How the enterprise can embrace hybrid cloud

Hybrid cloud has much to offer organisations of all sizes, but enterprises in particular stand to gain so much…

Cloud computing has come a long way since the early days of being the newest kid on the IT block. Since then, the market has evolved and organisations have been educated and now, in general, know what the various cloud models are and what each can do for them.

Hybrid cloud in particular can be a tough nut to crack. The benefits are plentiful although some are more obvious than others but businesses often struggle to know where to start or what to do next. See sister title Cloud Pro's article for more information on what true hybrid cloud is.

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"While cloud-native start-ups can leapfrog traditional IT architectures and jump straight into the cloud, enterprises cannot. Investments in equipment, software, personnel, and datacentre facilities cannot simply be written off in favour of asset light' public cloud services," analyst firm IDC wrote in a whitepaper published in September 2013.

"However, hybrid cloud provides self-service stretch' resources that augment what's already in the enterprise datacentre, delaying or even eliminating the need for additional capex in favour of an opex approach." Enterprises need to be able to quickly, seamlessly and importantly securely, move workloads, including those that are mission-critical, to and from the public cloud.

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Modern enterprises are time poor, yet information and demand rich. As such, they have limited resources and must continuously balance today's business needs with tomorrow's exacting demands and changing market landscape. With true hybrid cloud, organisations are freed from the shackles of the mundane and complex so they can focus on their core business objectives and move from the daily grind to innovating for future success.

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With true hybrid cloud, organisations can extend their datacentres' reach and gain many benefits, including but not limited to:

The ability to build new enterprise applications and host them in Java-based architectures as well as being primed to benefit from next-generation rather than just traditional apps.

Develop and test more efficiently. This frees up precious on-premise resources, but also ensures businesses can move forward and react to changing industry demands.

Ensure disaster recovery is in place for third-party backups, test environments, seasonal activity and other locations.

Take advantage of next-gen capabilities from key vendors' packaged apps and host in the hybrid cloud.

So how, then do you get from A to B when it comes to realising those benefits?

Given myriad of benefits available, it's no surprise that hybrid cloud is predicted to be the dominant model used in the future. More than half of large enterprises will have deployed some form of hybrid cloud by the end of 2017, according to analyst firm Gartner.

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IDC concurs with where things are headed. In its 2013 CloudTrack Survey, it concluded that more than half (54 per cent) of enterprise IT expenditure in 2015 would be spent on externally provided cloud infrastructure services.

However, there are still barriers to overcome, particularly when it comes to ensuring that the needs of the business and IT continue to be aligned. This has been a battleground in the historic tech landscape, with lines of business and technology personnel at odds and speaking different languages. For hybrid cloud deployments, in order to truly reap the benefits, there needs to be a meeting of minds.

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"Hybrid cloud helps give each group what it wants: security and control for IT operations and speed and agility for line-of-business operations," IDC said, suggesting the model is a way of bridging the gap between the tech side and line of business stakeholders.

It continued: "To the extent that IT can incorporate external public cloud services into formalised IT procurement, implementation, and governance processes, IT becomes a facilitator of rather than a roadblock to more dynamic business-ready IT."

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Milind Govekar, managing vice president at Gartner, echoed these thoughts in a blog post earlier this year, saying: "Many lines of business buy external cloud services without the initial involvement of, or oversight from, IT leaders. To implement hybrid cloud services successfully, IT leaders need to introduce an internal cloud services brokerage (CSB) role responsible for the governance, demand management and delivery of cloud services."

He added: "Those who do not think and act like an external service provider or evolve into a CSB role will gradually lose the trust of business managers, who will circumvent the IT organisation in order to access the IT services they need. This will result in more disaggregation of IT services and reduced value from the remaining shared IT services. "

With this in mind, enterprises should be asking a number of questions prior to making the move to hybrid cloud. These include:

Who needs to be involved in the decision making process?

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Once stakeholders are established, what will our decision-making criterion include?

What are the limitations and opportunities with our current IT and business setup?

What costs are involved (both overheads and savings)? What is the ROI?

Will it free up resources (tech and people) to add value elsewhere in the business?

What workloads can and should I move and when?

Which service provider should I partner with and will they still be in business a year from now?

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Where will my data be located?

What about security and unauthorised access? Am I protected?

What are the SLAs?

Will I be locked in or do I have long-term flexibility?

Will it make business life better than it is today?

Many organisations have already successfully navigated their way through the maze of questions and possible answers to enjoy the benefits of hybrid cloud and hybrid IT.

Online betting giant Betfair is one such organisation that is seeing the future through a different lens thanks to making the switch to a hybrid IT environment.

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It was one of the first businesses to deploy VMware's vCloud Air service in the UK so can attest to the benefits on offer.

"It's a way of getting at the economies of cloud performance and cost, while still maintaining a level of operational control over the data. Equally, it also allows us to get closer to a consumption model for the way we use the cloud, where we only use what we need, and therefore only pay for what we use. For many firms this is a level of flexibility and control they simply haven't had access to before," Michael Bischoff, Betfair's CIO, said in a Q&A session at vForum in London earlier this year.

"[It also] has the advantage of helping firms step away from the capital investment cycle as it means they don't need to invest in the entire server infrastructure to create their own private cloud. Another reason is as IaaS solutions are increasingly broadly commoditised, [vCloud Air] provides an opportunity for companies to get commodity pricing and service and move away from custom internal solutions."

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Other organisations in a variety of sectors are realising their full potential through the use of hybrid cloud.

Biomni, which delivers service catalogue and request fulfilment solutions so other firms can improve IT support efficiency, is one such organisation.

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The global nature of its work and the need to deliver on customer expectations without increasing costs was a major driver towards the hybrid model.

Its customers include John Lewis and RBS and, since the firm was launched in 1999, more than 1.4 million end users have access their IT services via its platform. Such demand places a number of pressures on the business to continue to both deliver and innovate.

Hybrid cloud provided credible answers to such problems for Biomni.

"When Biomni needs additional resources to develop a client solution, or to test a change requested by a client, it can create a new environment in the hybrid cloud in just minutes," said Angus Gregory, CEO at Biomni.

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"We can deliver a better quality and more responsive service for our clients, while ensuring that we can maximise revenue opportunities through new and existing business opportunities."

The use of hybrid has changed thinking across the organisation about what is possible and it is now looking to future challenges proactively and without fear.

"More than anything, what we've gained from our experience is a new way of looking at the challenges that come up," Gregory added.

"It's no longer a frustration about how quickly we can meet customers' demands but a focus on how we can create innovative new ways to attract and impress them."

Given that 80 per cent of firms are already using some form of VMware technology, such businesses are primed to derive real benefits from deploying its hybrid offering, vCloud Air.

Dave Cartwright over on IT Pro's sister title Cloud Pro recently reviewed the product and was mightily impressed.

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In his review on Cloud Pro, writer Cartwright was impressed by the ease of use of the service.

He specifically looked at the Virtual Private Cloud offering (disaster recovery and dedicated cloud versions are also available under the vCloud Air umbrella) and awarded it 5/5 stars, which is a very impressive score awarded to select products that really deliver on their promises.

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Price was flagged as being a plus point and Cartwright also applauded the tech support on offer. After all, while the hope is nothing goes wrong, if it does, businesses absolutely need to feel confident things will be dealt with quickly and that they can talk to someone who will share and address their concerns.

"I had a screen share session with VMware's techies, who tried a few things at my end and theirs Not long afterwards the problem was fixed and I could log in on all these funky new VMs I'd created," Cartwright said.

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" The guys I spoke to didn't realise I was a reviewer until I mentioned it in conversation, so I'm willing to believe it's actually because the guys in Cork (the office I was talking to) really know their stuff and are good at what they do (and it helped that the engineer I spoke with also happened to be a thoroughly nice bloke)."

Cartwright isn't easily swayed by cloud offerings either. In fact, he really puts vendors and their products through their paces and only awards big scores to those worthy of such an accolade.

"When I was asked to review vCloud Air the cynic in me said: Nah, it'll be rubbish.' I've had some pretty dodgy experiences in the cloud, specifically with SaaS offerings from software companies that thought: Hey, we can do a hosted version of this' and then made a hash of it," he said.

"With this service, however, I've got a much warmer feeling and I just can't help liking it. It's idiot-proof in its basic form, it's powerful for people who are comfortable with vCD (a camp I fall into I have my VCP Cloud exam in a few weeks' time!) and it does just seem to work."

Overall, the move to hybrid cloud won't be an overnight success story for everyone, but businesses can expect to see cost savings and increased operational efficiency when it is deployed properly.

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