Traditionally ecommerce companies have had no place in the cloud. The lack of established standards, multi-tenancy nature and need to be PCI compliant have been three large barriers to entry for any organization exploring this possibility. Recently many e-commerce companies (including OpenSky) have begun to implement a hybrid approach to infrastructure mixing traditional data centers with cloud offerings to achieve a best of both worlds solution.

Here is how I approached this when I was at OpenSky.

1. Databases on Metal

For certain operations operating directly on servers in your own data centers still makes sense. IO heavy operations such as databases continue to see considerably better performance benefits from operating directly on the hardware. Additionally these machines benefit from specifically tuned hard drives and controllers built with higher IO in mind. For all the right reasons, the virtualized and commoditized cloud can’t and won’t compete here, it’s just not cost effective for them to do so.

2. Vital in house

I’ve been a cloud customer far too long to depend on it’s reliability. Cloud servers can and will fail. It’s been my experience that this happens at a much higher rate than traditional servers. When uptime is the most essential, a traditional approach will serve you better.

3. Appendages in the cloud

I’ve always been a big believer in using the best tool for the job. Use the cloud for what it’s built to do. Not everything is vital. There are many supporting pieces of your infrastructure where perfect uptime isn’t critical. What the appendages are will depend entirely on your business. At OpenSky we currently operate our blog and marketing servers on EC2. We leverage S3 for archival backups. We utilize email delivery servers on the cloud. This is a small set of what we will eventually have there, but it provides a good insight into our approach.

4. Scale in the cloud

By operating a core selection of servers in house it enables us to scale up our web nodes in the cloud. Since our ecommerce application isn’t particularly database heavy (thanks in large part to mongoDB) our scalability bottleneck is on our web servers. Keeping a core set of them in house to handle things like checkout and administrative operations permits us to scale the bulk of our traffic to the cloud.

Currently HP and Rackspace are two companies that are providing turnkey hybrid cloud computing offerings.

Words and Ideas are my own. This post is sponsored by Enterprise CIO Forum and HP