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Over the course of the pandemic, we have seen an increasingly high number of businesses undertaking digital transformation projects that involve combining on-site data storage with cloud technologies. The demand for this hybrid IT model stems from an accelerated need for accessibility to all systems from all locations, which has been popularised by the rise in remote working.
In many cases, there is a desire to shift entire IT estates to the cloud, with the assumption that a ‘lift and shift’ of all systems is both feasible and practical – which often just isn’t the case.
While an entire shift to the cloud is often considered the best way to modernise legacy IT systems, what many businesses fail to understand is that a careful re-examination of their IT architecture is first required to identify performance gaps within the existing system. From there, firms can identify the right blend of on-prem and cloud-based solutions to address these issues.
There is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to finding the perfect hybrid IT set-up, and organisations need to analyse each application or system they use to rate each as either ‘migrate’, ‘remove’, ‘re-write’ or ‘retain as is’ (on-prem). This allows organisations to then create a complete hybrid IT system that is customised to individual business need.
Hybrid IT challenges and considerations
Hybrid IT allows businesses to exploit the benefits of cloud computing, including flexibility and scalability, but there are challenges to be considered when exploring adoption of this model.
1. Evaluating the capability and long-term use case of software – organisations need to review all existing applications to ascertain which are too old or outdated to work within a cloud environment. Many legacy software applications, such as those written in the 70’s and 80’s, are non-compatible with cloud solutions. It may therefore be more cost and time efficient for firms to operate these legacy apps on-prem rather than attempting to re-write or re-structure their underlying design.
The long-term strategy for each application is another factor to consider. Rather than squandering resources on migrating all applications, some of which may be retired soon as the business evolves, firms should focus on understanding what’s currently working well for each application.
For example, they may have a strong mission critical system that works well on-prem. In this scenario, the application should remain within the existing traditional IT system if migration won’t add any real value to the business or its operations.
2. Cost issues – the cost of migrating all data workloads to the cloud depends on the technical complexity of the organisation’s existing IT infrastructure and its reliance on legacy systems.
If existing on-prem applications are highly adaptable and it’s a simple case of ‘lifting and shifting’ them, they can be easily moved to the cloud as the process will be simple and low cost.
However, for businesses that are looking to shift large volumes of data to the cloud, the overall cost may be significantly higher than maintaining existing on-prem data centres.
3. Security concerns – cloud storage may expose the business to new or additional security risks, that are unfamiliar to existing security controls set up for on-prem apps.
For example, shared cloud environments put the protection of an organisation’s data in the hands of a provider – and a breach of the overall system can put this data at risk. Some businesses may also have data sovereignty considerations, with certain data needing to be stored in specific countries, or concerns around privacy related to cloud storage providers.
Organisations moving to a hybrid IT model should therefore re-evaluate their existing cybersecurity solutions to ensure both on-site data centres and cloud infrastructure are equally protected against security threats, and that sensitive or business-critical documents are stored in the most appropriate location.
Digital transformation as a continuous improvement process
While digital transformation has previously been viewed as a project with only four phases (initiation, planning, execution, and closeout), we’re seeing the industry shift its perspective on hybrid IT to a product lifecycle approach, where the storage of applications is monitored and evolved constantly.
Organisations should install a dedicated team to work continuously on this, pulling in the support of third-party experts as needed, as the business requirements and customer needs continue to change. This prevents IT costs from shooting up unexpectedly or sporadically and provides the business with more consistency in terms of managing their overall hybrid IT system.
Overall, if implemented properly hybrid IT holds the key to driving a successful digital transformation program – providing scalability and flexibility whilst ensuring that existing IT investment isn’t wasted.