The next BriefingsDirect digital transformation case study explores how UK IT consultancy OCSL has set its sights on the holy grail of hybrid IT — helping its clients to find and attain the right mix of hybrid cloud.
We’ll now explore how each enterprise — and perhaps even units within each enterprise — determines the path to a proper mix of public and private cloud. Closer to home, they’re looking at the proper fit of converged infrastructure, hyper-converged infrastructure (HCI), and software-defined data center (SDDC) platforms.
Implementing such a services-attuned architecture may be the most viable means to dynamically apportion applications and data support among and between cloud and on-premises deployments.
To describe how to rationalize the right mix of hybrid cloud and hybrid IT services along with infrastructure choices on-premises, we are joined by Mark Skelton, Head of Consultancy at OCSL in London. The discussion is moderated by BriefingsDirect’s Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: People increasingly want to have some IT on premises, and they want public cloud — with some available continuum between them. But deciding the right mix is difficult and probably something that’s going to change over time. What drivers are you seeing now as organizations make this determination?
Skelton: It’s a blend of lot of things. We’ve been working with enterprises for a long time on their hybrid and cloud messaging. Our clients have been struggling just to understand what hybrid really means, but also how we make hybrid a reality, and how to get started, because it really is a minefield. You look at what Microsoft is doing, what AWS is doing, and what HPE is doing in their technologies. There’s so much out there. How do they get started?
We’ve been struggling in the last 18 months to get customers on that journey and get started. But now, because technology is advancing, we’re seeing customers starting to embrace it and starting to evolve and transform into those things. And, we’ve matured our models and frameworks as well to help customer adoption.
Gardner: Do you see the rationale for hybrid IT shaking down to an economic equation? Is it to try to take advantage of technologies that are available? Is it about compliance and security? You’re probably temped to say all of the above, but I’m looking for what’s driving the top-of-mind decision-making now.
Start with the economics
Skelton: The initial decision-making process begins with the economics. I think everyone has bought into the marketing messages from the public cloud providers saying, “We can reduce your costs, we can reduce your overhead — and not just from a culture perspective, but from management, from personal perspective, and from a technology solutions perspective.”
CIOs, and even financial officers, are seeing economics as the tipping point they need to go into a hybrid cloud, or even all into a public cloud. But it’s not always cheap to put everything into a public cloud. When we look at business cases with clients, it’s the long-term investment we look at. Over time, it’s not always cheap to put things into public cloud. That’s where hybrid started to come back into the front of people’s minds.
We can use public cloud for the right workloads and where they want to be flexible and burst and be a bit more agile or even give global reach to long global businesses, but then keep the crown jewels back inside secured data centers where they’re known and trusted and closer to some of the key, critical systems.
So, it starts with the finance side of the things, but quickly evolves beyond that, and financial decisions aren’t the only reasons why people are going to public or hybrid cloud.
Gardner: In a more perfect world, we’d be able to move things back and forth with ease and simplicity, where we could take the A/B testing-type of approach to a public and private cloud decision. We’re not quite there yet, but do you see a day where that choice about public and private will be dynamic — and perhaps among multiple clouds or multi-cloud hybrid environment?
Skelton: Absolutely. I think multi-cloud is the Nirvana for every organization, just because there isn’t one-size-fits-all for every type of work. We’ve been talking about it for quite a long time. The technology hasn’t really been there to underpin multi-cloud and truly make it easy to move on-premises to public or vice versa. But I think now we’re getting there with technology.
Are we there yet? No, there are still a few big releases coming, things that we’re waiting to be released to market, which will help simplify that multi-cloud and the ability to migrate up and back, but we’re just not there yet, in my opinion.
Gardner: We might be tempted to break this out between applications and data. Application workloads might be a bit more flexible across a continuum of hybrid cloud, but other considerations are brought to the data. That can be security, regulation, control, compliance, data sovereignty, GDPR, and so forth. Are you seeing your customers looking at this divide between applications and data, and how they are able to rationalize one versus the other?
Sketon: Applications, as you have just mentioned, are the simpler things to move into a cloud model, but the data is really the crown jewels of the business, and people are nervous about putting that into public cloud. So what we’re seeing lot of is putting applications into the public cloud for the agility, elasticity, and global reach and trying to keep data on-premises because they’re nervous about those breaches in the service providers’ data centers.
That’s what we are seeing, but we are seeing an uprising of things like object storage, so we’re working with Scality, for example, and they have a unique solution for blending public and on-premises solutions, so we can pin things to certain platforms in a secure data center and then, where the data is not quite critical, move it into a public cloud environment.
Gardner: It sounds like you’ve been quite busy. Please tell us about OCSL, an overview of your company and where you’re focusing most of your efforts in terms of hybrid computing.
Rebrand and refresh
Skelton: OCSL had been around for 26 years as a business. Recently, we’ve been through a re-brand and a refresh of what we are focusing on, and we’re moving more to a services organization, leading with our people and our consultants.
We’re focusing on transforming customers and clients into the cloud environment, whether that’s applications or, if it’s data center, cloud, or hybrid cloud. We’re trying to get customers on that journey of transformation and engaging with business-level people and business requirements and working out how we make cloud a reality, rather than just saying there’s a product and you go and do whatever you want with it. We’re finding out what those businesses want, what are the key requirements, and then finding the right cloud models that to fit that.
Gardner: So many organizations are facing not just a retrofit or a rethinking around IT, but truly a digital transformation for the entire organization. There are many cases of sloughing off business lines, and other cases of acquiring. It’s an interesting time in terms of a mass reconfiguration of businesses and how they identify themselves.
Skelton: What’s changed for me is, when I go and speak to a customer, I’m no longer just speaking to the IT guys, I’m actually engaging with the finance officers, the marketing officers, the digital officers — that’s he common one that is creeping up now. And it’s a very different conversation.
We’re looking at business outcomes now, rather than focusing on, “I need this disk, this product.” It’s more: “I need to deliver this service back to the business.” That’s how we’re changing as a business. It’s doing that business consultancy, engaging with that, and then finding the right solutions to fit requirements and truly transform the business.
Gardner: Of course, HPE has been going through transformations itself for the past several years, and that doesn’t seem to be slowing up much. Tell us about the alliance between OCSL and HPE. How do you come together as a whole greater than the sum of the parts?
Skelton: HPE is transforming and becoming a more agile organization, with some of the spinoffs that we’ve had recently aiding that agility. OCSL has worked in partnership with HPE for many years, and it’s all about going to market together and working together to engage with the customers at right level and find the right solutions. We’ve had great success with that over many years.
Gardner: Now, let’s go to the “show rather than tell” part of our discussion. Are there some examples that you can look to, clients that you work with, that have progressed through a transition to hybrid computing, hybrid cloud, and enjoyed certain benefits or found unintended consequences that we can learn from?
Skelton: We’ve had a lot of successes in the last 12 months as I’m taking clients on the journey to hybrid cloud. One of the key ones that resonates with me is a legal firm that we’ve been working with. They were in a bit of a state. They had an infrastructure that was aging, was unstable, and wasn’t delivering quality service back to the lawyers that were trying to embrace technology — so mobile devices, dictation software, those kind of things.
We came in with a first prospectus on how we would actually address some of those problems. We challenged them, and said that we need to go through a stabilization phase. Public cloud is not going to be the immediate answer. They’re being courted by the big vendors, as everyone is, about public cloud and they were saying it was the Nirvana for them.
We challenged that and we got them to a stable platform first, built on HPE hardware. We got instant stability for them. So, the business saw immediate returns and delivery of service. It’s all about getting that impactful thing back to the business, first and foremost.
Building cloud model
Now, we’re working through each of their service lines, looking at how we can break them up and transform them into a cloud model. That involves breaking down those apps, deconstructing the apps, and thinking about how we can use pockets of public cloud in line with the hybrid on-premise in our data-center infrastructure.
They’ve now started to see real innovative solutions taking that business forward, but they got instant stability.
Gardner: Were there any situations where organizations were very high-minded and fanciful about what they were going to get from cloud that may have led to some disappointment — so unintended consequences. Maybe others might benefit from hindsight. What do you look out for, now that you have been doing this for a while in terms of hybrid cloud adoption?
Skelton: One of the things I’ve seen a lot of with cloud is that people have bought into the messaging from the big public cloud vendors about how they can just turn on services and keep consuming, consuming, consuming. A lot of people have gotten themselves into a state where bills have been rising and rising, and the economics are looking ridiculous. The finance officers are now coming back and saying they need to rein that back in. How do they put some control around that?
That’s where hybrid is helping, because if you start to hook up some workloads back in an isolated data center, you start to move some of those workloads back. But the key for me is that it comes down to putting some thought process into what you’re putting into cloud. Just think through to how can you transform and use the services properly. Don’t just turn everything on, because it’s there and it’s click of a button away, but actually think about put some design and planning into adopting cloud.
Gardner: It also sounds like the IT people might need to go out and have a pint with the procurement people and learn a few basics about good contract writing, terms and conditions, and putting in clauses that allow you to back out, if needed. Is that something that we should be mindful of — IT being in the procurement mode as well as specifying technology mode?
Skelton: Procurement definitely needs to be involved in the initial set-up with the cloud whenever they’re committing to a consumption number, but then once that’s done, it’s IT’s responsibility in terms of how they are consuming that. Procurement needs to be involved all the way through in keeping constant track of what’s going on; and that’s not happening.
The IT guys don’t really care about the cost; they care about the widgets and turning things on and playing around that. I don’t think they really realized how much this is going to cost-back. So yeah, there is a bit of disjoint in lots of organizations in terms of procurement in the upfront piece, and then it goes away, and then IT comes in and spends all of the money.
Gardner: In the complex service delivery environment, that procurement function probably should be constant and vigilant.
Big change in procurement
Skelton: Procurement departments are going to change. We’re starting to see that in some of the bigger organizations. They’re closer to the IT departments. They need to understand that technology and what’s being used, but that’s quite rare at the moment. I think that probably over the next 12 months, that’s going to be a big change in the larger organizations.
Gardner: Before we close, let’s take a look to the future. A year or two from now, if we sit down again, I imagine that more micro services will be involved and containerization will have an effect, where the complexity of services and what we even think of as an application could be quite different, more of an API-driven environment perhaps.
So the complexity about managing your cloud and hybrid cloud to find the right mix, and pricing that, and being vigilant about whether you’re getting your money’s worth or not, seems to be something where we should start thinking about applying artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning, what I like to call BotOps, something that is going to be there for you automatically without human intervention.
Does that sound on track to you, and do you think that we need to start looking to advanced automation and even AI-driven automation to manage this complex divide between organizations and cloud providers?
Skelton: You hit a lot of key points there in terms of where the future is going. I think we are still in this phase if we start trying to build the right platforms to be ready for the future. So we see the recent releases of HPE Synergy for example, being able to support these modern platforms, and that’s really allowing us to then embrace things like micro services. Docker and Mesosphere are two types of platforms that will disrupt organizations and the way we do things, but you need to find the right platform first.
Hopefully, in 12 months, we can have those platforms and we can then start to embrace some of this great new technology and really rethink our applications. And it’s a challenge to the ISPs. They’ve got to work out how they can take advantage of some of these technologies.
We’re seeing a lot of talk about Cervalis and computing. It’s where there is nothing and you need to spin up results as and when you need to. The classic use case for that is Uber; and they have built a whole business on that Cervalis type model. I think that in 12 months time, we’re going to see a lot more of that and more of the enterprise type organizations.
I don’t think we have it quite clear in our minds how we’re going to embrace that but it’s the ISV community that really needs to start driving that. Beyond that, it’s absolutely with AI and bots. We’re all going to be talking to computers, and they’re going to be responding with very human sorts of reactions. That’s the next way.
I am bringing that into enterprise organizations for how we can solve some business challenges. Service test management is one of the use cases where we’re seeing, in some of our clients, whether they can get immediate response from bots and things like that to common queries, so they don’t need as many support staff. It’s already starting to happen.
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