kind of hybrid scenario, choice is as far as things go. Dedicated and virtual are still fundamentally separate standalone infrastructure resources. They are not integrated in any meaningful way and will host different content, workloads and applications.
On another level, hybrid infrastructure offers significant levels of integration. In this scenario, a dedicated or virtual server are integrated over a private network. Bridging these two pieces together over the network creates a single infrastructure resource. And it is hybrid because it combines two different types of infrastructure: a dedicated physical server and a virtual or cloud server. This kind of hybrid environment, because it is so tightly integrated, does not typically see the separation in tasks as with the first scenario discussed above. In this type of environment heterogeneous infrastructure resources are brought together with the goal of running the same workload or application. They can run within a hosting provider’s datacenter or between a provider’s datacenter and a customer’s on-premise facility.
Hybrid availability in the market
What is the current state of the hybrid market? The first scenario is very common. Almost every hosting provider that serves the SMB to enterprise market has a cloud infrastructure offering alongside its traditional hosting portfolio. The second scenario is not as commonplace but has definitely gathered some momentum over the last few years. Providers have invested heavily in infrastructure and software development. They have set up private networks that span the globe and lit up datacenters in multiple locations. They have built the software capabilities that allow users to remotely manage their infrastructure and integrate them to create these hybrid environments. In short, hybrid options are out there and the numbers are growing. More importantly, the technology is maturing. What was difficult to do just a few years ago is now more widely available and easy to use.
Choosing hybrid infrastructure is fundamentally about finding the right fit for the specific performance requirements of an application or website.
Take the example of a high-traffic blog that discusses politics. The blog has predictable traffic patterns that fit just fine with a dedicated server. But every time a major election takes place there is a spike in traffic as interest surges. That dedicated server needs more capacity but perhaps only for a few weeks. Instead of upgrading to a higher capacity server and committing to at least a month, going hybrid can be a better alternative. The dedicated server could be integrated with a cloud server to create an infrastructure resource that fits the blog’s need to burst or extend its pool of resources. And with cloud they could rapidly provision that infrastructure resource, pay for it by the hour and then turn if off when it is no longer required. In another scenario, applications can be “hybridized” by placing the i/o-intensive databases on dedicated servers and the web front-end on cloud. This would meet a number of requirements pertaining to performance, compliance, security, scalability and cost.
Hosting is not a one-size-fits-all solution and probably never will be. Each and every website or application is unique and has its own set of requirements. Matching those requirements up with the right infrastructure sometimes means mixing and combining different technologies. It means having remote management and monitoring tools, robust networks and customer support on standby. The fact is none of this is easy to do and organizations simply can’t match the resources, scale, expertise and experience that specialized infrastructure providers can bring to bear. Hybrid can often be the right fit. But it takes a service provider with the right skill set, knowledge, support and best of breed technologies to both make that determination and then implement the solution.
Guest Author – Philbert Shih is the Founder and Managing Director of Structure Research, an independent research and consulting firm devoted to the hosting and cloud infrastructure services market. Philbert has covered the hosting infrastructure space for over a decade. Prior to founding Structure Research, Philbert was the first hosting analyst hired after Tier1 Research was sold to The 451 Group (2005) and spent six years as Senior Analyst for Hosting.