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The Future Is Hybrid: Seven Paths to Get to the Cloud By @GerardoDada | @CloudExpo #Cloud

Hybrid IT means connecting cloud – whether SaaS or cloud native – with anything on-premises

If you work in IT, you're likely bombarded with vendor messaging about the cloud. Yes, understanding the cloud is a requirement for all technology professionals, but it may seem that the cloud is all anyone is talking about these days. And right or wrong, many IT departments are even adopting a cloud-first mentality.

Now, we do believe the cloud is the future of IT, but - and this is a big but - it's not for everything. The cloud is like using a rental car: quick and cheap, but a Hertz is not the ideal mode of transportation to get to the office every day. In other words, the cloud isn't the best solution for all workloads.

On the other hand, there is the fact that what we today call "on-premises" often refers to a virtualized environment in a colocation facility, which actually sounds very cloudy to me. Furthermore, Amazon and Rackspace now offer dedicated servers by the minute. The fact they are not shared violates one of the essential characteristics of a cloud service according to the NIST definition.

My point is that it's highly unlikely the majority of IT organizations will move entirely to the cloud, and that the lines between what is and what is not cloud are blurring.

The fact is, the future of IT is hybrid.

Defining Hybrid IT
There are various definitions for hybrid IT, but for our purposes here, we'll use Forrester's simple definition: Hybrid IT means connecting cloud - whether SaaS or cloud native - with anything on-premises; even if the connection is simply for verifying credentials or transferring business data.

With this definition in hand, you can see that nearly every business today is hybrid to at least some degree, and regardless of where they're at in cloud adoption, more is coming. The key question is how that happens - the term cloud describes a group of technologies that can be used in different ways. Let's explore the seven ways an IT organization can progress down the cloud pathway.

The Seven Models of Hybrid IT Adoption

  • Do nothing: Even if you "do nothing," you will still have a hybrid IT environment. Nearly every organization uses SaaS applications such as DropBox, Salesforce, Confluence, Office 365 or HubSpot. In fact, most marketing departments alone use 30 to 70 SaaS cloud applications, and most can be monitored by services such as Pingdom from the cloud.
  • Private cloud: Most organizations will transform their internal IT departments to look like a private cloud - an elastic, software provisioned and measured service. Some companies will go the virtualization route, while others will implement an actual private cloud platform like OpenStack. The difference between these will be very small to none when it comes to how much they resemble a true cloud.
  • Test/Dev in the cloud: Test/QA and development environments are notorious for their infrastructure requirements and ephemeral nature, which make them a natural fit for the cloud. This is usually the first step in taking advantage of the cloud because it's limited risk and high in benefits. It's also a great way for development teams to build experience with cloud technologies.
  • Cloudify existing applications: Cloudifying means moving components of applications or workloads to the cloud. For example, most Web applications should be storing images, large files and videos in the cloud where they can enjoy the benefits of a CDN and get the load of Web servers. Another common practice is to move DR/HA sites to the cloud where they can be remotely activated in minutes and deployed in multiple geographies without having to deal with multiple datacenters or colocation facilities.
  • Lift and shift: Once an application has been developed and tested in the cloud, and perhaps its DR site also hosted in the cloud, it might make sense to move the main application to the cloud, too. The term lift and shift implies there are no major architectural changes, and that the cloud is being used almost as an extension of hosting. During this process, it's not uncommon to also cloudify some components of a workload, such as using a CDN, as explained before, or using a Database as a service (DBaaS) instead of a full database instance on a dedicated cloud server.
  • New project in the cloud: Often times, IT needs to replace an application with a new one. During this process, it's a good idea to think about starting the new application in the cloud. Let's say an IT department is replacing an internal portal and collaboration tool with the latest version of SharePoint. It would be smart to evaluate how such a workload could run in the cloud. These projects are usually line of business applications that maintain their traditional architecture. In this sense, they are similar to lift and shift applications, except there is no migration process; it's a new application replacing an existing one.
  • Cloud first apps: Cloud-first applications are those developed specifically to run in the cloud and architected to take advantage of cloud services. They embrace service orientation, APIs, software-provisioned hardware and built-in redundancy. These often use "modern" languages and frameworks, such as JavaScript/HTML5, NGINX, Perl, etc., and open source components, such as NoSQL databases. The development teams behind them usually embrace DevOps principles and implement continuous development and continuous integration. An example is a SaaS company with a system that dynamically provisions servers based on customer load. These servers can be provisioned on a public or private cloud based on resource availability and cost in seconds without any human intervention.

What Is the Right Path for Your Organization?
There is no one-size-fits-all path to the cloud for every IT organization. The decision will need to be made based on the specific requirements, variability and growth forecast of each workload. Most likely, the average IT department will end up with a mix of these seven deployment models. However, there are a couple things that apply across the board:

  • Have a hybrid cloud mindset: Independently of the architecture of the application and the logo outside the building where one's servers reside, a cloud mindset is important. DevOps and the cloud have implemented new practices, tools and processes that bring benefits to development and IT operations in general. These can be defined as a cloud mindset, which can be summarized in seven key principles, as defined in detail here.
  • Build a roadmap: The smart thing to do for any IT department is to build a roadmap to develop the knowledge needed to make smart decisions when it comes to cloud, even if the decision is to do nothing. For IT management, it is important to build a roadmap to build knowledge, to implement some of these principles of cloudy thinking and then to build a cloud adoption roadmap based on a workload by workload evaluation that considers requirements, potential upside, costs and urgency.

Welcome to the world of Hybrid IT.

More Stories By Gerardo A Dada

Gerardo A Dada is Vice President of Product Marketing and Strategy for SolarWinds’ database and applications business globally. He is a technologist who has been at the center of the Web, mobile, social and cloud revolutions at companies like Rackspace, Microsoft, Motorola, Vignette and Bazaarvoice. He has been involved with database technologies from dBase to BTrieve to SQL Server and NoSQL and DBaaS in the cloud.

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