The hybrid cloud remains the top infrastructure initiative in the enterprise, but it is a huge undertaking and leads into such deep, uncharted waters that it is by no means a smooth transition.
Quite naturally, as the difficulties mount, more voices are starting to call the wisdom of the hybrid cloud into question. Does it really provide the benefits that supporters claim? Is it really the best way to prepare for the emerging digital economy? What is the real ROI? For enterprise executives responsible for building and managing hybrid infrastructure, however, the key questions remain: What will success look like? And if not the hybrid cloud, what?
For both the enterprise and the platforms vendors that support them, the cloud is a prime example of digital Darwinism, or survival of the fittest technology, says tech consultant Phil Wainwright. The initial impulse of many established organizations is to build a bridge between the old and the new, but this is not necessarily the best approach to developing advanced functionality and business processes, because it delays the onset of the new working environment and extends the reliance on aging technologies at a time of rapid change. As Microsoft’s Andreessen Horowitz and Steven Sinofsky noted in a recent report, the hybrid cloud places too much attention on the seam between the old and the new, rather than the functionality that businesses will need to compete.
Already, the enterprise is coming face-to-face with the many integration challenges that exist within the hybrid cloud, says Scribe Software’s Eddie Cole (no relation). From data migration and security challenges to the functionality of applications themselves, things on the cloud are radically different than in the data center, so it will take more than just investment in technology to make it all work. Employee retraining, outside consulting and entirely new data management schemes are only a few of the challenges that lie ahead. Without a broad-based approach, the enterprise runs the risk of simply recreating the same data silos that currently exist within legacy infrastructure.
Done right, of course, the hybrid cloud gives you the best of both worlds, says Tech Vibes’ Rick Delgado. That is, you get the scalability and flexibility of the cloud with the comfort of knowing that critical apps and data remain safely behind the firewall. This is the traditional justification for a fully functioning hybrid cloud, however, and as we’ve noted, the challenge lies with building the proper data environment, not leveraging it when all is said and done.
And the reality of the situation is that before you get to the hybrid cloud, you have to build a private cloud, and on this level the enterprise track record is not good. As I noted previously, attendees at a recent Gartner conference presented a laundry list of issues when it came to their private clouds, including technology and cost setbacks and various operational problems. This was echoed late last month when RightScale, which provides management tools for public and private clouds, showed only a slight uptick in private cloud usage in January compared to a year earlier, while public cloud is still seeing steady growth. Are these surveys merely evidence of growing pains in the hybrid market? Perhaps, but if hybrid solutions don’t exhibit real progress soon, enterprises large and small may simply side with the simplicity of the public option for the bulk of their data activities.
Like on Wall Street, the primary drivers of advanced data infrastructure are fear and greed. Fear of the unknown aspects of cloud computing ebbs and flows in direct proportion to thoughts of infinitely scalable, eminently configurable and low-cost computing infrastructure.
It is way too early to write off the hybrid cloud completely, but the voices of dissent are growing and for the moment at least, the enterprise seems to be listening.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.