Balancing the benefits and challenges of the hybrid cloud.
Adopting hybrid-cloud architectures has become a strategic imperative for organizations seeking to leverage the benefits of both on-premises and cloud-based infrastructures. Hybrid-cloud environments offer unprecedented flexibility, efficiency, and control over valuable data — and they’re only growing in popularity. Currently, 80% of companies say they use a hybrid mix of private and public clouds.
But despite the many benefits of hybrid architectures, they also present unique challenges. It can be complicated to manage data assets across a mix of on-prem data centers and public cloud platforms, and security issues are compounded when data is dispersed. Securing critical information in hybrid-cloud setups demands a comprehensive and innovative data security approach.
Today, we’ll delve into the complicated world of data protection for hybrid-cloud architectures, exploring common challenges, best practices, and solutions for securing data wherever it resides.
What are hybrid-cloud architectures?
Hybrid-cloud architectures are a blend of public cloud and private cloud and/or on-prem infrastructures. For example, a company might split their data among the public cloud service providers AWS and Microsoft Azure, an on-premises data center at their company’s physical location in Texas, and an exclusive private cloud hosted on remote infrastructure in Nevada.
Hybrid clouds are distinct from multi clouds, which use several different cloud services from public cloud providers only. They’re often chosen when a company already has significant on-prem architecture but wants to use cloud resources for new projects or when a business has resources that they can’t or don’t want to store in a public cloud.
Hybrid-cloud infrastructures are popular because they combine the advantages of multiple environments: the control and customization of private clouds/on-prem data centers and the flexibility of public clouds.
Scalability. Public clouds are known for their flexibility, an invaluable asset in today’s digital landscape. As part of a hybrid architecture, they allow companies to upscale and downscale as needed to meet fluctuating demands for storage and compute power.
Versatility. A blend of public and private clouds helps organizations choose the best cloud computing resources for different tasks, departments, applications, and types of data. Finance and marketing, for instance, will rarely have exactly the same data storage needs, so hybrid environments allow teams to allocate resources more precisely and efficiently. They also allow organizations to operate virtual machine-based workloads as needed.
Compliance. Within certain highly regulated industries like healthcare or finance, organizations can use hybrid clouds to store their sensitive data in compliant private cloud locations — while using more affordable public cloud storage for non-sensitive data.
Enhanced security. For critical data assets, private clouds can offer advanced security options and closer control over applications.
What is hybrid-cloud security?
It seems simple enough: hybrid-cloud security involves safeguarding data in hybrid environments. But in practice, it’s anything but straightforward. Cybersecurity for hybrid architectures presents complex and dynamic challenges.
The complexity arises from the fact that each component of a hybrid environment may have its own unique security requirements and challenges. On-prem locations will likely have firewalls and other endpoint security to manage, while public cloud services rely on a shared responsibility model where cloud providers secure the overall infrastructure and customers secure their own data and apps. Here are just a few of the security concerns that may need to be addressed in hybrid environments:
- API security
- Intrusion detection and threat detection
- Data loss prevention (DLP) or data loss protection
- Multi-factor authentication (MFA)
- Network segmentation
- Security information and event management (SIEM)
- Vulnerability management
- Securing different stages of the data lifecycle — creation, storage, usage, retention, and destruction
- Employee training and awareness
Identity and access management (IAM) adds another wrinkle. Manually ensuring that users, devices, and applications have the appropriate permissions is difficult enough when data and workloads reside within a single service; doing so across all environments in a hybrid infrastructure is exponentially more challenging. (Luckily, automation and AI tools offer some solutions to help manage permissions.)
Overall, whether your organization has robust security policies in place or is just getting started, the complexity of the hybrid-cloud architecture makes data security an ongoing challenge.
Other common challenges in hybrid-cloud architectures
Unfortunately, data security isn’t the only concern in hybrid-cloud environments, and even following security best practices isn’t enough anymore. Here are a few additional considerations for your overall data protection strategy.
Data privacy and compliance. Sensitive data must be safeguarded from unauthorized access wherever it resides. This is especially important for critical IP and for personal data subject to the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in the EU or the growing number of state-level data privacy laws in the US. Unfortunately, hybrid setups make unauthorized access more likely, since effective identity and access management (IAM) is more challenging across diverse environments. Coordinating user authentication and authorization mechanisms between on-prem and cloud resources requires careful attention.
Data residency. In hybrid-cloud setups, data will likely be distributed across various jurisdictions, and determining the exact locations can be difficult. Unfortunately, being able to control where data is stored is crucial for compliance with regulations like the GDPR, HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act), and other legislation.
Data resilience. Hybrid- and multi-cloud environments can actually be a boon for data resilience if data is duplicated across multiple cloud platforms. Storing backups in a different location than primary data can also help combat threats like ransomware and aid disaster recovery. However, duplicating data and/or infrastructure across multiple platforms can be quite costly.
Talent shortages. A surprising challenge in hybrid-cloud architectures is finding qualified IT professionals to manage them. The relative newness of hybrid-cloud and multi-cloud setups, combined with the overall cybersecurity knowledge gap around cloud protection, can make it difficult for companies to staff appropriately.
Lack of visibility. With many different interfaces, a lack of visibility can pervade hybrid environments. Tracking access controls, security alerts, and threat monitoring across several platforms is a juggling act at best. Misconfigurations are also more likely to happen in hybrid environments than purely cloud or purely on-prem architectures, since adding more storage locations increases not only the risk of mistakes but also the risk that those mistakes will go unnoticed.
How to protect your data in a hybrid-cloud architecture
Cybersecurity risks like ransomware, malware, and data exfiltration are on the rise. Is your data secure? With so many different security risks and security features to consider, it can be difficult to know where to begin. Here are a few suggestions for protecting data in hybrid-cloud environments.
Identify and classify your data. There’s a reason why thorough data audits are so often the first step in tackling any data security challenge. Most organizations simply don’t know where all their data resides, meaning that sensitive data may be unprotected. This is especially true for unstructured data, which comprises 80 to 90% of all data and is significantly underprotected.
Consider all your options. Hybrid cloud platforms now offer hybrid cloud management tools as well as a variety of setups to ensure that both public and private cloud elements are working in tandem. Four popular hybrid orchestration models to consider in your assessments are customer-managed, partner-managed, vendor-managed, and cloud provider-managed arrangements.
Implement access controls and advanced encryption technologies. Both on-prem and cloud data should be encrypted to safeguard information from unauthorized access and mitigate the risk of data breaches. Organizations may want to consider agentless data encryption options, which are often easier to integrate with newer, cloud-native applications and require less management.
Look for security solutions that offer streamlined visibility across multiple platforms. With so many SaaS offerings to choose from, it can be difficult to find the right security provider. One important consideration is the ease of managing security controls across multiple platforms. Companies are increasingly seeking “single pane of glass” options that offer traditional data center management features for their disparate platforms all in one place.
Look for data protection solutions that ensure robust data resilience. With intricate architectures and skyrocketing downtime costs, businesses can’t afford outages on any of their platforms. High availability and self-healing data are key features to ensure strong resilience and prevent loss of business continuity.
Consider ShardSecure. The ShardSecure platform for data security, privacy, and resilience offers agentless end-to-end encryption to secure data wherever it resides. Our technology protects against unauthorized access in hybrid- and multi-cloud environments. The platform can also consolidate all storage interfaces into one, reducing the complexity associated with migrating to a hybrid-cloud architecture.
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