Everything is Hybrid

It was Gartner’s Matt Cain video interview about Hybrid Cloud and the adoption of Office 365 that really shone a light on an interesting trend. Two common concepts in IT are converging; Hybrid IT and Hybrid Cloud, which is putting businesses at a turning point in IT, where everything is becoming Hybrid, anyway.

The current definition of the forms of Hybrid infrastructure are easy to understand, and it’s important we differentiate between them for clarities sake:

  • Hybrid IT: The use of cloud service providers to augment on-premise infrastructure to deliver enhanced functionality and/or better service, so creating a tools that deliver service from the cloud and your LAN cooperatively.
  • Hybrid Cloud: Strictly speaking, and according to NIST, Hybrid Cloud is the use of two different types of cloud, i.e. Private and public cloud. However, I’m inclined to extend this definition in an enterprise context to include one or more enterprise cloud service providers working cooperatively and collaboratively to deliver better service to users, i.e. Microsoft Office 365 and Mimecast.

The natural progression for businesses follows a familiar path to the cloud. Very few CIOs I’ve met are keen to declare IT Bankruptcy and move to the cloud overnight; most are looking for a slow gradual cloud adoption, but all acknowledge there’s a wholesale migration of IT services to the cloud. We’ve called this strategy on-ramping to the cloud, and Just Enough On-Site, in the past.

Given the hesitancy of CIOs to move everything to the cloud over a long weekend, and Cain’s advice that you “Don’t play dice with your email” - most CIOs are keeping a set of core applications and services on the network, but augmenting them with Cloud services that deliver cheaper, faster, more feature rich and more innovative services from the Cloud. Take these two common email management tasks, email security and email archiving. I doubt there’s anyone, other than the uber cost-conscious, that given the chance to plan their infrastructure again would deploy on-premise gateways and archives. We all choose cloud first for many reasons, not least of which cloud means we don’t have to deploy any hardware.

Once cloud has been used to augment on-premise solutions, like Microsoft Exchange for example, the business starts to think more openly about a total cloud adoption. What was once a taboo subject starts to be more acceptable to executives who would have stifled the cloud out of fear or a lack of understanding in the past.

But, and here’s the gotcha...while executives have been worrying about the media-peddled hysteria over cloud security or cloud data privacy issues, the cloud has been slowly creeping into businesses via an unusual back door; and I’m not talking about BYOD or the consumerisation of IT.

What do I mean? For a long time now your IT team have been more and more hands-off their own infrastructure, they’ve applied less patches, updated fewer signatures and only ever accessed their on-premise management applications through web based GUIs or at worst Remote Desktops. Admittedly the cloud has many more facets than just management, but the point I want to make is that all of a sudden everything is touched by the cloud or a basic form of hybrid IT—and the IT team simply become caretakers of the application or appliance rather than true owners.

Take email security gateways for example; these gateways have always been a high maintenance applications, even after initial deployment administrators fine tune policies and definitions to make sure malware doesn’t slip through. The problem became so bad and the malware arms race so fast, that SEG vendors had to start pushing updates down to these appliances in order to keep them up to date. This red queen effect problem effectively saw the appliance vendor take over the management of the device from its owner, who is left with the odd policy update and configuration change. Suddenly, the appliance is more managed service than traditional box in a server room.  It’s certainly a less obvious way enterprises are being deployed into a hybrid model.

The same is true for many other classically on-premise services, take applying patches with Windows Update as another example; although I can’t claim every single benefit of the cloud (elastic scalability, subscription based etc.) the removal of 95% of management from the network by software vendors effectively means everything is now hybrid in one form or another.

While I can’t say the simple act of automatic updates or security enhancements is a true Hybrid IT model, it’s certainly a fair way down the road that leads to the benefits of adding a 3rd party cloud solutions to your network. Software vendors managing on-premise software remotely means less ownership, less management, less administration and a cheaper cost to service by freeing up administrators time. How far down that road you go simply becomes a matter of time.

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