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Hybrid cloud fails: 7 strategies to avoid future pain

Gavin Jolliffe

If you’re looking to modernise your old virtual infrastructure to a new all-singing hybrid cloud, you need to know how to avoid the common challenges that many digital transformations encounter.

Cloud computing has been central to modern business strategy for a number of years. Organisations expect flexible, agile solutions that enable business continuity and transformation for now and for the future.

While firms aspire to have robust cloud strategies in place, recent studies* confirm that current cloud environments are convoluted and struggle to achieve the business or technical benefit they expected.

So for those who are looking to modernise their creaking data centre, support strategic business objectives, tidy up the long tail of technical debt and historic spaghetti of organic hardware and software purchases, the deployment of a new shiny hybrid cloud promises many great things.

The reality is that the ability to realise the long-term benefits of modernisation is less about the chosen technology and more about the approach and what happens after deployment, so let’s focus on how to avoid pain and achieve more.

*Forrester study 2021: Optimise your cloud management strategy and succeed

What is hybrid cloud and what can it deliver?

In its most simple form, hybrid cloud offers the ability to manage business applications from both private cloud (dedicated cloud infrastructure, hosted or managed either internally or by a third party) or public cloud (SaaS applications and hyperscaler services including AWS, Azure and Google).  These may operate independently or be integrated together in some way.

A common path to hybrid cloud for many larger organisations has been the ongoing evolution of data centre virtualisation. As technologies have advanced, the modernisation of the private cloud as a key foundation for both new capabilities and extensions to public cloud services has been one of the driving factors for change.

These benefits can include aspects such as improved management, security, compliance, automation, scalability and application development. We’re going to focus on this data centre modernisation path, as it remains one of the most prevalent routes to current day hybrid cloud.

What are the common outcomes of doing it badly?

Setting high expectations by selling the dream to the business then underdelivering, or even worse delivering a poorer experience than before inevitably leads to people losing their jobs, business frustration, or the technology being abandoned. Some of the most common outcomes of doing it badly are:

  • Poor operational management: Lack of skills and single person dependencies leads to services breaking or features not being taken advantage of. Reduced maintenance and misunderstood change results in increased incidents and growing information security risks, which can be avoided by keeping your infrastructure up to date with the latest practices.
  • Less bang for buck: Failure to mitigate sprawl, understand public cloud pricing or the cost of newly required technical skills leads to cost sustainability issues and inability to meet business case expectations.
  • Governance exposure: Implementing new technology and service delivery approaches without re-aligning the operating model leads to security, compliance, data protection and auditing gaps.
  • Failure to evolve: Not continuing to deliver the roadmap post go-live constrains the adoption of advanced technology features or transition of services. This can result in poorer business outcomes and a risk that the return on the cloud investment for the business never fully materialises.

7 strategies to avoid pain

The strategies follow similar patterns to many common digital transformation scenarios.  Here is a list of the most common ways to increase the chances of hybrid cloud success for both implementation and the longer term:

  • Plan ahead: Ensure IT has strong relationships with the business and key stakeholders before committing, and ensure the strategic plan is understood, agreed, and communicated frequently throughout transformation. Capture today’s objectives but also look to discuss the future as there will always be a new challenge or opportunity that rises to the top.
  • What will it really cost: The trend towards cloud operational expenditure (OPEX) purchasing can make it more difficult for CFOs to understand which technology investments are supporting what outcomes. Accurate ROI analysis can be complex but overly simplistic approaches can overlook many cost benefits. Digital transformations are complex, and risk significantly underestimating the full cost of adoption and the benefits that access to wider services can provide. Ensuring that forecasts include supporting technologies such as storage and data transfer alongside investment cycles to adopt new functionality can help minimise surprises.  Starting with a clear set of target KPIs that can be measured both during and beyond transformation are powerful tools to keep the business onside for the long term.
  • Don’t forget the wider business group: More than just the CTO, there are a team of people and roles that cannot be ignored for good governance, including CFO, CISO, Audit, Risk, Compliance, and other key stakeholders. A good objective from the outset is to ensure a clear understanding of how the infrastructure is or will be adding value to each of the offices in the C-Suite and, more than that, can adapt to maintain and increase that value as circumstances change.
  • Piecemeal or off-the-shelf private cloud: Creating an extensible IT foundation by cherry picking individual components from different vendors may offer benefits but also increases complexity, compatibility risk and maintenance overheads. As the number of software technologies and integration requirements increase, consider whether this piecemeal approach is still practical or sustainable. Like public cloud, there are more and more commodity alternatives becoming available, alongside try before you buy options which provide real world experiences before committing.
  • Jumping into a brand new, high performance car can lead to learner driver crashes: The step up from traditional virtualisation to hybrid cloud can be more significant than anticipated. If you need the functionality and performance that an integrated cloud platform provides, first check you have the capability to maintain it. Stage your roadmap development or find partners that can support sustainable and continuing value growth.
Rising from 24% to 33%, access to the required skilled resources becomes a more recognised challenge when businesses transition from the cloud adoption phase to a steady state of ongoing operational management

Challenge yourself with some simple questions: Do we have the skills and experience to design it? Do I need to operate it all short term or long term? Are those skills available? How often will I need them? How much do they cost to keep and maintain? High performance cars may be fast but require specialists to keep them on the road – undertaking an internal skills review at the start and defining an appropriate target operating model is an invaluable reality check exercise.

    Built-in futureproofing: Ensuring any cloud investment is able to extend to and integrate with public clouds and SaaS services in the way the business expects, or may require in the future is important. Consider proving key scenarios and trialling cloud services across providers ensuring there are exit paths – this will reduce the risk of unexpected surprises later.

    Plan to deal with the old stuff and act on it fast: Modernising could mean refreshing hardware and software versions or full-scale adoption of new technology. The transition period of trying to maintain both old and new worlds at the same time can easily cause IT meltdown. Organisations can risk ending up somewhere between old infrastructure being neglected or new not being adopted, with both outcomes generating significant and avoidable risk and cost.  The most successful transformations plan to address the transition in their budgets and timeframes, and how to burst resourcing to run both in parallel. 

Address the potential pain points before they derail your next journey

The sooner you can lock in an approach which proactively works to catch future potential diversions and pitfalls, the sooner you can move forward with greater confidence and business support.

This starts at the very beginning of the process with assessing the needs, forecasting now and potential future scenarios, getting everyone on the same page with regard to approach, identifying the target state, and recognising operational impacts. These key strategies will allow the business to focus more on the future gains and less on future firefighting.

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