The next BriefingsDirect Voice of the Analyst interview examines the growing need for proper rationalizing of which apps, workloads, services and data should go where across a hybrid IT continuum.
Managing hybrid IT necessitates not only a choice between public cloud and private cloud, but a more granular approach to picking and choosing which assets go where based on performance, costs, compliance, and business agility.
Here to report on how to begin to better assess what IT variables should be managed and thoughtfully applied to any cloud model is Mark Peters, Practice Director and Senior Analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG). The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Now that cloud adoption is gaining steam, it may be time to step back and assess what works and what doesn’t. In past IT adoption patterns, we’ve seen a rapid embrace that sometimes ends with at least a temporary hangover. Sometimes, it’s complexity or runaway or unmanaged costs, or even usage patterns that can’t be controlled. Mark, is it too soon to begin assessing best practices in identifying ways to hedge against any ill effects from runaway adoption of cloud?
Peters: The short answer, Dana, is no. It’s not that the IT world is that different. It’s just that we have more and different tools. And that is really what hybrid comes down to — available tools.
It’s not that those tools themselves demand a new way of doing things. They offer the opportunity to continue to think about what you want. But if I have one repeated statement as we go through this, it will be that it’s not about focusing on the tools, it’s about focusing on what you’re trying to get done. You just happen to have more and different tools now.
Gardner: We hear sometimes that at as high as board of director levels, they are telling people to go cloud-first, or just dump IT all together. That strikes me as an overreaction. If we’re looking at tools and to what they do best, is cloud so good that we can actually just go cloud-first or cloud-only?
Cloudy cloud adoption
Peters: Assuming you’re speaking about management by objectives (MBO), doing cloud or cloud-only because that’s what someone with a C-level title saw on a Microsoft cloud ad on TV and decided that is right, well — that clouds everything.
You do see increasingly different people outside of IT becoming involved in the decision. When I say outside of IT, I mean outside of the operational side of IT.
You get other functions involved in making demands. And because the cloud can be so easy to consume, you see people just running off and deploying some software-as-a-service (SaaS) or infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) model because it looked easy to do, and they didn’t want to wait for the internal IT to make the change.
All of the research we do shows that the world is hybrid for as far ahead as we can see.
Running away from internal IT and on-premises IT is not going to be a good idea for most organizations — at least for a considerable chunk of their workloads. All of the research we do shows that the world is hybrid for as far ahead as we can see.
Gardner: I certainly agree with that. If it’s all then about a mix of things, how do I determine the correct mix? And if it’s a correct mix between just a public cloud and private cloud, how do I then properly adjust to considerations about applications as opposed to data, as opposed to bringing in microservices and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) when they’re the best fit?
How do we begin to rationalize all of this better? Because I think we’ve gotten to the point where we need to gain some maturity in terms of the consumption of hybrid IT.
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Peters: I often talk about what I call the assumption gap. And the assumption gap is just that moment where we move from one side where it’s okay to have lots of questions about something, in this case, in IT. And then on the other side of this gap or chasm, to use a well-worn phrase, is where it’s not okay to ask anything because you’ll see you don’t know what you’re talking about. And that assumption gap seems to happen imperceptibly and very fast at some moment.
So, what is hybrid IT? I think we fall into the trap of allowing ourselves to believe that having some on-premises workloads and applications and some off-premises workloads and applications is hybrid IT. I do not think it is. It’s using a couple of tools for different things.
It’s like having a Prius and a big diesel and/or gas F-150 pickup truck in your garage and saying, “I have two hybrid vehicles.” No, you have one of each, or some of each. Just because someone has put an application or a backup off into the cloud, “Oh, yeah. Well, I’m hybrid.” No, you’re not really.
The cloud approach
The cloud is an approach. It’s not a thing per se. It’s another way. As I said earlier, it’s another tool that you have in the IT arsenal. So how do you start figuring what goes where?
I don’t think there are simple answers, because it would be just as sensible a question to say, “Well, what should go on flash or what should go on disk, or what should go on tape, or what should go on paper?” My point being, such decisions are situational to individual companies, to the stage of that company’s life, and to the budgets they have. And they’re not only situational — they’re also dynamic.
I want to give a couple of examples because I think they will stick with people. Number one is you take something like email, a pretty popular application; everyone runs email. In some organizations, that is the crucial application. They cannot run without it. Probably, what you and I do would fall into that category. But there are other businesses where it’s far less important than the factory running or the delivery vans getting out on time. So, they could have different applications that are way more important than email.
When instant messaging (IM) first came out, Yahoo IM text came out, to be precise. They used to do the maintenance between 9 am and 5 pm because it was just a tool to chat to your friends with at night. And now you have businesses that rely on that. So, clearly, the ability to instant message and text between us is now crucial. The stock exchange in Chicago runs on it. IM is a very important tool.
The answer is not that you or I have the ability to tell any given company, “Well, x application should go onsite and Y application should go offsite or into a cloud,” because it will vary between businesses and vary across time.
If something is or becomes mission-critical or high-risk, it is more likely that you’ll want the feeling of security, I’m picking my words very carefully, of having it … onsite.
You have to figure out what you’re trying to get done before you figure out what you’re going to do with it.
But the extent to which full-production apps are being moved to the cloud is growing every day. That’s what our research shows us. The quick answer is you have to figure out what you’re trying to get done before you figure out what you’re going to do it with.
Gardner: Before we go into learning more about how organizations can better know themselves and therefore understand the right mix, let’s learn more about you, Mark.
Tell us about yourself, your organization at ESG. How long have you been an IT industry analyst?
Peters: I grew up in my working life in the UK and then in Europe, working on the vendor side of IT. I grew up in storage, and I haven’t really escaped it. These days I run ESG’s infrastructure practice. The integration and the interoperability between the various elements of infrastructure have become more important than the individual components. I stayed on the vendor side for many years working in the UK, then in Europe, and now in Colorado. I joined ESG 10 years ago.
Lessons learned from storage
Gardner: It’s interesting that you mentioned storage, and the example of whether it should be flash or spinning media, or tape. It seems to me that maybe we can learn from what we’ve seen happen in a hybrid environment within storage and extrapolate to how that pertains to a larger IT hybrid undertaking.
Is there something about the way we’ve had to adjust to different types of storage — and do that intelligently with the goals of performance, cost, and the business objectives in mind? I’ll give you a chance to perhaps go along with my analogy or shoot it down. Can we learn from what’s happened in storage and apply that to a larger hybrid IT model?
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Peters: The quick answer to your question is, absolutely, we can. Again, the cloud is a different approach. It is a very beguiling and useful business model, but it’s not a panacea. I really don’t believe it ever will become a panacea.
Now, that doesn’t mean to say it won’t grow. It is growing. It’s huge. It’s significant. You look at the recent announcements from the big cloud providers. They are at tens of billions of dollars in run rates.
But to your point, it should be viewed as part of a hierarchy, or a tiering, of IT. I don’t want to suggest that cloud sits at the bottom of some hierarchy or tiering. That’s not my intent. But it is another choice of another tool.
Let’s be very, very clear about this. There isn’t “a” cloud out there. People talk about the cloud as if it exists as one thing. It does not. Part of the reason hybrid IT is so challenging is you’re not just choosing between on-prem and the cloud, you’re choosing between on-prem and many clouds — and you might want to have a multi-cloud approach as well. We see that increasingly.
What we should be looking for are not bright, shiny objects — but bright, shiny outcomes.
Those various clouds have various attributes; some are better than others in different things. It is exactly parallel to what you were talking about in terms of which server you use, what storage you use, what speed you use for your networking. It’s exactly parallel to the decisions you should make about which cloud and to what extent you deploy to which cloud. In other words, all the things you said at the beginning: cost, risk, requirements, and performance.
People get so distracted by bright, shiny objects. Like they are the answer to everything. What we should be looking for are not bright, shiny objects — but bright, shiny outcomes. That’s all we should be looking for.
Focus on the outcome that you want, and then you figure out how to get it. You should not be sitting down IT managers and saying, “How do I get to 50 percent of my data in the cloud?” I don’t think that’s a sensible approach to business.
Gardner: Lessons learned in how to best utilize a hybrid storage environment, rationalizing that, bringing in more intelligence, software-defined, making the network through hyper-convergence more of a consideration than an afterthought — all these illustrate where we’re going on a larger scale, or at a higher abstraction.
Going back to the idea that each organization is particular — their specific business goals, their specific legacy and history of IT use, their specific way of using applications and pursuing business processes and fulfilling their obligations. How do you know in your organization enough to then begin rationalizing the choices? How do you make business choices and IT choices in conjunction? Have we lost sufficient visibility, given that there are so many different tools for doing IT?
Get down to specifics
Peters: The answer is yes. If you can’t see it, you don’t know about it. So to some degree, we are assuming that we don’t know everything that’s going on. But I think anecdotally what you propose is absolutely true.
I’ve beaten home the point about starting with the outcomes, not the tools that you use to achieve those outcomes. But how do you know what you’ve even got — because it’s become so easy to consume in different ways? A lot of people talk about shadow IT. You have this sprawl of a different way of doing things. And so, this leads to two requirements.
Number one is gaining visibility. It’s a challenge with shadow IT because you have to know what’s in the shadows. You can’t, by definition, see into that, so that’s a tough thing to do. Even once you find out what’s going on, the second step is how do you gain control? Control — not for control’s sake — only by knowing all the things you were trying to do and how you’re trying to do them across an organization. And only then can you hope to optimize them.
You can’t manage what you can’t measure. You also can’t improve things that can’t be managed or measured.
Again, it’s an old, old adage. You can’t manage what you can’t measure. You also can’t improve things that can’t be managed or measured. And so, number one, you have to find out what’s in the shadows, what it is you’re trying to do. And this is assuming that you know what you are aiming toward.
This is the next battleground for sophisticated IT use and for vendors. It’s not a battleground for the users. It’s a choice for users — but a battleground for vendors. They must find a way to help their customers manage everything, to control everything, and then to optimize everything. Because just doing the first and finding out what you have — and finding out that you’re in a mess — doesn’t help you.
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Visibility is not the same as solving. The point is not just finding out what you have – but of actually being able to do something about it. The level of complexity, the range of applications that most people are running these days, the extremely high levels of expectations both in the speed and flexibility and performance, and so on, mean that you cannot, even with visibility, fix things by hand.
You and I grew up in the era where a lot of things were done on whiteboards and Excel spreadsheets. That doesn’t cut it anymore. We have to find a way to manage what is automated. Manual management just will not cut it — even if you know everything that you’re doing wrong.
Gardner: Yes, I agree 100 percent that the automation — in order to deal with the scale of complexity, the requirements for speed, the fact that you’re going to be dealing with workloads and IT assets that are off of your premises — means you’re going to be doing this programmatically. Therefore, you’re in a better position to use automation.
I’d like to go back again to storage. When I first took a briefing with Nimble Storage, which is now a part of Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), I was really impressed with the degree to which they used intelligence to solve the economic and performance problems of hybrid storage.
Given the fact that we can apply more intelligence nowadays — that the cost of gathering and harnessing data, the speed at which it can be analyzed, the degree to which that analysis can be shared — it’s all very fortuitous that just as we need greater visibility and that we have bigger problems to solve across hybrid IT, we also have some very powerful analysis tools.
Mark, is what worked for hybrid storage intelligence able to work for a hybrid IT intelligence? To what degree should we expect more and more, dare I say, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to be brought to bear on this hybrid IT management problem?
Intelligent automation a must
Peters: I think it is a very straightforward and good parallel. Storage has become increasingly sophisticated. I’ve been in and around the storage business now for more than three decades. The joke has always been, I remember when a megabyte was a lot, let alone a gigabyte, a terabyte, and an exabyte.
And I’d go for a whole day class, when I was on the sales side of the business, just to learn something like dual parsing or about cache. It was so exciting 30 years ago. And yet, these days, it’s a bit like cars. I mean, you and I used to use a choke, or we’d have to really go and check everything on the car before we went on 100-mile journey. Now, we press the button and it better work in any temperature and at any speed. Now, we just demand so much from cars.
To stretch that analogy, I’m mixing cars and storage — and we’ll make it all come together with hybrid IT in that it’s better to do things in an automated fashion. There’s always one person in every crowd I talk to who still believes that a stick shift is more economic and faster than an automatic transmission. It might be true for one in 1,000 people, and they probably drive cars for a living. But for most people, 99 percent of the people, 99.9 percent of the time, an automatic transmission will both get you there faster and be more efficient in doing so. The same became true of storage.
We used to talk about how much storage someone could capacity-plan or manage. That’s just become old hat now because you don’t talk about it in those terms. Storage has moved to be — how do we serve applications? How do we serve up the right place in the right time, get the data to the right person at the right time at the right price, and so on?
We don’t just choose what goes where or who gets what, we set the parameters — and we then allow the machine to operate in an automated fashion. These days, increasingly, if you talk to 10 storage companies, 10 of them will talk to you about machine learning and AI because they know they’ve got to be in that in order to make that execution of change ever more efficient and ever faster. They’re just dealing with tremendous scale, and you could not do it even with simple automation that still involves humans.
It will be self-managing and self-optimizing. It will not be a “recommending tool,” it will be an “executing tool.”
We have used cars as a social analogy. We used storage as an IT analogy, and absolutely, that’s where hybrid IT is going. It will be self-managing and self-optimizing. Just to make it crystal clear, it will not be a “recommending tool,” it will be an “executing tool.” There is no time to wait for you and me to finish our coffee, think about it, and realize we have to do something, because then it’s too late. So, it’s not just about the knowledge and the visibility. It’s about the execution and the automated change. But, yes, I think your analogy is a very good one for how the IT world will change.
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Gardner: How you execute, optimize and exploit intelligence capabilities can be how you better compete, even if other things are equal. If everyone is using AWS, and everyone is using the same services for storage, servers, and development, then how do you differentiate?
How you optimize the way in which you gain the visibility, know your own business, and apply the lessons of optimization, will become a deciding factor in your success, no matter what business you’re in. The tools that you pick for such visibility, execution, optimization and intelligence will be the new real differentiators among major businesses.
So, Mark, where do we look to find those tools? Are they yet in development? Do we know the ones we should expect? How will organizations know where to look for the next differentiating tier of technology when it comes to optimizing hybrid IT?
What’s in the mix?
Peters: We’re talking years ahead for us to be in the nirvana that you’re discussing.
I just want to push back slightly on what you said. This would only apply if everyone were using exactly the same tools and services from AWS, to use your example. The expectation, assuming we have a hybrid world, is they will have kept some applications on-premises, or they might be using some specialist, regional or vertical industry cloud. So, I think that’s another way for differentiation. It’s how to get the balance. So, that’s one important thing.
And then, back to what you were talking about, where are those tools? How do you make the right move?
We have to get from here to there. It’s all very well talking about the future. It doesn’t sound great and perfect, but you have to get there. We do quite a lot of research in ESG. I will throw just a couple of numbers, which I think help to explain how you might do this.
We already find that the multi-cloud deployment or option is a significant element within a hybrid IT world. So, asking people about this in the last few months, we found that about 75 percent of the respondents already have more than one cloud provider, and about 40 percent have three or more.
You’re getting diversity — whether by default or design. It really doesn’t matter at this point. We hope it’s by design. But nonetheless, you’re certainly getting people using different cloud providers to take advantage of the specific capabilities of each.
This is a real mix. You can’t just plunk down some new magic piece of software, and everything is okay, because it might not work with what you already have — the legacy systems, and the applications you already have. One of the other questions we need to ask is how does improved management embrace legacy systems?
Some 75 percent of our respondents want hybrid management to be from the infrastructure up, which means that it’s got to be based on managing their existing infrastructure, and then extending that management up or out into the cloud. That’s opposed to starting with some cloud management approach and then extending it back down to their infrastructure.
People want to enhance what they currently have so that it can embrace the cloud. It’s enhancing your choice of tiers so you can embrace change.
People want to enhance what they currently have so that it can embrace the cloud. It’s enhancing your choice of tiers so you can embrace change. Rather than just deploying something and hoping that all of your current infrastructure — not just your physical infrastructure but your applications, too — can use that, we see a lot of people going to a multi-cloud, hybrid deployment model. That entirely makes sense. You’re not just going to pick one cloud model and hope that it will come backward and make everything else work. You start with what you have and you gradually embrace these alternative tools.
Gardner: We’re creating quite a list of requirements for what we’d like to see develop in terms of this management, optimization, and automation capability that’s maybe two or three years out. Vendors like Microsoft are just now coming out with the ability to manage between their own hybrid infrastructures, their own cloud offerings like Azure Stack and their public cloud Azure.
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Where will we look for that breed of fully inclusive, fully intelligent tools that will allow us to get to where we want to be in a couple of years? I’ve heard of one from HPE, it’s called Project New Hybrid IT Stack. I’m thinking that HPE can’t be the only company. We can’t be the only analysts that are seeing what to me is a market opportunity that you could drive a truck through. This should be a big problem to solve.
Peters: There are many organizations, frankly, for which this would not be a good commercial decision, because they don’t play in multiple IT areas or they are not systems providers. That’s why HPE is interested, capable, and focused on doing this.
Many vendor organizations are either focused on the cloud side of the business — and there are some very big names — or on the on-premises side of the business. Embracing both is something that is not as difficult for them to do, but really not top of their want-to-do list before they’re absolutely forced to.
From that perspective, the ones that we see doing this fall into two categories. There are the trendy new startups, and there are some of those around. The problem is, it’s really tough imagining that particularly large enterprises are going to risk [standardizing on them]. They probably even will start to try and write it themselves, which is possible – unlikely, but possible.
Where I think we will get the list for the other side is some of the other big organizations — Oracle and IBM spring to mind in terms of being able to embrace both on-premises and off-premises. But, at the end of the day, the commonality among those that we’ve mentioned is that they are systems companies. At the end of the day, they win by delivering the best overall solution and package to their clients, not individual components within it.
If you’re going to look for a successful hybrid IT deployment took, you probably have to look at a hybrid IT vendor.
And by individual components, I include cloud, on-premises, and applications. If you’re going to look for a successful hybrid IT deployment tool, you probably have to look at a hybrid IT vendor. That last part I think is self-descriptive.
Gardner: Clearly, not a big group. We’re not going to be seeking suppliers for hybrid IT management from request for proposals (RFPs) from 50 or 60 different companies to find some solutions.
Peters: Well, you won’t need to. Looking not that many years ahead, there will not be that many choices when it comes to full IT provisioning.
Gardner: Mark, any thoughts about what IT organizations should be thinking about in terms of how to become proactive rather than reactive to the hybrid IT environment and the complexity, and to me the obvious need for better management going forward?
Management ends, not means
Peters: Gaining visibility into not just hybrid IT but the on-premise and the off-premise and how you manage these things. Those are all parts of the solution, or the answer. The real thing, and it’s absolutely crucial, is that you don’t start with those bright shiny objects. You don’t start with, “How can I deploy more cloud? How can I do hybrid IT?” Those are not good questions to ask. Good questions to ask are, “What do I need to do as an organization? How do I make my business more successful? How does anything in IT become a part of answering those questions?”
In other words, drum roll, it’s the thinking about ends, not means.
Gardner: If our listeners and readers want to follow you and gain more of your excellent insight, how should they do that?
Peters: The best way is to go to our website, www.esg-global.com. You can find not just me and all my contact details and materials but those of all my colleagues and the many areas we cover and study in this wonderful world of IT.
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