Keeping your IT infrastructure in line with evolving application and business needs can be a challenge. Cloud promises to help, but services often come with caveats and constraints. So is there another option for avoiding a complex and expensive modernization exercise? One possibility, Hybrid IT-as-a-Service, “the third way” may be worth considering.
The Costs of Meeting Evolving IT Needs
In some businesses IT is considered an enabler of competitive advantage, while in others it is simply seen as part of the operational infrastructure. Even if it's the latter, business expectations of what IT should deliver, and how, are likely to be growing.
These expectations include demands around mobile technology, sharing and collaboration, and remote access. There are also demands for supporting all of these securely, while also ensuring access to data at all times. Add to this new applications that offer marketing and sales solutions, customer service management, time recording and billing, and even full-blown ERP systems. And when users and business managers see what’s now possible in terms of automation, analytics, integration with MS Office, access via mobile apps, and so on, expectations are raised even further.
Challenges often arise when expectations are mapped to costs. Hardware, systems software, backup and DR capability, plus all of the integration effort needed to get everything working together, takes time, skills and can be expensive. And let’s not forget the ongoing costs of running whatever you end up putting into place over the lifetime of the new or upgraded system, which may need to be repeated for multiple applications.
The Cloud Looks Attractive, But…
With these demands growing ever-greater, moving everything to the cloud can be tempting. Based on headline service specs and fees, you might think that a cloud solution will address your capex challenges and provide some welcome relief from that systems administration burden. But the more you explore things, the less cloud may look like a magic solution.
For one thing, while you can inexpensively rent access to raw computing and storage resources, with Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) you're still left with a lot on your plate. It's up to you to install and maintain your software stack, including whatever is required to handle security and access, and you also must determine what to do about data protection and DR.
With Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offerings, the service provider will take care of at least some of the aforementioned things. But then there are restrictions on how you may want to set everything up. For example, you may be constrained with regard to the tools and options made available to you from a management perspective. Fine if you're willing to make the switch and accept what the service provider has put into place, but problematic if you now must coordinate policy management processes between the PaaS environment and whatever you’re using on site. Furthermore, all of this comes at a cost, so it's arguable whether you save money.
While many businesses make both IaaS and PaaS services work for them, these are not the answer for all organizations for every application. Even if you evaluate the cloud option objectively, you could end up with an unfavourable business case. You then must consider any concerns you or your business stakeholders have about your critical and often sensitive business data residing in someone else's data centre. Such concerns could be based on subjective discomfort or more tangible issues to do with data sovereignty or compliance. Either way, the case for cloud could be weakened.
The Third Way
If these challenges sound familiar, it may be worth considering Hybrid IT-as-a-Service.
A relatively new offering, the idea behind Hybrid IT-as-a-Service is to provide many of the benefits of cloud, while allowing you to keep the physical IT infrastructure underpinning your systems in your own data centre or computer room. In IT industry parlance, we could put the approach into the category of “hybrid cloud”. As this is such an overloaded term, it's worth taking some time to look at the specifics of the architecture and the commercial model for Hybrid IT-as-a-Service.
From an architectural perspective, your servers, storage and software platform stack reside on site, along with as much of your data as you choose. The difference is that the service provider pre-integrates everything and delivers it as a total platform solution that has been specified, sized and pre-configured according to your requirements. The provider then delivers a remote monitoring, management and maintenance service that takes all of the pain out of keeping the core platform updated, secure and generally in shape from an operational perspective.
So far, it sounds like a combination of a custom appliance-like offering together with a remote managed service. So where does the cloud piece come in?
First, tools and mechanisms are included in the platform that hook into cloud storage services for backup and disaster recovery purposes. And the nice thing about the way this is done with some services is that all data is encrypted before it leaves your network. This means you get the advantages of inexpensive, convenient, long-term cloud-based secondary storage, but without most of the security and privacy concerns.
The other cloud-related attribute is the commercial model. Just as with a hosted service, there are no upfront capital costs. The solution is provided under contract on a subscription basis, with fees dependent on the size of the system and the options you choose. If you must increase capacity or add options later, the commercial arrangement allows for this. The objective is to deliver something as close to a cloud-based solution as possible, but without everything having to be hosted somewhere else.
To ensure openness and flexibility, some Hybrid IT-as-a-Service vendors, such as Zynstra, assemble their platforms from standard hardware and software components, so your applications will run on a familiar and open Windows or Linux stack. This also means that higher-level management tasks like directory and identity management and user provisioning can be dealt with using standard skills, expertise and existing processes.
Apart from removing a lot of administrative hassle and operational risk, one of the biggest benefits of the approach is that it future-proofs your infrastructure. Hybrid IT-as-a-Service begins with a modern and up-to-date platform, which supports application needs for several years to come from a dependency perspective. For additional peace of mind, the provider keeps all major components current through regular incremental updates, so nothing ever gets remotely close to obsolescence. Together with a systems architecture and commercial arrangement that allow capacity and throughput to scale with your business, this means costly and disruptive total migrations can largely become a thing of the past.
It can be hard to get yourself onto a firm and future-proof footing from an IT infrastructure perspective, particularly if your needs are evolving fast and resources are limited. But as business requirements continue to escalate, you can only extend the life of old systems and minimize upgrade activity so long before complexity and inefficiency come back to bite. While cloud promises a degree of relief, it also often comes with lots of caveats and constraints.
By bringing together the best of cloud with the best of on-premises IT, Hybrid IT-as-a-Service presents a third option that could be a better fit for your shorter and longer term needs. Your IT environment becomes simpler and easier to manage, while your business benefits from a stronger and more flexible platform for growth and development, and your capital budget doesn’t get hit every three to five years.
About the author
Dale Vileis a co-founder of analysts Freeform Dynamics and looks after the businesses core primary research program. This tracks IT-related buying behaviour and the impact of technology investments among mainstream enterprises, SMBs and public sector organisations.During his 30 year career, he has worked in enterprise IT delivery with companies such as Heineken and Glaxo, and has held sales, channel management and international market development roles within major IT vendors such as SAP, Oracle, Sybase and Nortel Networks.