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Does hybrid cloud actually exist?

Image: Adobe Stock / Parinwat Studio

Mairead O’Connor, Practice Operations Director at Node4, delves into the shift by IT decision-makers towards hybrid cloud, and explains what ‘hybrid deployment’ actually involves.

Recent research has revealed that the top priority for mid-market IT decision-makers this year is increasing hybrid cloud deployment. This trend is being driven by several factors, not least by the realisation that public cloud isn’t a panacea for the provision of IT infrastructure and services. As such, the ‘hybrid’ concept now plays an extremely important role in IT decision-making and investment strategy.

Looking more closely at the data, the momentum behind hybrid cloud is interesting. Just 14% of respondents said they currently have a predominantly hybrid cloud infrastructure in place compared with 40% public cloud and 31% private cloud. In this context, there is clearly a significant amount of work to be done to get organisations from where they currently are to where they want to be.

But what does ‘hybrid’ deployment involve? In basic terms, it’s when organisations recognise that each application or workload has specific requirements and as a result, take a much more pragmatic and practical approach to their technology strategy. In doing so, they move away from the idea that their entire organisation needs a homogenous solution and instead, can be better served by focusing on using the most appropriate service for each requirement.

An evolving mindset

In recognising the importance of these trends, there are some crucial issues to highlight. Firstly, the perception of public cloud is evolving as organisations gain deeper experience with the services on offer. While it continues to offer a range of compelling benefits, the wider market has also developed significantly to the point where IT leaders are – in many situations – seeking alternatives.

This is very different to saying that the public cloud market is in any way declining. Indeed according to Gartner, the market is expected to grow by over 20% this year to $679 billion – that’s more than double the growth rate for the IT industry as a whole.

Nevertheless, decisions that affect the choice of cloud technologies are being influenced by a wider range of priorities. For example, many IT leaders are also reassessing their approach to legacy technology. In organisations everywhere, legacy systems continue to play a valuable role in their current IT estate, but instead of a narrow focus on how quickly they can be moved to a cloud service, there is a growing sense that it’s more effective to strategically evaluate which legacy systems to maintain, which to transition to the cloud and when.

Today’s typical mid-market organisations are defining their cloud strategy based on the specific needs of business functions, teams and processes. For example, what the finance system needs is likely to differ significantly from what is required by the warehouse team, which is also completely different to how e-commerce operates.

One size fits all?

This begs the obvious question as to why organisations would employ the same infrastructure strategy across all those areas? Granted, public cloud offers the simplicity of paying a single monthly bill, but when IT leaders take a step back, they are generally left with the reality that different applications need different things. Moreover, if what they need for one application is better served or cheaper served by having it run on on-premises, then why not?

Consider the challenges posed by data compliance, for example. If an organisation has audit requirements to retain data for seven years, even though it may never need to access it, why is that often hosted on highly scalable cloud infrastructure? Conversely, why does it need to tie up valuable disk space that’s close to end-users in network terms? Instead, what should happen – and increasingly is happening – is that organisations identify the most appropriate platform for each workload.

In the data retention example, there’s a decision to make about the relative costs of archive storage in the cloud or providing additional on-premises storage. For other workloads there will be different combinations of public and private services. For most organisations, hybrid is the new normal, and this is leading to the emergence of a new term – ‘pragmatic cloud’.

The data backs this up: according to a 2023 survey by IDC, even though the public cloud market is still booming, over 70% of organisations of varying sizes are planning full or partial repatriation of compute resources from the public cloud. In this environment, the changes are positive, with more organisations focused on how technology can best support their specific business goals and operational priorities.

But this mindset isn’t driven by anyone going out and buying ‘hybrid cloud’ per se. Despite the way many people discuss it, hybrid cloud isn’t something you buy. It comes back to the idea that businesses are best served by a long-term strategy that shows what each element of the organisation needs from its IT and invests accordingly, irrespective of whether they define it as hybrid cloud or not.

Picture of Mairead O’Connor
Mairead O’Connor
Practice Operations Director at Node4

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