Despite the inexorable progress of the cloud across IT systems, many businesses are taking a cautious approach to cloud based services. They are opting for a stepped migration in which hybrid platforms are developed, combining the convenience of the cloud with traditional installed systems for added security.
A move to SaaS (software as a service) platforms is delivering cost savings and efficiency improvements, and CRM and web analytics, for instance, are ideally suited for cloud based operations.
Private clouds have been developed for the mission critical and data sensitive areas of a business for which public clouds may not be appropriate, but even here installed systems are still in existence. Managing this trinity is the focus for hybrid IT management.
Gartner has highlighted this in a report on hybrid IT. On its release, managing vice president Chris Howard said: "Many organisations have now passed the definitional stage of cloud computing and are testing cloud architectures inside and outside the enterprise and, over time, the cloud will simply become one of the ways that we 'do' computing, and workloads will move around in hybrid internal/external IT environments.
"As a result, the traditional role of the enterprise IT professional is changing and becoming multifaceted. A hybrid IT model requires internal and external IT professionals to support the business capabilities of the enterprise."
Mind the gap
IT managers are thinking carefully about the level of integration between cloud and non-cloud systems, and in the rush to adopt cloud services it can be easy to miss that the cloud still has to go some way to match the features that current client-server platforms can offer.
They need to ask themselves what defines the gap between these legacy systems and the new cloud services. It's bridging that gap efficiently that will be the main driver this year.
Mitigating risk is also a major focus in the development of hybrid IT platforms. There is a need to decide which services can move to the cloud and which should stay behind a business's firewall, with an emphasis on user access and security.
This all provides a challenge, but there are clear benefits in sight. In its Cloud Integration for Hybrid IT report, data integration company Informatica states: "A unified, hybrid data integration platform enables IT organisations to realise even greater efficiency and productivity benefits when it comes to cloud application integration initiatives.
"If implemented and managed properly, business analysts and cloud application administrators have real time, secure access to data contained in on-premise systems, databases and social as well as other cloud application data sources without getting slowed down by the IT backlog. Meanwhile, IT stakeholders are able to maintain governance and control over mission-critical business applications."
It is also important that, in companies with a chief information officer, they are involved in the process.
Ernst & Young has addressed the issue in an insights paper on hybrid IT, in which it points out: "The CIO now needs to be a part of allocation and prioritisation discussions and decisions (such as when to expense versus when to capitalise IT investments). The CIO also needs to determine which parts of an organisation's IT infrastructure should remain in-house and which pieces can be managed by external vendors or service providers.
"This new paradigm can maximise the advantages new technology, pricing models and service level agreements bring to organisations — without compromising the stability, security or integrity upon which the business relies to achieve performance and growth objectives."
A study from Capgemini claims that over 80% of companies are now using some form of cloud based services. But most of this activity is with new business services and not the migration of legacy systems to the cloud, as this can be expensive and time consuming.
In this scenario the hybrid IT approach makes sense to IT managers and CIOs alike. The future looks set to be what Capgemini call an 'orchestrated' approach to the cloud landscape, and not a wholesale move to these systems simply because of the IT legacy that most business currently need to manage.
New business platforms
The delivery and maintenance of IT functions will involve the use of more hybrid systems. The fragmentation of cloud services across a plethora of vendors, the continued development of 'bring your own device' plus the overall consumerisation of business technology opens new opportunities.
IT managers need to ask a number of questions to enable them to build a hybrid IT system fit for their businesses:
1.Can the cloud offer real world advantages for some business processes?
2.What does your business's data access map look like? Is the client-server platform still cost-effective?
3.Is customer security compliance still possible with a cloud based platform? Could a hybrid IT approach offer much stronger security systems?
4.Will outsourcing produce the level of cost reduction without negatively impacting the customer experience?
5.Are there any data bottlenecks in your business that a hybrid IT approach could resolve?
6.What are your business's current IT risk factors? Would a hybrid approach to IT improve these?
The answers to these questions will lay the ground for a step forward in IT management. Gartner's Chris Howard concluded: "Hybrid IT is the new IT and it is here to stay.
"While the cloud market matures, IT organisations must adopt a hybrid IT strategy that not only builds internal clouds to house critical IT services and compete with public cloud service providers, but also utilises the external cloud to house non-critical IT services and data, augment internal capacity, and increase IT agility.
"Hybrid IT creates symmetry between internal and external IT services that will force an IT and business paradigm shift for years to come."
2013 looks set to become the year where hybrid IT becomes a mainstream option for companies that will continue to develop their use of cloud based services, yet also maintain their traditional systems. Today, IT means melding software-, infrastructure- and platform-as-a-service together into a hybrid system that fits your business's particular goals.