The Hybrid Cloud Questions IBM i Shops Should Be Asking
November 7, 2016 Lief Morin
When companies speak with service providers about hybrid cloud technology, many of them want to know right off the bat how much money they can save. That’s the wrong question to ask. The first questions should be: What business challenges do we face? Can the cloud help to address these challenges? And to what extent should we be using the cloud?
A transition to the cloud or a hybrid environment can provide companies with many benefits aside from cost savings, such as a broader set of services, a highly resilient architecture and the addition of a professional organization that manages the IT environment, allowing the internal IT team to focus on more strategic endeavors. But the benefits are not automatic, and they won’t come at all if the hybrid IT strategy is misguided. We’re seeing a pattern in which adoption of cloud technology comes up in every client conversation, with the lure of cost savings driving many of these discussions.
However, the cloud is not for everyone. When it comes to deploying cloud services, including hybrid environments, there is not one perfect strategy to suit every situation. Companies must be open to evaluating what works in their environments and what technology solutions best meet their needs. Among the areas they need to explore in depth are:
A key consideration is fiscal reality. A business needs to understand the true costs of cloud services for the organization, including paying for the data center where the data lives–whether it’s on-premises or hosted. There are also considerations like personnel expenses that need to be bundled in, as well as support and opportunity costs. Sometimes these are obvious, but not always.
Here’s an example: Clients often assume that if they have to amortize the cost of a Power Systems hardware investment over three or five years, surely the cloud will be cheaper. Certainly, avoiding the raw hardware cost is attractive. However, companies still must spend capital in the data center (whether it is their own or a colocation facility) and more significantly, the management and operations of the new hybrid architecture.
Also, if recent investments in on-premises technology were large, the fiscal prudence of moving to the cloud gets questionable. Such investments come with lease payments or a depreciation schedule, and no company is going to want to take a large write down of a very recent massive investment. Companies need to look at the whole picture when they are considering a major shift like cloud transformation. Otherwise, the total cost savings might not be what they expect.
Once companies answer the hard fiscal questions, it’s also important to know which workloads and applications are best suited to the cloud. While it might make sense for some apps to shift to a cloud service, others might be best kept on-premises. For example, custom applications, which are massively prevalent in the IBM i world, are highly customized. It’s difficult to re-architect that code, so it’s tempting to simply re-host such apps in cloud instances, where the economics make sense.
At a time when the pressure is high to move applications and data to the cloud, this is an important conversation to have. Compliance and security (as well as cost) need to figure into the decision, as does the question of whether the internal team is more or less capable of supporting mission-critical applications than an external one. The wrong choices can spell trouble for organizations.
When it comes to security, how secure and reliable is the cloud service or hybrid IT environment, and can the organization tolerate the level of risk involved? Data security is one of the highest priorities within enterprises today, and the idea of moving data to external data centers still frightens a lot of business and IT executives. In this case, a little bit of healthy fear is not a bad thing. Companies should spend the time to evaluate the security technology and policies in place at the cloud provider, and whether those policies are sufficient to meet their security, privacy and regulatory needs.
In many cases, the provider is most likely more invested, secure and staffed with experts than the on-premises data center, so companies shouldn’t just opt for the devil they know. By partnering with providers that have hired the highest-level skillsets, businesses across industries and infrastructure types can get an advantage they would not have by relying solely on their own IT teams.
Finally, companies need to consider the various consumption model flavors. There is backup and recovery as a service (BRaaS), which provides reliable, high-speed full and incremental backups of data to the cloud on a daily basis. BRaaS provides a popular entry point to hybrid cloud for clients, who instantly alleviate the burden of nightly tape backups when they choose to re-host with a cloud provider instead. Another on-ramp to the cloud is disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS), a customized data-mirroring solution that provides fast, efficient data replication and disaster recovery for critical systems. Data is securely distributed, allowing companies to continue operations without interruption–and without the enormous investment in secondary physical data centers.
Beyond BRaaS and DRaaS, infrastructure as a service (IaaS) provides critical IT functions and architecture such as storage, servers and networking components, on a subscription basis. Platform as a service (PaaS) includes hosted applications that reside on a service provider’s servers. Rather than installing its own in-house hardware, software and servers, a company can develop, test and run applications more quickly by leveraging the cloud.
Nobody wakes up in the morning and says, “Today, I’m going to buy a hybrid cloud.” The move to the cloud–at whatever level–can’t be a knee-jerk decision based on gut instinct or the promises of the first provider to come along. Particularly in a market where many offers come from resellers rather than true partners that can deliver continuous service and support, IT teams need to follow a buyer-beware policy. The questions IT teams start out asking about hybrid cloud might shift, but their determination to get solid answers should not.
Lief Morin is the president of Key Information Systems, a regional systems integrator with world-class compute, storage, and networking solutions and professional services for the most advanced software-defined data centers. These competencies are tightly complemented by a full suite of data center capabilities, including private and hybrid cloud offerings, connectivity services, colocation facilities, and managed services.