Great Expectations

Great Expectations

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Mike Michalik, CTO at Evoque Data Center Solutions explains what IT managers are looking for from their cloud providers – and what it means for the future of hybrid


If you’re a fan of the TV series Happy Days, the phrase “jumping the shark” carries special significance. It refers to the episode where Henry Winkler’s character, the Fonz, literally jumped a shark while on water skis.

That was then…today, jumping the shark refers to a concept (as defined by Wikipedia) that is “a misguided attempt at generating new publicity for something once, but no longer, widely popular; the attempt serves instead to highlight the irrelevance of what it intends to promote.” In that context, I will suggest that the word hybrid has jumped the shark in the technology world.

When it was first introduced into the vernacular several years ago, hybrid was a novel concept.  It told IT executives that they no longer had to remain tethered to one approach.  For instance, data centre administrators could keep some of their data on-site, while migrating the rest to this new-fangled thing called the cloud.  Taken together, the “hybrid cloud” held the promise of delivering significant benefits while promising significantly lower costs.  After all, capex costs could be sharply reduced, covering increased opex costs with the promise of a lower overall TCO. 

Well, it didn’t quite work out that way.  Too many companies discovered that downloading data that they uploaded to the cloud incurred significant, unexpected charges.  A recent survey from AFCOM found that 58% of respondents are reporting repatriation of workloads away from cloud back to on-prem data centres or colocation, with cost a major factor in their decision.  A May 2021 blog from Andreessen Horowitz says: “Just because the cloud paradox exists — where cloud is cheaper and better early on and more costly later in a company’s evolution — doesn’t mean a company has to passively accept it without planning for it. Make sure your system architects are aware of the potential for repatriation early on, because by the time cloud costs start to catch up to or even outpace revenue growth, it’s too late.”

And at a time when IBM has taken to airing TV commercials proclaiming the benefits of the hybrid cloud, it’s become apparent that the concept…even the use of the word hybrid itself…has jumped the IT shark.

Here’s why: hybrid denotes a here-and-now infrastructure, with well-defined benefits and shortcomings.  IT professionals, however, are already seeking the next phase in the evolution; they understand that hybrid is a methodology for infrastructure, and are looking instead for the strategy that will move them beyond hybrid, and deliver a competitive advantage.

This is not to say that the cloud should not be a viable part of a company’s strategy.  It should. But increasingly, IT leaders are looking for maximum flexibility, and the ability to deploy across an entire range of infrastructure options, from cloud to colocation…even to the on-prem assets they may still control.  Moreover, they are moving away from a traditional infrastructure-first approach, where companies merely threw more servers, more racks and more cages (how about the cloud piece?) at the problem.  This was a tactical, relatively short-term solution.  Today, it’s simply outmoded.

Instead, they’re beginning to consider a more strategic, application-first approach, where the key questions become, which applications will we need to function most effectively and under which configuration?  Where will those applications be developed?  What workloads will be produced as a result?  Where will all of this reside, today as well as tomorrow?  And as they evolve, how will we be able to migrate them from one location to another?

In addition, consider that the decision on which data centre assets to leverage and deploy comes at a relatively low level, made after more strategic considerations have already been addressed.  Companies that start their approach by figuring what data centre infrastructure should be deployed are missing the opportunity to think in a greater overall direction.  IT directors who understand that aspect are discussing issues like these at a higher level, engaging their superiors in C-level discussions to determine the most effective overall course moving forward, with the tactical decisions subsequently being made.  The application-first, more strategic approach, enables companies to achieve that objective.  It also empowers vendors and consultants to interact with their clients as more of a trusted partner at a higher level, rather than be seen as merely a tactical company…one to whom RFPs can be delivered, but no more.

Flexibility is the key in this scenario:  applications can initially reside in a colo center, then migrated to the cloud, while datasets created in the cloud may be moved back into a colo environment. The flexibility associated with this scenario is key – spend portability. Enabling companies to determine the best way to allocate their financial and data resources over time without the lock-in, is an emerging and increasingly critical concept that forward-thinking executives are studying and adopting.  It gives them maximum flexibility as their needs evolve to deploy assets where they will do the most good without worrying about the extra cost traditionally associated with that flexibility.

When all of this is taken together, it points to a clear direction: companies that want to think ahead must discard the traditional thinking that focused on only colo, or cloud, or on-prem. Instead, they must take a holistic view of what they need and how they propose to accomplish their business objective, both for now and in the future. 

Which leaves those IT professionals still placing primacy on the limiting concept of “hybrid” at a disadvantage, especially moving forward. The challenges they must consider and address as their workloads continually change in size are far greater than what they see today, and the need to design and implement strategies around multiple generations of infrastructures will play a key role in defining their success.

It’s worth noting that Happy Days was cancelled the year after the Fonz “jumped the shark.” In the same vein, it’s pretty obvious that hybrid is on a similar evolutionary course to become just another infrastructure option to be considered as companies determine their best approach…the kind that will help them gain and maintain a competitive advantage in the marketplace.

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