Unless your organisation was ‘born in the cloud’, your ICT infrastructure is likely to be based on multiple technology platforms and a range of service providers. You may well be using Software as a Service (SaaS) applications –or have deployed Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) for specific functions, such as creating software development environments outside your own Data Centre.
But even if you’re now bent on a Cloud First or ‘as a Service’ strategy, just simply buying public or private compute or storage capacity is not necessarily the complete solution. There are still questions to be asked and decisions to be made.
Having worked with a wide range of organisations at various stages of cloud migration, we are seeing a clear pattern: not all applications lend themselves best to either Public or Private Cloud, and not all applications can be offloaded to external service providers. A ‘Hybrid IT’ approach is required where each workload or application is matched to the most appropriate environment be it Public Cloud, some form of Private Cloud or a traditional non-cloud environment.
Looking at the history of business technology, we started in the 1960s and 70s with Bureau Computing and its ‘turnkey’ solutions. Under this model, all expertise was held by external service providers and ICT infrastructure held in dedicated external Data Centres. Even the operators of technology were generally employed by these providers, as they could leverage their scales of economy and simply avoid (or at least distribute across multiple clients) the massive cost of data communications links.
In the 1980s and 90s, client/server technology and the rise of end-user computing brought the IT function in-house. With the PC, more workers became ‘users’ and businesses started using technology for competitive difference – so there was also a surge in in-house custom application development. The result was that each organisation grew increasingly complex ICT infrastructure centred on an internal Data Centre – and built teams dedicated to the operation of this infrastructure.
The big change in the 21st century is that you now have a wide range of choices in where and how you can operate and pay for your ICT infrastructure. With the opening of telecommunications competition and web-based technologies, location of that infrastructure is no longer a barrier. If technology is not your core business, you have likely already engaged multiple service providers to help. Much technology is now a commodity – along with the skills required to implement, manage, monitor and maintain it.
The next logical step is to shake loose of your dependence on internal ICT infrastructure – when and where it makes good commercial sense. Enter Hybrid IT…
Hybrid IT is a strategy that suits all – whether they want to use cloud extensively, or just for specific applications. For some, a mix of 90% in the cloud and the 10% really unique mission-critical legacy applications maintained on traditional or bare metal servers might be the right approach. For others, it may be more like half-and-half. In addition, there are the choices between Public or Private Cloud, and whether you want (or need) to retain technical skills in-house or engage managed services providers whose core business it is to deliver your technology requirements.
In determining the unique mix of Public vs Private Cloud, internal vs external and in-house vs off-premises that’s best for your business, you’ll need to consider:
Few organisations operate 100% Intel-based infrastructure, which is easily migrated to Public Cloud and IaaS. One-size-fits-all compute and storage options may also not meet the needs of your legacy applications. In this case, Private Cloud options or co-location of your own infrastructure might be more appropriate.
If you are operating or planning Big Data or Internet of Things (IoT) applications, enterprise-wide Business Intelligence (BI) or decision support systems (DSS), you’ll be looking at minimum latency and high data volumes. This makes network connectivity critical – as well as location of data sources and processing power – to deliver excellent user performance, high availability and scalability as dataflows grow. We discuss these implications for your ICT infrastructure choices in another article.
If you are holding private or ‘sensitive’ data – or just want to protect your customer data and intellectual property – where your data will resides is a critical consideration of Hybrid IT. Some SaaS, IaaS and cloud storage offerings involve data being stored or replicated in several locations overseas – which can mean transgressing legislative or internal compliance policies. For example, the US and Singapore both claim sovereignty over any data stored on local servers and exercise control over data held by domiciled entities. A simple way to eliminate this risk is to ensure your IT infrastructure and data are held strictly within Australian-owned data centre facilities.
When you own and operate your own business technology, you will need to invest to cover seasonal peaks and troughs. When upgrading this technology you will also need to purchase capacity that you might not use for a year or even more, often because it’s cheaper to buy in ‘lumps’ of processing power, storage capacity or user licenses. This means that, at any given time, you are running different parts of your infrastructure either over or under capacity. A better model is to treat technology as the commoditised ‘utility’ it now is: using what you need, when you need it, and paying as you use it instead of upfront. A significant business side benefit is increased scalability to accommodate operational ups and downs and the agility to respond fast to environmental change and new opportunities.
This can be a hard one! As we’ve discussed, many organisations have built extensive in-house teams to manage their in-house data centres and other ICT infrastructure. In the age of Hybrid IT and technology-as-a-commodity, you will need to reshape these teams to concentrate less on day-to-day operations and maintenance, and more on activity that that delivers on the business strategy – which will lead to increased revenue and/or reduced cost. Consider how your internal resources could better focus on the unique technology requirements of your business and its users. This should result in them taking more of a backseat (rather than hands-on DIY) approach, ensuring your service providers deliver on your specific business objectives.
As we’ve discussed, there are a lot of factors involved in creating the right mix for the ideal Hybrid IT environment. Each organisation’s needs are different – and individual sentiments often play a part in decision-making. Much as there has been a clarion call to cloud, many organisations hesitate when it comes to the crunch.
The best way to tackle the often hard decisions to be made is to seek external advice. External experience also offers an understanding of where and how similar-sized or same-industry players have achieved benefits – or made avoidable mistakes.