Hybrid IT is more than just a stepping stone to the cloud
With all the enthusiasm about digital transformation (DX) and cloud architectures, it’s easy to think about the cloud as the natural end-state for enterprise computing. Yet there’s a long way between here and there – and the realities of transformation and cloud migration mean hybrid IT will be the main operating state for some time to come.
It’s a difficult idea for businesses that are built around the idea of conceiving, delivering, and evaluating projects with specific goals. And with the broad push towards digital transformation so often linked with cloud, executives may be forgiven for assuming that their organisation’s primary goal is to move all of their systems to a cloud-based platform.
With research firms issuing one breathless forecast about cloud adoption after another – recent figures suggest, for example, that the worldwide public cloud services market will grow 21.4 percent this year to be worth $US186.4 billion ($A253b) – it’s easy to forget that enterprise IT remains alive and well.
This may work for some companies – many small, nimble startups are finding their feet in a world defined and enabled exclusively by cloud services – but most established companies are still somewhere along the DX spectrum.
For the foreseeable, future cloud will be just one of several operating modes in use at these businesses. The majority will be based on a hybrid IT model, in which cloud-based services are selectively adopted and linked where possible to legacy applications that are, for whatever reason, too complex or burdensome to migrate in the short term.
Cloud not always the endgame
Accommodating the hybrid worldview will require many CIOs to change their mindset about cloud – tempering enthusiasm for a rather different reality.
Many IT strategists perceive the cloud as a form of migration project. And, in the same way that they might previously have migrated systems from a client/server to a web-based platform, they assume that cloud represents a new operational end-state for all of their applications.
This mindset can quickly create issues when cloud ambitions collide with infrastructure realities. While capable, cloud-based platforms aren’t always a direct equivalent to existing enterprise systems, which may have been built and refined over many years.
Cloud-based platforms also can’t always offer direct analogues when it comes to issues such as data storage and management. Although cloud-based storage paradigms have improved dramatically in recent years, high-end applications – such as transactional systems with high loads and low tolerance for latency – are still extremely difficult to reliably migrate to the cloud.
Businesses that try to do so, quickly bump their heads against the limitations of the cloud platform’s performance characteristics, and of the challenges of their own scale.
Each enterprise is obviously different, but commonly suggest that the average enterprise has hundreds of applications running on its networks. Migrating these takes time, and the opportunity to rationalise multiple applications into a single cloud-based platform also requires an element of process review, retraining, and organisational change.
For this reason, few companies are actually targeting a 100 percent cloud-based operating environment. The recent F5 Networks State of Application Delivery study, for example, noted that 54 percent of companies pursuing digital-transformation strategies are running less than a quarter of their apps in the cloud.
A further 27 percent of companies are running up to half of their applications in the cloud, while just 4 percent of companies are running all of their apps in the cloud. Among companies with no DX strategy in place, the numbers were substantially lower.
Charting the hybrid IT path
Cloud may well be an enabler for transformation, but it’s not the only enabler for transformation. After evaluating their options, many organisations are finding that the hybrid IT approach is a much more desirable operational state.
While adoption of cloud allows them to tap into highly scalable, responsive, and manageable public-cloud infrastructure, businesses will continue investing in their on-premises data-centre capabilities to protect applications and data that they perceive to be too important, complex, or mission-critical to move to the cloud just yet.
In this hybrid-IT model, enterprise data centres will get a strong boost as CIOs rationalise their resources and integrate with external partners to support their DX efforts. By 2020, IDC has predicted, 40 percent of businesses will have modernised their data centres by updating existing facilities or deploying new facilities.
These investments will support a host of objectives including workload rationalisation, consumption-based IT, smart edge data centres, service-assurance improvements, and software-defined IT – which, IDC believes, will be driving more than 35 percent of enterprise infrastructure by the end of 2019.
Ultimately, the best IT infrastructure is the one that works best for your business. Cloud may be a transformational force, but every indicator confirms that hybrid IT is going to be the long-term operational state for most businesses in the near future. Keep this in mind when mapping out your own application future, and adopt a flexible IT worldview that allows your business to tap into the best of both worlds.
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