Up until recently, hybrid cloud was a pretty hotly debated topic. On second thought, it probably still is, but I believe the argument is now close to being settled. Those who followed cloud developments over the last decade have probably personally witnessed more than one example of “cloud is going to rule the world,” “on-premises technologies are dead” and “if it is not in public cloud, it is obsolete or, dare I say, a dinosaur.” These types of religious debates were fueled by companies on both sides of the argument — those trying to protect what they have in the data centers (traditional IT hardware and networking vendors), and those who were trying to break into the enterprise and take away that business (shiny new public cloud vendors). And up until recently, both sides were unrelenting in their stances on what the future holds. But it does not have to be one or the other.
Ice cream OR toppings?
Pancakes OR syrup?
CPU OR memory?
Security OR speed?
Yes, yes, yes and yes. I will take it all.
These arguments remind me of the good old dotcom days when a whole lot of people branded the old, traditional brick-and-mortar companies “dinosaurs,” derided them for not being innovative enough and predicted their demise. And we all remember what happened next: not the death of the traditional businesses, but the deaths of a number of high-flying Internet companies and the births of new innovative companies. Why was that? It happened because success is not about choosing one thing or another. It is about offering end users VALUE, and OPTIONS to obtain that value. If you want to pick clothes from a rack, you go to the mall. If the pictures on the web are sufficient and the thought of fighting for a parking spot at the mall scares you, the Internet is your best friend.
So, let us go back to the cloud conversation. When public cloud first emerged, the thinking (and, truthfully, the reality) was that the way IT was being run on-premises was not optimal. It was not conducive to creativity and did not enable the business to move forward faster. Quite often the contrary was true: IT was perceived as the blocker to getting things done. Therefore, the idea that “you must go to the cloud to get anything done” was born, with all the supporting software, product and service offerings to go along with it. Amazon, Microsoft and Google all extolled the virtues of public cloud and how it helped you accomplish more, and they were not wrong. Public cloud provides organizations so many options and capabilities, as well as visibility into how their IT runs and how the money is being spent in a way that was not feasible on-premises. This is not just about the technology but also about the people and the process.
All public cloud vendors have built such an impressive array of features, it is becoming extremely difficult to replicate those on-premises. But do you have to replicate them? Do you have to compete with Amazon, Microsoft and Google, OR should you understand what they offer, the benefits you get from them and then make an intelligent decision about when you should use public cloud, and when you should use on-premises capabilities? I think the latter is much more prudent.
For the record: I am very pro public cloud but I am not in the “public cloud or bust” camp. I think that is too simple an answer. I do not believe in blindly sending everything to public cloud because it is better or cheaper. I believe enterprises need to make smart decisions regarding how their Information Technology helps them achieve their goals and objectives. And if that happens to be on public cloud, great. If it happens to be on-premises, that is fine too. There is plenty of room for both to happily coexist, just like ice cream AND toppings.
The reality is that you get more benefits from running some workloads in Amazon, other workloads in Azure and yet another set on-premises. It all depends on the type of business you are in, the kinds of problems you are solving and how you define value. In any case, sooner or later you will operate in this type of environment, which will mean you will be in hybrid IT mode.
Hybrid IT is an approach where an organization uses both on-premises technology and public cloud resources in unison to achieve its corporate goals and objectives. The key phrase here is “corporate goals and objectives.” IT should support and enable business to achieve those, instead of being the roadblock, and that comes from understanding where the most value comes from. Your corporate goals and objectives are most likely not the same as Amazon’s, Microsoft’s or Google’s, so why not do yourself a favor and first figure out where your value comes from.
As my esteemed colleague Kent Kingery says, “cloud is an operating model, not a product or a destination.” So if you think of cloud that way (with the agility, flexibility, speed, cost savings, innovation and so on), you will be able to free yourself from getting hung up on the “here vs. there” conversation and focus instead on the value. Microsoft has been promoting this concept for awhile with their Azure Stack offering, but other public cloud vendors have not done so, and have even resisted the idea. AWS, the biggest of them all, has always focused on promoting the number and breadth of services they have, trying to get as many enterprises as possible onto their public cloud. Now, on the heels of its latest re:Invent conference, AWS is also throwing its support behind the concept of hybrid IT. They just announced AWS Outposts — a capability that runs AWS infrastructure on-premises, for a truly consistent hybrid experience.
It is hard to believe AWS has actually announced something like that. A couple of years ago it would have been plain unfathomable. AWS will build a box and ship it to you to run in your data center. What is the world coming to? Is AWS giving up on the promise of public cloud? Does AWS want to start selling hardware? Not at all. This is more an acknowledgment of the fact that not everything will go to public cloud, and that customers want to get the value from the “cloud operating model” no matter where it is — on-premises or in the public cloud. I do not believe AWS is competing with hardware vendors because they are shipping a box or a rack to the data center any more than I think AWS is competing with IBM MQ or Pivotal Gemfire because AWS offers queue and caching services respectively. AWS Outposts is all about helping customers create a more efficient IT, and that will take a village.
Microsoft has been helping customers do this for a few years, and now AWS has joined them. To me, that settles the argument of whether hybrid IT is real or not. Just in case you are wondering, it is. Organizations will run a number of workloads on-premises for various reasons, from security concerns to latency requirements, and the ability to operate their IT in the same fashion in both their data centers and public clouds is very appealing. AWS has always been very customer-focused, and this move further reinforces the point that customers want this option in order to get the full benefit out of their IT. AWS Outposts was a huge announcement, but AWS has also recently announced a Route 53 Resolver for Hybrid Clouds to help with DNS management issues between different locations. As you can see, the trend of integrating on-premises IT and public cloud is accelerating. Even Google has the word “hybrid” all over their marketing materials. Plus, containerization fever is adding even more momentum to the cloud agnostic (or hardware agnostic) approach to workload management.
So the answer to the pressing question of whether to hybrid or not is: hybrid!
Hybrid IT can bring significant advantages to your business, but requires you to think through the fundamental aspects of what VALUE means to you. What is your IT strategy by itself, and compared to your competition? Have you reviewed your application portfolio to identify the right mix of on-premises vs. cloud (and determined which clouds)? Have you conducted an honest-to-goodness TCO to really understand what it costs to operate your IT? Have you reviewed your application architecture to figure out if your apps are OK as-is or need to be rewritten to take advantage of 21st- century technology? When you say DevOps, do you just mean Jenkins, or enterprise-wide capabilities to deliver value quicker? Have you embarked on the journey to change your organization to take advantage of the “cloud operating model,” whether on-premises or not? That involves upskilling and retraining your people, changing the way they do their jobs, selecting new tools and defining new success metrics for the organization. If yes, fantastic — you are well positioned for the future. If not, you are leaving money on the table and are not getting the most value out of your IT.
If you are intrigued by hybrid IT and how the “cloud operating model” can open avenues for innovation and true business transformation, give CTP a call — we can guide your people, process and technology journey.