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Hybrid Cloud obsession is not always the right course

Everyone's talking about Hybrid Cloud, but do the sums always add up?

Over the last seven years of working in the cloud space there has been one constant area of discussion and yet, for something that’s the so much talked about, there’s a remarkable lack of agreement as to what it is. I’m talking about hybrid cloud, that catch-all term that everyone uses, some abuse and some misuse: what does it cover and is it as big as everyone claims it is?

There is a lot of logic to say that as businesses move from traditional in-house systems and infrastructure to cloud-based ones that they will need a bit of both for a period of time. And so the focus has been on hybrid cloud , as a linking of the old world to the new one.

Companies around the world have been pushing this concept and investing hundreds of millions of dollars into creating hybrid solutions, from large IT vendors like HP and IBM through to Microsoft and now VMware, all pushing that the old and new can co-exist and be managed as one set of infrastructure. Even Amazon, the doyen of public cloud, knows that some of its customers will want to have a hybrid option.

But recently I’ve been asking the question why? Sure there are sunken costs to take into consideration, the complex nature of migrations but is this based on facts or people creating barriers to change?

Until last year I thought it was all fact-based but as I worked with more and more companies that just wanted to move everything, rather than use hybrid-based solutions and configurations, I was forced to look again and found some interesting facts of my own.

Firstly, hybrid cloud isn’t the least complex cloud option: due to system integration challenges this type of environment is often more complex and costs more money in the longer run over public cloud.

I’ve been involved with several five-year total cost of ownership (TCO) analysis for clients recently and most of the time the cost savings didn’t materialise as first thought when taken over the longer term due to the complex nature of hybrid, especially if a well planned and executed transformation was completed as part of a strategy for public cloud.

Hybrid cloud isn’t the least complex cloud option: due to system integration challenges this type of environment is often more complex and costs more money in the longer run over public cloud

Secondly, the larger the organisation the more the perception that moving to the cloud as part of a single transformation would cost the business more and be more risky. It’s certainly been the case within my client base that the sub-two hundred employee based organisations were far more likely to look at cloud transition as one project and not to look at hybrid at all.

So, is it that businesses are still cautious about moving to a totally cloud-based environment? I have found that to be case when first meeting clients new to cloud, plus disappointingly, their internal IT teams are normally very negative about it – in other words, it’s not that dissimilar to when virtualisation first came on the scene.

Back then the push back was: “you can’t have all your servers on only a few physical hosts, it’s far too risky”. And, of course, senior business people believed what they were told and we all know how that turned out.

Today most hybrid configurations are more likely to be backed by internal IT teams especially over a public-only approach. Why? People don’t like change but it’s difficult to use similar arguments this time as cloud is underpinned by virtualisation, but I always believed that internal IT teams are one of the main reasons for cloud adoption being slower than it should have been, as there is an unjustified view that it will remove jobs (this was also a big driver to resist virtualisation). So risk is used again but this time it’s around data protection and privacy, security, data ownership, this list goes on but with hybrid it’s reasoned that these risks can be reduced because internal IT still has a lot more control.

Last year, though, saw a change in many organisations. There is a belief now that cloud has matured, and the safeguards are mainly in place, so it has become a lot harder to push the need for hybrid other than mainly on cost grounds. But even here if the right approach is applied, a true strategy built and a phased and well-executed plan the cost argument doesn’t stand up in the majority of cases.

That said, there will always be certain, very specific, examples of where a hybrid approach is the best. Thus, I don’t believe it will disappear but I also don’t believe that it will be as big as everyone expected it to be only few years ago (me included). So, if you are at the start of your cloud journey, do the due-diligence, including a full TCO analysis, and take a bit of time to develop a proper strategy before you start signing off and I think you will find that a straight move to the cloud is the most cost-effective and operationally beneficial route for most business looking at IaaS. Although, in time, I see most businesses migrating from a predominately IaaS approach to a predominately SaaService one – but that’s all in the future.

By Julian Box, Posted 19th February 2014.