In March 2016, IBM surveyed 500 IT decision makers who have implemented hybrid strategies. 26% of the respondents said that they are “gaining competitive advantage through hybrid cloud and are managing their environment in an integrated, comprehensive fashion for high visibility and control.” Of these organizations, 90% reported greater ROI, and 85% reported that a hybrid approach to cloud was “accelerating digital transformation in their organization.”
Hybrid cloud is attractive because it offers companies a middle ground between going “full cloud” and being entirely on premises. It saves money because companies can offload many of their non-mission critical systems to the cloud and avoid investing in new hardware, software, and infrastructure. A hybrid cloud strategy also gives companies the flexibility to maintain their own in-house systems under their own IT staff and governance standards, and even to turn some of these systems into private cloud environments that they themselves create and maintain.
This hybrid cloud flexibility is further amplified on the financial side of IT, as there are now vendors that are offering IT the flexibility of moving systems between on premises and cloud implementations while keeping the prices of these systems constant (i.e., you aren’t locked in to three- to five-year contract if you decide to be on premises, and you can convert to cloud or back to on premises whenever you want).
However, once companies understand the technological and financial flexibilities of hybrid cloud, it’s time to move on to new stages of implementation. In other words, what’s next? And what should be on your strategic roadmap? Here are five items to consider.
1: A move to managed services
A majority of companies have maintained mission-critical systems on premises and have moved more commoditized systems to the cloud to save money–but that’s where their cloud deployments have ended. The next stage of hybrid cloud will involve more than moving systems. It could well involve moving entire IT functions, such as network management, security, and application development, to a cloud vendor in order to offload IT. This affects IT staff and operations and can work only if there is sufficient trust in an outside vendor that enables outsourcing on this scale. A functional realignment in IT also potentially affects IT staff morale, so CIOs must be cognizant of this and have a plan for staff so they know where they fit and what their roles will be going forward.
2: Performance guarantees from cloud-based vendors
Some cloud-based vendors have a checkered past when it comes to guaranteeing system uptime and performance, but they also have some robust service level agreements (SLAs) for premium governance that companies can subscribe to at extra cost. Many companies just subscribe to standard services and don’t take advance of this–but if you’re considering using the cloud for disaster recovery or mission-critical apps, you might want to. In addition, your governance standards across all cloud vendors should conform to your own internal governance standards. If a vendor can’t do this, you will want to look for another service provider.
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3: Automated resource provisioning and application deployment from cloud to cloud
The pipedream of every company executing a hybrid cloud strategy is that applications and workloads can be shifted from cloud to cloud, or even back to an on premises data center, on demand. We are far from this reality today, as there is no standard and universal interface that all cloud providers have adopted that could facilitate a seamless transfer of resources, systems, and applications between various cloud platforms and on-premises data centers.
Cloud vendors are slow to come together on an interface that could enable seamless cloud-to-cloud moves by companies they fear might incite price wars–so it will be up to IT to find ways to easily provision resources and transfer applications and systems between could platforms and between the cloud and on premises data centers. One way to do this is through the use of toolsets, such as some of the DevOps tools (e.g., IBM Bluemix) that enable a developer to simply select a destination environment for their application–the on-premises Intel server, cloud B virtual Intel server, etc.–with the DevOps software performing all the necessary behind-the-scenes configuration to facilitate deployment.
4: Application automation and performance tradeoff management
DevOps tools abstract the underlying system configuration and performance tuning tasks so that an application developer can just click on an environment option to deploy their application without knowing anything about the underlying infrastructure the app runs on. However, such tools give mixed results. While the app will run in the target environment, the greater question is whether it will run optimally so that it meets company performance needs. For these fine-tuning tasks, real-life system programmers and database administrators are still needed. The collaboration process between DevOps developers and these critical systems personnel must be worked out as a business process in IT so that both groups come together to refine and deploy a new app before it goes live.
5: Business-purposed cloud
More cloud vendors are moving to software-as-a-service (SaaS) and are beginning to tailor their IT offerings to the needs of specific business functions, such as sales, or industry verticals, such as manufacturing and aerospace. These vendors offer a combination of a system, IT expertise, and industry expertise that can benefit end users. The net of this is that more cloud contract negotiations will be a joint effort between IT and the end business, with ultimate contract management responsibilities falling to IT.
As hybrid cloud computing continues to shape companies and their IT, it will shake up business processes and operations within IT. Higher levels of collaboration will be needed between IT and end-business functions. Greater levels of hybrid computing will also require a rewriting of IT strategies, policies, and procedures that can cover an expanded and highly flexible infrastructure that is more complicated to run.
IT decision makers need to avoid the urge to implement hybrid cloud strategies with an end goal of just moving systems and applications around. There are also hard questions to answer about governance, how IT will operate, and how the business will function, as the mix of on-premises and cloud computing alters the calculus.