Also See: Our Comprehensive Guide to Cloud Computing
It’s likely that the hybrid cloud providers will see a robust market for years into the future. However, there is some debate about what, exactly, constitutes the hybrid cloud. The term hybrid cloud has several definitions but all are rather similar to each other in the final analysis: a hybrid cloud is a composition of two or more clouds working together but remaining distinct from each other. The clouds can either be from a public cloud provider (Salesforce, Amazon) or a private cloud that you maintain in your own data center.
This is the generally accepted definition. What's variable is the connection between one cloud provider and a company's own services. For most IT professionals, providers and services, a company using Salesforce or Microsoft Azure with their own internal systems is considered a hybrid cloud.
Not so, says Gartner, the leading IT market research firm. It defines the hybrid cloud as the coordinated use of two or more cloud environments operating in harmony. That could mean two public clouds, like ServiceNow and NetApp, or a public and private cloud connection.
"When we talk about hybrid cloud, we expect it will have all the attributes of cloud computing, so you access it as a service. It's scalable and elastic, you pay per use. Those are the fundamental definitions of cloud. If you have cloud plus non-cloud with coordination between them, that's great but it's not cloud. You are getting cloud on one side not on the whole experience. We call that hybrid IT," said Ed Anderson, research vice president with the firm.
Equally off the beaten path is Gartner's view on the top hybrid cloud providers. The reflexive answer would be the typical thought leaders: Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM. But Gartner views hybrid providers not as the service providers but as consultancies that will come to your business and help connect you. Microsoft and IBM have on-site consulting services but Google and Amazon do not to any great degree, he notes.
"If you called up Amazon and said 'I need a hybrid cloud,' they would say 'hybrid with what?' Well I want it to work with VMware,' they would say we have this capability or talk to a partner. In general that's not their offering services," said Anderson.
That's why his choices of the top hybrid providers might come as a bit of a surprise, but these are the firms that will show up, hold your hand, and make the connections between the public cloud and your internal systems, whether they follow the private cloud model or traditional IT.
Top Hybrid Cloud Providers
Microsoft is one of the few vendors to offer a true hybrid cloud solution because it has a little bit of everything. It has built massive data centers around the U.S. and globally, providing the compute and storage capacity anyone from a small business to giant enterprise would want.
Where Microsoft has surpassed market leader Amazon is that it had popular on-premises applications that it has successfully tuned for the cloud, giving it an enormous lead over the rest. Amazon, Google and IBM have no answer to Office 365 and Sharepoint, and Microsoft has made the most of that.
It also offers SQL Server and Dynamics as on-demand cloud apps, with the same features as the on-premises version. And everything is built on Windows Server, which is widely used, making migration easy.
Microsoft also has a services division, its MVPs, that Amazon and Google cannot match. IBM, of course, has its Global Services that are more than capable to help cloud migration projects.
Anderson described IBM as a "really holistic provider" offering components across the board, from general hosting to bare metal provisioning, shared multi-tenant public cloud, hosted private cloud, and its services business can help you deploy a private cloud in your data center.
IBM offers multiple entry points to the cloud, including its SoftLayer public cloud services (IaaS), Bluemix private cloud (PaaS) and Cloud Managed Services (SaaS) solutions. Bluemix is a development environment supporting multiple languages, including Java, Ruby, and Python. CMS supports analytics, SAP, and Oracle, among other SaaS offerings.
SoftLayer, which has turned into one of IBM's smartest acquisitions, gave the company a kick-start in cloud services. Its specialty is bare metal provisioning, meaning you provide the operating environment. It offers you nothing but the hardware. AWS, Azure and Google Compute all provide the operating environment for you. Oracle is the only other major bare metal provider, and it's a much newer entry in the field.
Accenture is the largest IT services provider in the world and has a huge array of managed services to provide brokerage between cloud and coordinated use. "They are a first class outsourcer with a lot of consulting capability," said Anderson.
Accenture has built what it calls a cloud management platform, a managed service where they set up a portal and bring all your IT and external cloud partners into that portal, providing one place to request and provision services and offers a dashboard to see all your services in one place, plus integrations on the back end.
While it serves all major cloud providers, Accenture also has a subsidiary called Avanade, a joint venture between Accenture and Microsoft dating back to 2000. This group specializes in and has a particularly deep understanding in Microsoft products.
Selling its services business – which was built around EDS, the services giant it acquired in 2008 – may seem counterintuitive but it worked out well for HP Enterprise because HPE was doing broad outsourcing and consulting.
With the divestiture of the services business last year, HPE built a new services group that functions more like a technical services business, helping clients with implementation of cloud services and managed services.
HPE's strength is it does much with integrating its own data center products – compute, storage, and networking – with public cloud services. Anderson said the company has particularly deep expertise around VMware and managed services around, along with coordination between internal systems and the offering from Microsoft and Amazon.
CSC has been through quite a bit of change. In 2015 it spun off the sizable business that handled federal IT into a new company, called CSRA, and last year acquired the HPE services business. It also bought a company called ServiceMesh, which does hybrid control integration and brokerage capabilities.
CSC was early to the hybrid market, starting almost a decade ago when it began offering platforms for clients to build SaaS, PaaS and IaaS services. It was an early adopter of VMware and told clients it could set up a shared environment with a public cloud provider or help them set up a dedicated hosted private cloud based on VMware.
What really helped it, said Anderson, was a single rate card across the environments. "It didn’t matter the deployment, you paid for it the same way." However, he adds that CSC hasn't changed its strategy much recently to be more of a cloud integrator and broker and services provider.