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Future-proofing IT for the fourth industrial revolution: How hybrid cloud fits the bill

Philip Hammond proclaimed in this year’s Spring Budget speech that the fourth industrial revolution is “well and truly under way.” Building on the third industrial revolution that saw the rise of electrons and IT to automate production, this new digital wave is characterised by a fusion of technologies that blurs the lines between the physical, digital and biological spheres.

As noted by Hammond, everyone will need to be “agile and bold” to embrace this revolution. But what does this really mean for companies and IT teams with regard to daily activities, and how might it affect the bottom line as budgets are being set for 2018 spending?

From a technology perspective, the far-flung-future forecast will see current emerging technologies such as Artificial intelligence (AI), the Internet of Things (IoT), automation and big data play a key part of this digitally-led revolution. The potential to transform business models as well as IT operations by changing the way we work and the applications on which we depend is tremendous.

In the more immediate future however, benefits of the ‘fourth wave’ that organisations can reap at an operational level will depend on their adoption and use of cloud technology. This is already happening – IDC forecasts that public cloud spending alone will reach $122.5 billion in 2017, which is a huge increase of 24.4% over 2016 and promises to continue expanding exponentially in 2018.

The transition and journey to cloud from the more ‘traditional’ technology is not one that happens overnight, and although Gartner’s latest CEO survey found that 42% of CEO’s have already begun their digital business transformation journeys, it’s important to still protect legacy infrastructures while integrating cloud implementations. That said, investing in cloud-first plans will go a long way towards future-proofing infrastructure. Gartner predicts that by 2020, a ‘no- cloud’ policy will be as rare as a ‘no-internet’ policy is today.

So with large, long-term investment in mind, which solutions may fulfill budget criteria and aid the transition to cloud while bridging this gap at the same time?

The cloud has come a long way in its evolution from a basic data storage model to a powerful, cost effective platform for increased agility and responsiveness. A technology expansion that started with mass adoption of virtualised environments over the last decade has now progressed to cloud infrastructure, and focuses on enabling IT to play a bigger part in overall business goals by leveraging scalability, performance, development and budgeting.

Many companies are however understandably cautious of fully depending on the cloud for IT requirements right from the get go, which could explain the current popularity of a cloud hybrid model. A hybrid model allows each workload to sit in the appropriate infrastructure – on-premises, private or public cloud – to optimise performance and meet budgetary requirements.

The adoption of cloud – and hybrid cloud environments in particular – brings about a new iteration of an age old IT issue, that of how to combine legacy infrastructure with new technologies. Whether it is because it takes time to fully migrate to the new technology or that the combination of new and old is the best plan moving forward, the process can be a complex, ongoing one to manage.

To combat this issue, businesses and CTOs must evaluate management tools for both current needs and future requirements, including considering vendor lock-in, development cycles of the product itself and the prospect of the vendor being at the forefront of supporting technology trends.

In summary, if the fourth industrial revolution really is well and truly upon us, then companies should align IT budgets to accommodate the new technology that will continue to penetrate both the business landscape and consumer markets. Hybrid cloud is an ideal IT model for cost saving and offers greater business benefits through its ability to scale and take advantage of the continuous data output of applications.

As we look forward to 2018, it is becoming increasingly important to invest in software that can support hybrid cloud models to deliver seamless delivery and continuous uptime. And possibly most importantly, organisations need to make provisions for the innovations of the far-flung-future, which may not be so far away.

Why hybrid cloud can work for you – and the three steps to a successful environment

Research from a recent Gartner study predicts that by 2019, “more than 30 percent of the 100 largest vendors’ new software investments will have shifted from cloud-first to cloud-only”. The study considers the idea that “cloud-first, and even cloud-only is replacing the no-cloud attitude” that has dominated corporations in recent years. With there being no preference between public or private cloud, it indicates that organisations are moving in the direction of a hybrid cloud future.

This is in line with conversations we have every day with organisations in the UK, as most indicate that their three-year roadmap includes building a hybrid environment. While “on-premises” environments will not go away completely, there is significant agility and cost savings associated with introducing a hybrid approach in delivering IT resources to key applications and development services.

Everyone throws around the term hybrid cloud, but what does it really mean?

What is the hybrid cloud?

Hybrid cloud is a combination of on-premises and off-premises (or cloud based) IT infrastructure platforms. Enabling an organisation to run applications on multiple platforms increases efficiency and choice, as no one platform is right for everything.  A hybrid approach allows an organisation to choose the right platform for the right workload, for the right price.  This agility speeds up ‘time to market’ for many organisations, and improves the capabilities to service employees and customers. 

This shift is, in some ways, a no brainer in the medium term, however it is not without challenges and risks. It’s difficult for organisations used to ‘on premises’ single vendor or single platform architectures to build, manage and protect hybrid cloud environments.  While introducing multiple platforms drives efficiency and choice, it also drives complexity and risk for organisations ill prepared to address this shift in strategy correctly.  Given these concerns, if you are considering a move towards a hybrid cloud environment, what should you consider and how do you get there?

Hybrid cloud considerations

There are advantages to choosing a hybrid cloud environment from an efficiency standpoint. Lower costs, pay as you go models, and access to a wide breadth of services summarise some of the broad positive outcomes. These outcomes enable businesses to run tests, build new systems, and adapt faster. Best of all, organisations can be quicker to market.

However, it’s important to consider that the changes required to enable a hybrid cloud can be risky and time consuming, so you may need a different group of tools to protect the environments that are created. To address and avoid risk, protection and immediate recovery is key. 

Traditional migration and disaster recovery methods that are based on individual pieces of hardware can be disruptive to the production systems they protect and are no longer adequate in the hybrid cloud or multi-platform world. These traditional replication, migration and recovery tools are by design incapable of protecting applications and environments that may span multiple ‘on-premises’ and cloud platforms. 

It’s no surprise that traditional ways of protecting applications in “on-premises-only” environments won’t suffice in the hybrid cloud world.  Thus, we believe there are important things to consider when planning the shift towards a hybrid cloud environment that will reduce the risk and prevent environmental exposure and complexity.

Three steps to ensure a successful hybrid cloud environment

Creating a successful hybrid cloud environment in three steps:

Planning: Planning is significantly easier if your environment has a protection, mobility, and testing suite or platform that is agnostic to the infrastructure you’re running your IT on. By design, you can make changes to which platforms you use (on-premises and/or cloud based) with no protection dependencies tied to that individual on-premises or cloud platform. Furthermore, an agnostic platform allows you to avoid introducing organisational risk when making changes, thus providing the agility desired when deciding to move to a hybrid cloud IT environment in the first place. 

Testing: Any changes to your environment, whether internal on-premises changes or more complex shifts to cloud based resources, will carry organisational risk.  Thus, testing whether changes will be executed smoothly and successfully is the bedrock of any serious hybrid-cloud strategy.  Downtime, data loss, and the costs associated with infrastructure changes can be significant risks an organisation moving to hybrid cloud needs to consider.  A successful hybrid cloud environment can be enabled by, and will continue to allow for testing capabilities that can assess whether the applications absorbing infrastructure or platform change will remain available through and after those changes occur. 

Future proofing: When introducing new platforms into your IT environment, future proofing your decisions is critical.  Questions such as ‘can we protect our applications once they are moved to a new private/hybrid/public cloud platform?’ and ‘if this new platform doesn’t meet our expectations, can we move again easily?’ are very important considerations to think through before any changes are actually made. 

There are numerous advantages to having a hybrid cloud. If you do your due diligence and take the right steps to get there, you’ll find the rewards can be significant from both a cost as well as efficiency standpoint.