From private to hybrid cloud: what’s the best way forward?

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Deployments of hybrid-cloud computing may be low, but aspirations are high, according to new research from IT market research company Gartner. By the end of 2017, say analysts at the company, almost half of all large organisations will have hybrid-cloud deployments.

That puts hybrid cloud at the roughly the same stage that private-cloud computing was at back in 2010, since when it has moved “from aspiration to tentative reality.” It’s only “tentative” at this stage, they add, because while cost is an important consideration, the business case for private-cloud computing cannot rely on lower costs alone.

What Gartner seems to be saying is that virtualisation is only the first step to private cloud and, from there, to hybrid-cloud deployment. Virtualising servers may reduce capital expenses - but it’s only through deeper automation that the true benefits of a private cloud are achieved.

Adding “usage metrics, self-service offerings and automated provisioning” is what turns a virtualised IT environment into a private cloud - but that required significant further investment, one that comes without a significant reduction in operational costs, according to Gartner’s Thomas Bittman. For that reason, he adds, “the driving factor for going that next step should primarily be agility.”

And since agility should be the key driver to private cloud computing, he continues, IT needs “to understand where agility could make a difference in current services, understand what new services would be useful if provided with agility and work closely with IT’s customers to make those determinations.”

In fact, in the face of private-cloud technologies that are relatively immature and continue to evolve, many early adopters are forced to undertake a lot of custom work in order to get private clouds to support business needs. And even more challenging for many IT teams are the transformational adjustments needed to use the technology, says Bittman: “An ingrained IT culture focused on technical expertise doesn’t fit a fully automated, self-service model that requires a service-oriented, team approach.”

In many cases, the solution will lie in creating a separate organisation outside of traditional IT processes - an ‘incubator’ environment - and focusing first on a simple pilot project that has buy-in from both IT and end users.

Right now, progress made with private cloud varies enormously, according to Gartner. Most deployments are starting small, with a limited scope of functionality. However, as those private cloud portfolios grow the resulting cloud infrastructures will likely be based on the technologies chosen for pilot projects. The good news for IT decision-makers is that, in a market with a lot of vendors vying for market share, the winners and losers will be determined very quickly and because of the importance of integration throughout the cloud management platform, smaller players will likely be acquired or go out of business within the next few years.

"Vendors are promoting private cloud computing as 'the next thing' for infrastructure and operations - and it is, but only for the right services," says Bittman. "Virtualisation is a horizontal, very broad trend, impacting a high percentage of IT infrastructure. Private cloud is a specific style of computing that will leverage virtualisation, but is not appropriate for all services. While the majority of midsize and large organisations will build and deploy private cloud services over the next few years, private cloud will only be used for specific, appropriate services."

Where organisations do decide to deploy cloud services, the technology they choose matters tremendously, Gartner finds. While pilot projects will tend to start small, with limited functionality, the company’s analysts say it is important to choose a technology foundation that offers room for expansion - both in terms of functionality richness, and in terms of hybrid cloud interoperability for the future. The other alternative is to choose a technology that provides a rapid return on investment - for example, two years - with the possibility of changing technologies in the future.

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