FEATURE: The hybrid route to cloud computing

Redskyatnight

Shepherds' delight

Andrew Halliwell, director of commercial development at Cable & Wireless Worldwide, discusses how a hybrid approach can enable enterprises to adopt cloud technology

Cloud computing has dominated both the news and the business agenda over the past year. Interest in the technology, and more importantly, how best to migrate towards it and maximise the promised benefits, is increasingly at the forefront of the business IT agenda.

With this media dominance in mind it is difficult to believe that there are no enterprises truly operating in the cloud as yet. The majority today are using a virtualised infrastructure if anything, but for the most part enterprises are not mature enough for cloud migration and there is no clear strategy in place.

There remains some confusion around both the true definition of cloud computing and the best route to adoption. While the enterprise and technology press abound with promises of cost savings and increased efficiency, they tend to focus on one of three very different approaches to cloud migration: public, private and hosted. The majority of solutions outlined by technology vendors tend to fit roughly with one of these three, whether that is the public, private or hosted cloud solutions.

In actual fact there is no such thing as the private cloud. By definition the cloud is multi-tenanted. Indeed, private cloud is not a workable concept unless it is within the context of a huge corporation which is large enough to merit building its own private cloud. The time and cost needed to build it could take up to two years and would be inefficient and overly expensive for all but the largest of enterprise.

However, there is another approach which combines the best of each of these three approaches and can offer significant advantages to users – the hybrid cloud. Over the past five years we have witnessed a fundamental shift within business IT departments around how they provision technology services. Increasingly, businesses want to focus on the consumption of services rather than funding complex and lengthy infrastructure and IT projects. IT infrastructure and applications are increasingly viewed as services to be consumed rather than “owned”.

This is in contrast to the over-investment in infrastructure which has been seen in recent years. The result of which is that today the majority of servers operate at, on average, between 10 and 15 percent utilisation, with many organisations not using even that. Anywhere else in the business world this level of under-utilisation and lack of ROI would be completely unacceptable. This is a key driver in the case for a switch to cloud. Currently it can take up to three months to provision infrastructure for additional capacity which makes the IT department seem neither agile nor efficient.

Cloud computing can play an important role in responding to these criticisms. Agile delivery of capacity, just-in-time provisioning and the ability to flex up and down when required removes bottlenecks and avoids the drawn out provisioning cycle, freeing up the IT department’s time significantly. However, with a range of options available to those looking to adopt a cloud computing solution, how can enterprises pick through the wealth of headlines and information to define a clear path towards the cloud?

The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all solution regarding cloud for enterprises. At Cable&Wireless Worldwide we deal with a huge range of customers who all want and need different applications for their business to function more efficiently. Whether the applications required are customer facing, internal, mission-critical, or for disaster recovery, to pigeon-hole an enterprise into one solution is to over-simplify the issue. Cable&Wireless Worldwide is offering the only cloud proposition tailored to the needs of the enterprise sector.

It has been suggested that businesses today are delaying the adoption of cloud services due to perceived risks. Research conducted among Cable&Wireless Worldwide customers contradicts this conclusion. The majority of enterprises claimed to believe the benefits of cloud computing outweighed the risks while the remainder of those questioned perceived the risks and benefits to be appropriately balanced. The key for any enterprise looking to adopt cloud services is to conduct a risk assessment. Due to the raft of benefits that cloud services can deliver we firmly believe enterprises should be trying to get as many of their services into the cloud as possible however, no-one should begin this process without a complete understanding of potential risks.

Taking the best from hosted, public and private solutions, a hybrid approach offers a range of choices that open up a whole host of opportunity. According to a recent IDC report there is a growing demand for a hybrid approach, also known as the Virtual Private Cloud. When asked whether they would prefer a public or private cloud, 22 per cent of CIOs replied that they would prefer a combination of the two.

Although there may be applications that need to run across dedicated hosting for a variety of reasons – mission criticality, security profile or performance level, Cable&Wireless Worldwide believes that as much as 60 to 70 percent of IT processes could be migrated to a multi-tenant cloud environment. The ability to place applications and application workloads across a variety of infrastructure, all of which is able to interact with one another, is critical in terms of those making the transition to cloud computing. Over time, as the applications evolve, the vast majority of enterprises will move from dedicated hosting to dedicated virtualised and then, gradually, into the cloud.

Any solution adopted needs to be designed with the individual concerns of the enterprise in mind, including security, access and robustness of performance. Many organisations have already gone through the process of aggregating their applications away from the branch office into one or a pair of data centres within the business and accessed over a wide area network.

In order to evaluate what type of cloud solution they require, customers must audit the applications they currently have in place as well as their availability needs and current processes before looking to migrate. Initially Cable&Wireless Worldwide had anticipated that approximately 15-20 per cent of all applications would be suitable to move to the cloud. It has since found that figure to be closer to 60 per cent.

Any such move must be quantifiable and customers must have a strong understanding of the business before beginning the migration process. Many vendors today are offering a cloud platform but none of the consultancy to support businesses along the journey. The Cable&Wireless Worldwide way is to work with the business to identify the potential benefits in advance.

In order to feel the immediate benefits of a cloud solution, all of this will need to be integrated into the overall portfolio of a business. One of the most significant benefits of the hybrid approach is that it allows businesses to make the gradual transition to cloud computing in a way that suits them, providing a strategic path to implementation which has an impact on the entire organisation without rushing headlong to follow the crowd. This allows any business still hesitant to move to the cloud to gain confidence through regular progress checks before transitioning all of its mission-critical applications and infrastructure. At Cable&Wireless Worldwide we see this approach as the most promising option available to the market today and therefore, the most likely to succeed.

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Filed under Cloud Computing, Features, Hybrid Cloud, IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service), Telecommunications

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