Why a hybrid approach offers enterprise IT the best of the cloud

Why a hybrid approach offers enterprise IT the best of the cloud

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March 31, 2016
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2015 was a year of incredible growth for the hybrid cloud marketplace. In fact, a recent study from IDC found that 91 percent of enterprise IT decision makers expect to rely on hybrid cloud architectures by 2017. There are a few key elements fueling this growth.

A primary driver in the explosion of the hybrid cloud movement is interest in public cloud. The agility, flexibility, and speed to market that public cloud offers are significantly better than internally delivered services in many organizations. But, as organizations explore their options, many realize that public clouds aren’t the answer for all their IT needs. Enterprises have made large investments, exploited intellectual property, developed business processes, and created valuable systems in traditional environments. It takes a long time and substantial expense – time and expense that may not be cost-justified, nor business-justified – to move all legacy workloads to new environments.  

As a consequence, the emerging default architecture is a mix of public cloud technologies and existing applications, a hybrid cloud. An important aspect of this trend is that if you are taking advantage of a hybrid cloud, chances are you don’t want to continue to architect all applications in the way you once did. Rather, you want to use some of the emerging capabilities of cloud, such as microservices, containers, flexible spin-up/spin-down, and self-service within your data center. That is, you want to consume private cloud technologies. To do that, you need to create a private cloud. 

Merging existing applications with newly created public cloud applications, and evolving to a private cloud architecture as the target architecture for the data center are steering the industry toward hybrid clouds. Many organizations are also consuming Software-as-a-Service solutions, a further step to hybridization.

Taken together, legacy environments, private clouds and public clouds establish a hybrid cloud. Most enterprises will have hybrid clouds soon, if they don’t already.

Cloud benefits and limitations

Whether they’re public or private, cloud technologies bring about greater agility and flexibility. Clouds can enable organizations to more easily implement the things that will improve their enterprise, protect their existing asset base in IT, grow their business by leveraging new capabilities, and reduce costs by enabling the retirement of technology debt. And by using cloud technologies either in the data center or in a public cloud, organizations can be more responsive and nimble as demands change as well as more resilient to those changes.  

But there are limitations as well. If you don’t manage public clouds carefully, they can be expensive. If you are in certain industries, you may have regulatory or audit requirements that you need be aware of before leveraging cloud capabilities. Another potential limitation, if you have a need for data locality, is that a public cloud may not be well suited to provide services in a specific geographic location.

Hybrid clouds can be a solution to these problems and allow organizations to have the best of all worlds. With hybrid clouds, you have the ability to tackle specific business problems by locating your applications appropriately in either existing technology environments or in private cloud environments. You can then use a public cloud to bolster your environment with resources that offer flexibility, agility and additional capabilities.  

Maintaining the benefit to cost ratio

As cloud computing continues to grow, there are a few things organizations will need to monitor to ensure they are managing their spend and resources effectively.

First, introducing reliance on cloud technologies generates an increase in management complexity. Clouds are another environment to manage. However, the flexibility to be gained by introducing cloud technology, both in the data center and in public clouds, significantly outweighs any added complexity over time.  

In a traditional data center environment, your expenses are controlled to a large degree by your capital expenditures and the number of people you hire. There can be variability there – for example, you may need additional seats for licensed software, or your electricity costs and network capacity demands may fluctuate. Most organizations have controls in place to help them manage these types of spending.

When you move to a public cloud environment, you’re often given access to effectively unlimited resources, and you may be distributing that access across developers or operators within your organization, where each team or individual is consuming resources independently and perhaps hasn’t been responsible for resource cost management in the past. This could lead to a loss of overall expense control. To manage effectively, organizations will need a new set of techniques to ensure that, in aggregate, they’re not overspending their plan.  

In a public cloud environment, IT organizations need to take new actions to meter, manage, and control their cloud resources in an effective way so that they don’t have unpleasant surprises. For the most part, that means they must have a firm understanding of the budget targets and the business value, and that they align the two. They will also need new data, new tools and new business processes. Migrating to and managing hybrid clouds will require different skills for a lot of organizations, and the tools and capabilities are still emerging. This is not an insurmountable problem, but it does mean that organizations will need to be thoughtful in managing spend when using a public cloud. 

Lee Congdon is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Ellucian, the leading independent provider of higher education software, services and analytics. He is responsible for Ellucian’s information technology, including enabling the business through technology services, information technology strategy, delivering next generation solutions, process improvement and advanced data and analytics. 

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