Many enterprises have started realising the benefits of deploying hybrid cloud models to save money and provide the agility needed to speed up core technology services delivery.
Big name companies across Australia have already started deploying hybrid cloud solutions. In fact, IDC believes almost half of large enterprises globally will have deployed hybrid clouds by the end of 2017.
IT leaders from various industries gathered for roundtables in Sydney and Brisbane recently to discuss how this model of IT service delivery is changing the way IT departments operate, as well as the role of the CIO. The events were sponsored by Cisco and Data#3.
For Andrew Grady, CIO at Motorama, deploying a hybrid cloud environment, where resources are managed in-house and by outsourced service providers, enables his organisation to deliver real business outcomes rather than spend time and resources on IT service delivery.
“We are currently using several clouds but we still manage our core business systems in-house. We have a clear strategy to migrate all applications to an infrastructure-as-a-service platform as current infrastructure approaches end of life,” he says.
“My hope is that the hybrid cloud will allow our business to innovate by freeing up the IT department to spend more time focusing on delivering business value and less time managing infrastructure.”
Arthur Ponting, manager of information technology and telecommunications at Canegrowers, says hybrid cloud infrastructure provides business continuity and makes it easier for its limited number of IT staff to support servers and systems.
“We have commenced this process [moving to hybrid cloud],” he says. “Our new CRM system is in the cloud and we are about to move Microsoft Exchange Server to Exchange Online.”
Peter Macarthur-King, general manager of global infrastructure, information technology and telecommunications at SAI Global, says hybrid cloud allows the company to scale up parts (systems and applications) of its infrastructure and retain other parts in-house to maintain system performance.
Enterprises are choosing public cloud services where they offer benefits in terms of cost, flexibility and risk management, notes Sam Gerner, director, cloud strategy and partners at Cisco.
“Most continue to manage dedicated IT assets and many are leveraging virtualisation technology for private cloud platforms. Inevitably, these public and dedicated platforms are interconnected to deliver business outcomes,” he says.
One example would be Salesforce.com exchanging data with an on-premise ERP system, which is effectively hybrid cloud.
Michael Bowser, general manager, managed solutions, Data#3, adds hybrid cloud provides several options that enable organisations to be more competitive and efficient. He advises enterprises must first assess where they can achieve business outcomes with hybrid cloud, and what strategy will deliver the best results.
To do this, a sound understanding of the needs of the business consumer, the apps that respond to those needs and the business processes that enable the enterprise to function, are vital.
“The overall best fit solution is then considered within a hybrid IT environment balancing cloud, outsourcing and on-premise solutions,” Bowser says.
Despite the obvious benefits, attendees agree there are risks around the move to hybrid cloud. For example, moving to this model changes the focus from managing technical aspects of delivering business apps to managing contracts and service level agreements with cloud providers, says Grady.
Bowser says the main risks associated with moving to hybrid cloud include not knowing your overall strategy in terms of business outcomes and cost positions, and not understanding your cloud provider’s profile.
“Reporting is key so you can manage and optimise the advantages hybrid cloud offers and manage contracts with suppliers to address performance, support, as well as on-boarding and off-boarding,” he says. “This becomes even more critical as you integrate data across multiple cloud services.”
Macarthur-King says organisations are required to trust the service provider.
“We only get to see policies or certifications, not the actual processes in play, so we can’t typically audit,” he says. “If multiple external services [are in the hybrid cloud] with a single provider, complexity is not as great an issue.
“But if you define hybrid cloud as using some apps, cloud infrastructure either interconnected to on-premise infrastructure or not – which is what we are doing – then yes, it is complex. There are multiple service providers with many different risk profiles.”
Canegrowers’ biggest risk is the lack of communication technology, says Ponting. “Canegrowers operates in rural and remote areas and we are unable to get reliable communications facilities at a price we can afford,” he says.
Data sovereignty remains another big issue for several organisations and this will continue for some time, says Gerner.
He advises enterprises to understand the existing costs to deliver an application to assess if hybrid and public clouds can be used. “Inevitably, there is some loss of control when an application is delivered from a public cloud and enterprises should be wary of lock-in and the need for an exit strategy,” Gerner adds.
There are organisations that still feel on-premise systems are also more secure than those in the cloud. This is a view shared by Macarthur-King.
“I think [on-premise] is more secure but that could be my prejudice. Control and verifiability are key, but I’d say it’s more a lack of trust,” he comments. “But it’s interesting that someone said to me he used security through obscurity.
“He said: ‘There are so many servers in public clouds, the chance of us being attacked is low’. I liken it to the ‘sardine ball defence’ – get to the middle and the shark has less chance of getting you,” he says.
Grady says the perception on-premise infrastructure is more secure is changing, but it depends on the types of cloud services being discussed.
“Instances of servers and storage on public cloud infrastructure are every bit as secure as most in-house infrastructure,” he says. “The real risk is the proliferation of cloud-based applications, such as Dropbox and Google Drive, which can allow users to share company data in an uncontrolled way.”
A changing CIO role
CIOs have a tough job working out the right mix of ICT solutions, but hybrid cloud is the next logical step in freeing an organisation from the constraints of on-premise, client-server application models. “But the migration and operational challenges are not trivial,” warns Gerner.
“In a time when arguably the CIO’s most important role is to help steer the organisation’s digital strategy, making decisions about when and where to use hybrid cloud will be of strategic importance.” Bowser adds hybrid cloud is another way to deliver services and CIOs should continually evolve their knowledge on what is available so they can make the best choices to deliver what the business needs.