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Plenty of drivers to craft a hybrid cloud strategy, but caveats too

Keeping the data center but keen on cloud? Take in this tip to learn about building a strong hybrid cloud strategy.

Not ready to let go of your data center, but interested in what cloud computing has to offer? You're not alone. Even as more enterprise IT organizations become comfortable with cloud, there are some things they're not willing to trust off-premises. Unless an organization's systems of record and systems of engagement are fully on-premises or completely in the cloud -- and few are strictly one or the other at this point -- that organization is operating in an environment that requires a hybrid cloud strategy.

Hybrid cloud management -- a balancing act that combines the safety of keeping sensitive data on-premises and taking advantage of scalability and agility -- is becoming increasingly important to IT leaders. TechTarget's recent IT Priorities 2014 Survey of more than 200 global technology executives showed that about 33% of respondents are planning to hire a hybrid cloud integration provider this year.

This figure comes as no surprise to Dave Bartoletti, analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc. It matches up well with recent data from Forrester which indicates about one-third of enterprises in North America and Europe recognize they are operating in a hybrid cloud environment. About 13% of those organizations indicate they utilize public cloud and another 21% say they're utilizing a hosted private cloud. "They have some things with a hosted service provider, and they have some in their own data center -- that's hybrid," Bartoletti said.

Dave Bartoletti, analyst, Forrester Research Inc.Dave Bartoletti

For CIOs who haven't yet adopted a hybrid cloud model, is there a right time to start? Bartoletti recommends IT leaders should think hybrid cloud when they have an existing application in which they're ready to invest some money. Whether it's a redesign to reach new customers, an upgrade or a complete overhaul, he suggests before deciding to do it in the data center, it makes sense to investigate whether the work could be more cheaply and quickly done in the cloud. "It could possibly save them infrastructure for development resources, and in many cases there are excellent development tools existing in a public cloud space your developers would love to work with," he said.

The drivers behind a hybrid cloud strategy

There are four main drivers for pursuing a hybrid cloud strategy, Bartoletti said. For those who use cloud, the reasons may sound familiar, but their order of importance has shifted: Cost should not be No. 1.

1. Time to market, speed and responsiveness

In today's market, getting to market quickly with new services and applications is imperative, and it simply takes too long to add new infrastructure to an existing data center. "That's when you'd want to explore the public cloud," Bartoletti said.

Basically, I won't be able to use the public cloud at all unless I use some sort of hybrid cloud strategy.
Dave Bartolettianalyst, Forrester Research Inc.

The caution? Whatever you put in your public cloud is almost without question going to need access to some systems you keep in-house. For example, if a new marketing campaign is being run on a Web platform in the public cloud, most likely it will be tied back to an on-premises customer database -- a back-end system you don't want to move to the cloud. In a case like this, it should be determined in advance how data integration will take place.

"Basically, I won't be able to use the public cloud at all unless I use some sort of hybrid cloud strategy," Bartoletti said. It needs to be determined how data will be protected, and how it will be pulled back when needed and how applications will be connected.

"Before, I might connect a system of engagement to a system of record using tools I've used for years," he said. "I should be looking at different tools, because in the public cloud there are more options to program with more modern programming tools."

2. Increasing developer productivity

Adopting cloud gives developers access to more modern, cutting-edge development tools they're excited to build with instead of building on existing infrastructure. For example, if your organization brings in a batch of new developers to build a new mobile application for your customers, there is now a choice to be made.

Additional servers can be purchased and loaded with the tools these developers need, or their development work can be done in a public cloud where many of those tools are already present -- for example, Azure, where an entire Microsoft Windows development environment is available, Bartoletti said.

Again, once the application is finished and ready to put into production, the question arises about how it will be connected to the necessary data center resources: Should you run it in production on Azure, or bring it back and run it in your data center or move it to another cloud? "That's when you have to start making those hybrid decisions, asking which connections you need to make," Bartoletti said.

3. Extending the life of current applications

Hybrid cloud computing is not always about starting from scratch. You might want to move an application to the cloud so it can be extended or expanded to reach more customers, Bartoletti said. Those looking to modernize an application can take advantage of development tools in the public cloud to recode it. "A lot of public clouds have mobile development tools that can help you add a mobile application on to an existing application; that's often faster to do using tools that are already available in the cloud," he said.

4. Potential cost savings

In the early days of cloud computing, cost was often cited as a No. 1 driver for adoption. Most experts now caution against that reasoning. Cost should be part of the decision, Bartoletti said, but the "real benefit" of cloud is the agility it provides to get to market faster.

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Money may be saved in the long run, but there's no guarantee that cloud services will be cheaper than the data center, according to Bartoletti. It depends on how cloud is used, and it's a decision each individual IT organization will have to make based on its particular situation, on a case-by-case basis. Understanding the current efficiency of data center operations and how well a particular application will be able to take advantage of cloud economics is key. CIOs have to do the math, he said. "If you move an application to the cloud and it runs all the time and uses a lot of resources, you may end up having a 'shock bill,' where you realize cloud isn't cheaper than you could do it yourself," he added.

The right tools for the job

Most experts, Bartoletti among them, agree that the data center of the future is going to be hybrid by default. To make it work, companies have to focus on a couple of important things:

  •  Platforms to integrate data across both public and private cloud
  •  Adequate management tools

IT operations teams maintain the performance of applications, but once an application is running in the public cloud, IT has less control over it. It's therefore incumbent upon IT to take a new approach to management. That might mean additional monitoring, as well as exploring different approaches that offer insight on how cloud applications are behaving on things like backup, recovery and high availability, Bartoletti said.

So, a hybrid cloud strategy must address data integration, IT management and operations, cost control, and governance. How to manage spend and cost when part of an application runs in-house and part of that application runs on a public cloud -- and how to measure ongoing costs and keep them under control -- are key elements that need to be addressed when building a hybrid cloud strategy, Bartoletti said.

It's one thing to build something new and deploy it in the cloud, but if CIOs want to run it there in production, they are responsible for whether the application is up and running, for its performance and for what the user experience is like, Bartoletti noted. The cloud providers don't do that for you. "You're still responsible for how your application behaves, so you need to put a management infrastructure in place that lets you deliver the same sorts of performance and availability that you can in your data center today with infrastructure that you run in the cloud," he said.

And it never hurts to ask for help. That 33% of IT leaders in the IT Priorities Survey have the right idea, in Bartoletti's opinion. "People who understand both how to build in the public cloud and how to connect public cloud applications back to data centers for systems of engagement are in very high demand right now -- and organizations might have a hard time sourcing that talent," he said. "So, the fastest way to cloud is probably to use a service provider to help you get there."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, senior features writer.

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