by Nicholas D. Evans

A brief history of hybrid IT: How today’s digital business gets done

Nov 21, 20145 mins
Digital TransformationIT Leadership

Today we live in an extremely hybrid IT world due to a number of macro-level factors including the maturity of the IT industry and the Consumerization of IT over the past decade. Much like the automotive industry where the first hybrid car was actually built in 1899, hybrid IT is not a new phenomenon, but today it creates complexities for CIOs that are leading to new architectures and new approaches for operating and managing the systems associated with hybrid IT.

In prior years, much of the hybrid IT debate centered around operating systems and application development languages. At that time, the “hybrid IT” term hadn’t yet been coined (or at least wasn’t in widespread circulation) and the challenge of the time was in dealing with heterogeneous operating systems (e.g. Windows vs. Unix) and development environments (e.g. .Net vs. Java). Back then the objective was more around an interoperability and integration play as opposed to what we now consider as a component of hybrid IT. Each disparate system played a unique role in the computing environment and integration was just a necessity for data exchange.

Today, hybrid IT has reached into every aspect of IT from servers and infrastructure, to applications and devices. The objective has moved far beyond interoperability and integration into more of an optimization play to get the most benefit from each element of the highly distributed and highly virtualized infrastructure.

Take the following examples:

  • Cloud Computing – The infrastructural shift to cloud computing means that organizations have to manage across a variety of deployment environments from traditional, to outsourced, to internal and hosted private clouds, and to public clouds. By so doing, they can optimize workload placement based on requirements of cost and flexibility versus security and compliance.
  • Social Business – The collaborative shift to social business means that work processes have to support group collaboration and decision-making (many-to-many) as well as traditional collaborative paradigms. By so doing, organizations can unleash the problem-solving skills of vast numbers of employees, customers and partners to collectively innovate their products and services.  
  • Mobile – The device shift to mobility means that user interfaces and applications have to be designed for multi-channel customer access. For their employees, organizations also need to manage the balance between end user choice and flexibility in supported device types versus IT control and standardization. By so doing, they can provide a highly personalized, digital user experience across a variety of devices and channels.
  • Big Data – The informational shift to unstructured data and real time analytics means that organizations have to transform their information infrastructures to deal with not just highly structured data as in the past, but with massive amounts of unstructured data flooding into the enterprise. By so doing, they can tap into new informational insights for improved operations and competitive advantage.
  • Security – The shift of cybersecurity vulnerability to IT “assets” located outside the traditional security perimeter means that organizations have to transform their cybersecurity posture to support a new, highly adaptive perimeter protecting assets external to the traditional perimeter as well as a zero-trust model to protect against insider threats.

You can see that the external simplicity of today’s applications masks internal complexity for CIOs. Hybrid IT encompasses not just hybrid clouds, but hybrid collaboration techniques, hybrid user experiences, hybrid applications, hybrid devices, hybrid data structures and hybrid security models. In addition, hybrid IT needs to enable the IT organization to act as a service broker to provide the business with a suite of services sourced from many external third-party providers, such as cloud providers, as well as internally.

To deliver on the promise of hybrid IT, new architectures and approaches are needed so that IT departments can cost-effectively manage and support this complexity. The concepts of software-defined data centers and intelligent automation will be key to realizing this goal since they will help to reduce the manual effort involved through pre-defined and dynamically-defined policies. In addition, effective governance and an integrated view of service management across this hybrid IT ecosystem will be vital.

Hybrid IT is perhaps the mirror image of digital business. As digital business continues its march towards digitizing physical business models, processes, products and services, then hybrid IT responds by providing a palette of technology options for optimizing how this work is achieved.

On the digital business side, almost everything is hybrid (meaning digital and physical) by definition. From hybrid work processes split between humans and machines; to hybrid retail models with clicks and bricks, and show-rooming and reverse show-rooming; to hybrid transportation with autonomous cars and smart parking, to many other examples.

Whether it’s hybrid IT or digital business, the ultimate goal is finding the optimized mix of value levers which include efficiency, automation, cost savings, time savings, revenue, simplicity, convenience and overall end user experience. These are well-known business “elements,” but we can now optimize them to a far greater degree to get the best of both worlds.