Digital transformations are best defined as digitizing business processes to solve problems and serve customers more efficiently through online channels. It can provide huge savings in infrastructure and admin costs, help to launch new apps faster and increase overall efficiency. For most businesses, moving to the cloud is the foundation of that transformation. 

Yet, a hybrid cloud infrastructure may be a better bet for some businesses. Done correctly, a hybrid approach could offer the ultimate in flexibility, cost efficiency and agility. Hybrid cloud combines public cloud workloads and infrastructure with on-premises workloads and infrastructure, enabling businesses to leverage the optimal mix of each deployment model.

In fact, more than 90% of enterprises worldwide will be relying on a mix of on-premises/dedicated private clouds, multiple public clouds, and legacy platforms to meet their infrastructure needs by 2022, according to IDC research. 

But a hybrid cloud approach can also create security vulnerabilities if it’s not carefully architected. Hybrid architectures give hackers and bad actors more entry points into the organization, for instance. Mixing public and private resources also adds complexity to the infrastructure, making it easier to miss gaps in the security fabric. And misconfiguration of cloud services has now risen to the second largest cause of security breaches, eclipsed only by hacking.

With so many vulnerabilities to address, Identity and Access Management (IAM) must become an integral security mechanism when deploying a hybrid cloud strategy. That’s because an organization’s resources are suddenly distributed among several clouds and on-premises data centers. While this distributed model gives IT greater flexibility and agility, it makes it more challenging to identify users and grant them the right level of access to the right things at the right time. 

This is where hybrid cloud IAM comes in. It simplifies the migration of resources across cloud, SaaS, and on-premises environments. It also helps businesses deploy and manage IAM how and where they want, adjusting as they need.

The journey to hybrid cloud IAM commonly follows a four-step process that will increase a business’ speed, agility and efficiency while providing the flexibility to support unique requirements every step along the way. 

First, establish cloud identity. 

Establishing cloud identity is foundational to your cloud migration strategy. It begins with using an authentication authority to deliver IAM regardless of where a business’s resources and identities are hosted, whether on-premises in their own data center, in a partner cloud or among several public clouds.

Deciding where and how to deploy an authentication authority comes down to ensuring alignment between IT and business requirements. For example, a Fortune 1000 company may have a large number of applications and resources with complex requirements. Some of these applications may be monolithic and unable to realize the benefits of cloud deployment without being re-architected. Many organizations will choose to retain these apps in local data centers while deploying modern applications in the public cloud. Other businesses may have to comply with regional and national data residency requirements, such as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), Consumer Data Right (CDR) or California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA). 

Next, optimize cloud identity. 

 When a business optimizes its cloud identity, it can remove friction and make security visible only when it’s needed. Eliminating friction creates a seamless and secure experience for their employees and customers. 

Businesses can also continuously validate identity, device and context data with cloud-based services like cloud multi-factor authentication (MFA), risk management, identity verification, fraud prevention and others. These services can help a business dynamically assess if a user should take further steps to prove their identity. This risk-based assessment can be triggered by various contextual factors, from IP address reputation and device posture to geolocation and geo-velocity.

Third, consolidate identity in the cloud.

Legacy IAM can be rigid and expensive to maintain. Because changes aren’t easily made and require proprietary knowledge for implementation, reliance on these systems slows the onboarding of new apps and can prevent cloud migration altogether. Businesses can free themselves from out-of-date, expensive legacy systems by modernizing and consolidating their identity infrastructure. 

Many tools and resources are available to aid in this consolidation. Out-of-the-box migration tools and integrations with legacy identity providers can help organizations consolidate their legacy MFA, WAM and directory services in the cloud. 

Lastly, embrace Zero Trust 

 Once identity is firmly established within a hybrid cloud environment, businesses should take advantage of the technology to adopt a Zero Trust model to control access to their cloud resources. Zero Trust depends less on protecting static network perimeters and more on each user’s identity and dynamic risk, as well as the secure processes and technologies for accessing cloud resources, irrespective of where they’re located.

Zero Trust and hybrid cloud IAM work perfectly together to ensure security without sacrificing user experience or introducing unnecessary friction. It ensures that businesses rely on explicit assessments of trust that are dynamic and rooted in as many data sources as possible before deciding whether a user should be granted access to a resource or allowed to perform a transaction.

Final thoughts

A hybrid cloud strategy offers organizations the greatest flexibility for making their digital transformations while striking significant cost savings. It also gives them the agility needed to respond to changing priorities and support new initiatives rapidly. 

Combining a hybrid cloud strategy with a modern IAM solution shifts reliance away from trusting legacy network access to a new approach that only the right users gain access to the right resources for the right reasons.