Today ‘hybrid cloud’ has become a generic term that gets used to mean a million things to a million people. Here, I want to avoid generalisations and go deep into why the hybrid cloud has become the default IT focus for most mature organisations. I’ll provide some practical examples of why it has become the default IT architecture and a great example of how best to use it. In that way maybe we can edge forward to understanding the power of deploying modern IT workloads rather than just using hybrid as a throwaway word or conference meme.
Today, the number-one technical challenge for CIOs and CTOs is reaching the ability to deploy and shift workloads at any time. In the real world though, too many are still stuck with the anchor of legacy systems that weigh down attempts to move at speed and support the organisation optimally. Getting to a hybrid cloud world where it’s fast and convenient to move between private and public clouds means lower costs, reduced risks and having a bedrock for ongoing digital transformation where you can take advantage of new cloud-native technologies as they come along.
Cloud is a great fit for business because it suits the need for the adaptivity and velocity required in a world that, for largely macroeconomic reasons, has rapidly become dangerous and unpredictable. Cloud means IT only pays for what it uses, low-level administration, support across devices, on-tap scalability and superior cost controls, including the chance to make chargeback workable. It’s often more secure, more reliable, faster and offers inherent business continuity support. In other words, it rids IT of many of the shackles CIOs have wrestled with for decades.
But there are clouds and there are clouds. Managed clouds match the ethos of cloud advantages because they take away the need for IT to provide day-to-day support for operations. Cloud service providers help organisations they serve by providing a single-tenant solution that’s tailored to individual needs for performance, security, regulatory compliance and data protection. That liberates IT leaders to do things that add real value, such as providing the data analytics capability through which executives can deliver strategies that deliver genuine competitive differentiation.
How Containers Change Everything
Hybrid cloud is everywhere and a major enabler of this ubiquity is the rise in importance of containers, and Kubernetes especially. Gartner research released in May 2023 predicts that 15 per cent of on-premise workloads will run in containers by 2026, compared to just five per cent in 2022. And in 2022, Datadog found that nearly half of respondents to its survey use Kubernetes.
Containers allow the granularity and composability that we all seek today to bring flexibility into our IT systems and the wider business. Contrast the effect of microservices with the old monolithic applications and the practical differences become clear. In the old world, our scope for rapid change was gated by the fact that core applications were large, complex and full of internal and external dependencies. Move one element and you could never be sure if the application as a whole would stay up or retain performance.
Containers on the other hand support portability from on-premises platforms to public or private clouds. They also represent an excellent fit for ‘cloud-bursting’: that is, adding an overdrive to manage spikes in demand via the addition of small workloads that are virtualised, isolated and secure.
Kubernetes, in particular, has won favour because it enables the management and orchestration of containers. So, for example, clusters can be added to infrastructure to earn a performance upgrade or to bolster resilience.
Finally, containers and Kubernetes are great platforms for whatever comes next, such as cloud-native architectures, serverless and Platform as a Service.
An Example: How Brampton Blossoms with Data-Driven Decision-Making
It was the great General Electric CEO Jack Welch who said that “an organisation’s ability to learn, and translate that learning into action rapidly, is the ultimate competitive advantage”. Today, we use data and analytics to achieve that competitive advantage and to make smart, auditable decisions backed up by facts. So, when the Canadian city of Brampton, Ontario wanted to serve its citizens with better programmes and services, it set about creating a comprehensive data management platform that delivers many of the benefits outlined above in terms of flexibility in IT and broader operations.
Brampton, known as the “Flower Town” of Canada after its famous nurseries and greenhouses, wanted to supply its government workers with all the tools they needed to make data-driven decisions and make its services easily accessible to its 650,000 residents. To gain access to a fully-integrated data fabric, Brampton selected the ibi™ WebFOCUS business intelligence and analytics suite.
Later, in a pioneering move, it elected to move all components to the cloud for ease of access, value, and mobile device support from anywhere. Brampton uses managed cloud on Microsoft Azure with ibi™ WebFocus and Omni-Gen for data integration, plus DataMigrator and iWay Service Manager on-premises. This flexible hybrid cloud approach means the city can enjoy software, hosting and support from a single accountable source. It also means it can combine the power of data analytics with supported complementary Azure features such as elastic compute capacity.
Having this unified platform leaves staff free to focus on how best to serve Brampton’s citizens with law and order, transport, recreation, emergency, parking, licensing and other services. As an example of how reliable data and visual dashboards can impact organisations outside better-managed public travel and leisure site booking, Brampton can track bylaw infractions in real time to support rapid decision-making on appropriate responses, such as creating a public information campaign to warn of risks.
What to think about
Getting to an optimised cloud hybrid world such as that enjoyed by Brampton isn’t easy for mature organisations that will often have critical workloads that are hard to move. Over time, the trend has been away from ‘lift and shift’ towards a pragmatic approach that sees application modernisation come to the fore. You’re not alone in dealing with this pain but moving to a cloud-native world will repay efforts.
Do think carefully about who is managing your cloud and who is providing the cloud platform. Lock-in to a single cloud platform provider is a real concern so seek out providers that cover multiple cloud platforms. There are good reasons why some workloads work better on AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud, and the ability to move from one to another is highly valuable.
Finally, consider how you deploy and empower your people. Freed from the drudgery of traditional IT management, it’s crucial that you provide the budget and set up to think creatively about where IT can make a difference.
This then is the real meaning of hybrid cloud: an environment where it’s finally possible to do what IT was always intended to do for organisations. The rest is up to you.