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Hybrid IT: The Model of Choice for a Growing Set of Business Challenges

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By now nearly every organization has taken advantage of cloud computing in some form or other—Infrastructure as as Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS). Countless studies have shown that the business benefits of cloud are just too significant to pass up.

That said, few organizations are prepared to adopt a “cloud only” approach. In many cases that’s because they continue to derive the maximum return from their systems already in place, on-premise or hosted. As a result, organizations today often operate mixed environments incorporating public and private clouds along with core systems of record like ERP. According to a recent Harvard Business Review study, 63% of organizations are now pursuing such a “hybrid IT” approach.1

So what, exactly, are the main advantages of a hybrid IT model, which often combines core ERP systems of record with cloud solutions of engagement? To find out, IDG contacted some IT decision makers with first-hand experience via Twitter. The upshot: While hybrid IT may be taking center stage at many companies today, it’s doing so for a number of different reasons.

Addressing the need for speed

Not surprisingly, nearly all respondents cited hybrid IT’s ability to foster agility and innovation at a much faster pace and often at far lower costs by using “best of breed” solutions versus “best of suite” solutions from mega vendors.

“IT needs to move smarter and faster to advance customer-facing experiences,” said Isaac Sacolik (@nyike), Principal and CIO at StarCIO. “These areas of IT need the innovation, flexibility, and automation that agile, cloud, DevOps, citizen development programs, and self-service analytical tools enable. IT also needs to consider how best to modernize existing ERP and other business operational systems, where workflows need to be made more efficient.”

Krish Subramanian (@krishnan) founder and research analyst at Rishidot Research may have reservations about the long-term prospects of hybrid IT, but in the short term he said “the main advantage is with the newer use cases it can support. Moving ERP to the cloud is going to take a long time, but a hybrid IT model can support use cases like mobile and IoT, which are very difficult with traditional systems.”

“It introduces a new delivery model into existing operational systems,” observed John Purrier (@johnpur), CTO at Automic Software. “By adopting cloud solutions of engagement, enterprises get the advantages of agility and speed of deployment as part of their digital transformations, while maintaining the bedrock IT systems of record that the business depends upon.”

George Hadjiyanis (@GDHadji), Senior Director of Industry Solutions at Workiva, is a big fan of agility as well.

“Integrating cloud solutions into the ERP systems of record provides the best of both worlds: the agility of the cloud with the right level of control from a centralized management system,” he said. “Relying on the ‘single source of truth’ of operational data enables consistency and other systems, so you can scale into the cloud without compromising your security, policies, and controls.”

But as Shayne Higdon (@ShayneHigdon), President of Performance and Analytics at BMC Software, pointed out, it’s not only about speed.

“More companies are shifting IT workloads and functionality into the cloud to speed deployment [and] increase service availability and business agility,” he said. “The key to successfully managing that hybrid model is selecting a solution that enables better understanding of where applications and data from multiple providers sit in private, public, and multi-cloud environments while providing an unparalleled user experience.”

The case for flexibility

A recurring refrain among these executives is that changing customer expectations and new business processes and systems call for more flexibility from IT.

“Our research indicates that 77% of enterprises are actively pursuing a hybrid cloud strategy, with one in three migrating their production workloads to the cloud,” said Yugal Joshi, Practice Director at Everest Group. “An enterprise can protect its existing investments and leverage best-of-breed cloud services to drive business value. And the hybrid model . . . provides the needed level of security, elasticity, and application-aligned infrastructure better than a ‘one size fits all’ ecosystem.”

That rings true for Adam Bergh (@ajbergh), Data Center Practice Lead at Presidio, as well.

“The main advantage of hybrid IT or hybrid-cloud application design has always been having the ‘right tool for the right job,’” he said. “Hybrid approaches between public and private cloud can put data where it’s most effectively used: On-premises data for low-latency, high-throughput workloads, and public cloud for elastic compute scalability and geo-distribution of data. Having tools in place to seamlessly move data in and out of the public cloud securely and quickly is paramount to getting your most critical data where it needs to be.”

Another fan of flexibility is Mark Thiele (@mthiele10), Chief Strategy Officer at Apcera, who also shared some advice.

“The potential advantages of a hybrid model . . . are myriad,” he said. “If you have a wide range of legacy environments that depend on or supply ERP data and will likely remain in your data center, having the ERP core local is a benefit for control and performance. Your engagement systems being in the cloud allow you to distribute and scale the workloads that are most likely to be stressed. The key will be how you support those engagement systems from your primary data sets.”

Some suggested the potential of hybrid IT may be even greater than that.

“Organizations often start building services and processes as mobile services,” explained Brad Mallard (@BradMallard), CTO of Cloud Services at Fujitsu EMEA. “However, the real value to most businesses is when you integrate and automate the end-to-end process to the back-end core business systems. Integration, automation, and orchestration of true hybrid IT breathes new life into existing investments, focuses on delivering real business value, and enables digital transformation that penetrates deep into the business.”

For Chris Downie (@cdownie1), CEO of Flexential, hybrid IT is a way to “put the cloud to the test” without undertaking a full migration all at once.

“Businesses can move ancillary applications to the cloud and keep mission-critical applications physical and on-premises until IT can fully evaluate the benefits and security capabilities of the cloud offering they’ve chosen,” he said. “Ultimately, enterprises of all types should consider a hybrid IT model to house all their data safely and efficiently – while still helping them maintain their IT infrastructure from the back office. It can enable them to be faster, more competitive, and more innovative, without compromising security or regulatory compliance positions.”

Lest hybrid IT be thought of as almost too much of a good thing, some of these executives did sound a cautionary note.

“CIOs and their teams need to understand the multiple models that hybrid requires of IT organizations, which require careful attention to process, people, and technology,” said Joanna Young (@jcycio), Senior Managing Director at BlueLine Associates. “There is art and science to ensuring the advantages are realized.”

“We all see the potential and savings that cloud solutions can provide,” said Ian Phillips (@IanHabs), Assistant Head and Director of Computing and ICT at The Haberdashers’ Aske’s Boys’ School. “But still there is an uneasiness . . . to commit for so many reasons, including security, lack of best practices, media horror stories, service interruptions from main players like Amazon, fragility of local infrastructure, and institutional inertia.”

Conclusion

At its most basic level, the goal of hybrid IT is, as the Harvard Business Review study put it, “to get the right data to the right place at the right time consistently and securely in order to deliver a good experience to users or customers.”2

Or as StarCIO’s Sacolick aptly summarized it: “A hybrid IT model enables organization to consider the right practices, technologies, and infrastructure for a growing set of challenges.”

Hari Candadai, who heads Global Product Marketing and Strategy at Rimini Street, makes the point that stable, proven ERP apps like SAP and Oracle have dramatically improved the way we do business. But in an era when disruption is everywhere and changes are coming at digital speed, they can’t always deliver the new features and capabilities at the speed you need—if at all.

“Today’s disruptors are innovating now with a hybrid IT model without waiting months or years for legacy ERP solutions to deliver the features like mobility, big data, social, and a great user experience,” he says. “Hybrid IT lets you keep what’s working for you in the core yet take advantage of new and innovative technologies in the cloud that can have a significant impact on your business while minimizing cost and risk.”

Want to learn more? Read Achieve the Best of Both Worlds with SAP and Hybrid IT.

1 “Hybrid IT Takes Center Stage,” Harvard Business Review, June 2016
2 ibid.