Making the hybrid cloud work

Last year, hybrid cloud was a priority for many enterprises, although with a certain amount of confusion about what it involved. This year, those ambitious plans are showing up as an approach to hybrid cloud that relies on platform as a service (PaaS) to take full advantage of cloud models.

The enterprise view of hybrid cloud is becoming clearer and more sophisticated than simply using cloud alongside existing on-premises IT, says Adam Warby CEO of managed services provider Avanade (a Microsoft/Accenture joint venture). “The way I’ve seen it evolve is that people have been getting more focused on hybrid IT than on hybrid cloud, and that’s relevant because most people are having to deal with managing legacy and existing applications while trying to reinvent what they’re doing as a business …. What we’re seeing now are different workloads that really do need the ability to work seamlessly between on-premises and in-public cloud.”

As an example, Warby points to the way you can run SAP workloads, including Business Suite and SAP HANA, on Azure and integrate services like Fieldglass, SuccessFactors and Concur with Office 365. SAP was a key workload for Avanade client Rio Tinto, “who are moving their entire IT as a service into the cloud,” Warby says. “It’s important we have that kind of flexibility. I think pubic cloud will be the dominant workload over time, but the ability to do close to the processor, high volume transactions close to the data is still going to be important.”

Distributed data for retail businesses is another area where Warby sees hybrid cloud becoming increasingly important. “This is the world of NoSQL and being able to do predictive analytics. Not ‘the sun was shining yesterday and I should have been selling ice cream’ but ‘the sun is shining today and I will sell ice cream, I’ll move them to the front of the stores.’ Most retailers are still doing trend analytics on data that’s 24 or 48 hours old.”

The new generation of on-premises applications that are designed for cloud integration, like the 2016 releases of SharePoint and SQL Server that connect to Office 365 and Azure services, are built for this kind of hybrid cloud solution, Warby says. “Cloud-native architecture that’s built to work on premise is actually the reality of how this has to work because ‘cloudifying’ on-premise architecture is a fairly difficult thing to do.”

Hybrid services and platforms

For CIOs, Warby says, the “hybrid IT” approach means becoming a service broker. “I don’t care if it’s in the public cloud or in our data centers, what are the services that run the company and are mission critical?” Starting with those services is the way to simplify hybrid cloud decisions. “When you start to work back from ‘What are the services?’ to ‘What’s available?’ [to] ‘What can I and can’t I do in public cloud versus on premise?’ then I think the data questions and the architecture questions become clearer.”

Enterprises are already used to this complexity in their existing business apps, which are becoming more distributed and tend to rely on a range of different services and platforms.

“When we ask people what platforms are you using, the answer is ‘yes’,” jokes Abner Germanow, senior director of strategic marketing at software analytics companyNew Relic. “If we ask ‘are you using Amazon, Docker, OpenStack, Cloud Foundry?’ the answer is ‘yes’. The list is a country mile long.”

It’s the same hybrid approach when it comes to business applications, Germanow says. “Not only are people using third-party services for infrastructure but they’re also using them in the front end, and they’re also using business partners to run specific services for them. The back-end service could be payment processing, it could be some computation, it could even be something coming from HR. Even for B2B applications, more and more they’re dependent on either other business units or on other third parties with service levels.”

That matches what Paul Veitch, senior director for technology services at Avanade, is seeing: The developers most interested in cross-platform .NET Core are matching it with Azure PaaS services.

Germanow says most cloud decisions as being about improving software. “When you move to cloud you need a short-term victory. Sometimes it’s performance gain, because your infrastructure was ten years old and this new one isn’t. But once you’re there, the expectation isn’t just that you’re saving money, it’s ‘where are my new apps?’.”

“In order to do private cloud well, you have to be really good at software. You can’t say ‘we want to do private cloud and we’re also interested in getting started in devops’.” — Abner Germanow

The level of sophistication in software that private cloud demands currently puts it out of reach for many businesses, Germanow says. “In order to do private cloud well, you have to be really good at software. You can’t say ‘we want to do private cloud and we’re also interested in getting started in devops’.” Germanow points to PayPal as one of the most successful users of private cloud, but adds that “they have 80 people who do nothing but work on their software layer.”