Recent years have seen a widespread shift to the cloud, with organisations of all sizes seeking to modernise, digitally transform and transition away from traditional on-premises IT.
Furthermore, the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last year further accelerated the migration to the cloud, which Lean says has proven to be an interesting period for companies that were preparing to take tentative first steps on the cloud journey.
“Many have seen this as a chance to change. They’ve been languishing in traditional ways of doing IT and they were quite happy in that little place, because there is a sense of ‘if it’s not broken then don’t change it’,” says Sarah Lean, Senior Cloud Advocate at Microsoft.
A study by Synergy Research Group showed that cloud spending increased rapidly in Q1 of 2020 alone as organisations accelerated digital transformation plans and pivoted to remote working practices.
Spending on cloud infrastructure services topped $29bn in Q1 2020, the research found, marking a 37% increase on the previous year.
During the early days of the pandemic, organisations had to implement changes to remain operational. This forced companies to evaluate their process and ways of working, and for many this hastened their migration to cloud.
“Recent times have made organisations think different and address problems differently and are seeing that moving to the cloud can actually help. And for some, that’s as simple as accelerating their plans to move towards Microsoft 365 for their email and collaboration tools,” Lean explains.
Post-pandemic, the shift to the cloud shows no sign of slowing. A recent study from Global Market Insights forecasts the European cloud computing market to exceed a valuation of $140 billion by 2028.
Research from Gartner also predicts that up to 85% of enterprises will adopt a cloud-first computing approach by 2025 while a separate survey by the firm suggests that 70% of organisations already using cloud services plan to increase their spending post-pandemic.
Public, private and hybrid
Traditionally, cloud discussions have centred around a choice which many organisations face – public or private?
Private cloud environments are dedicated solely to serving a specific end user. Traditionally, private clouds were run on-premises at many organisations. However, these environments are often now located off-premise at dedicated data centres.
For an enterprise, the main advantage of choosing a private cloud environment is that they won’t share resources with other enterprises. They maintain complete control and ownership of that environment.
Conversely, public cloud does not offer the same totality of ownership and involves a third-party service provider, such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services. These third-party providers own and maintain these environments on behalf of the enterprises.
For many businesses, public cloud offers a range of benefits and a level of scalability that they perhaps wouldn’t be able to achieve on their own.
More recently, the benefits of hybrid cloud have been propelled firmly into the public forum, with many organisations adopting this approach.
Hybrid cloud, as one might deduce from the name, is a cloud service that combines both private and public cloud within the same offering.
The growing appeal of hybrid cloud
The appeal of hybrid cloud has increased rapidly, Lean explains. And this is largely due to the flexibility that it offers – providing enterprises with the reliability and intimacy of private cloud with the more cost-effective scalability of public cloud offerings.
Fundamentally, Lean adds, the benefits of hybrid cloud centre around “taking advantage of the platforms that organisations already have”.
Many organisations have invested heavily in on-premises data centres, spending thousands and investing years of experience. Therefore, organisations are considering hybrid cloud because of the relative ease of adoption.
“It’s about using that infrastructure, not ditching it,” she says. “Some organisations will have the data centre traditionally in their office basement, but emptying that doesn’t solve any problems.
“With hybrid cloud, it’s about taking advantage of what they’re invested in and what they already possess while leveraging technology that can expand their business,” Lean adds.
Flexibility is a key draw in this sense, she continues. With hybrid cloud, organisations have the flexibility to create and experiment in a manner previously unthinkable.
”It’s the flexibility of being able to spin something up if you need that extra capacity and then spin it down.
“Previously, you’re dealing with a six-week lead time for installing a server when working in an on-prem environment.
“I can spin one up in six minutes in Azure. So being able to have that flexibility and then turn it off when I don’t need it is terrific,” she says.
“If I’ve done that in an on-prem environment, I’ve spent £20,000 and it’s then going to sit there idle and do nothing.
“For me, that’s the cool element of it. That flexibility.”
Hurdles and stumbling blocks
Pursuing a hybrid cloud strategy isn’t always a straightforward transition, which Lean says is a common misconception. Extensive research is required by organisations and, on occasion, it’s simply the case that it’s not an approach that suits some enterprises.
Existing digital infrastructure and skills capabilities are crucial to this process, she adds.
“For some organisations, transitioning to hybrid cloud can be seamless if they are on the cutting-edge and they’ve been keeping up to date technologically,” Lean explains.
“Others are going to hit a lot of challenges if they’re behind, if they’re using legacy operating systems.
“There are lots of hurdles where enterprises think ‘oh, hybrid seems dead easy, it’ll give me the flexibility to expand up and down’ but they don’t consider how they secure it, access it, protect it or back it up,” she says.
“There are some significant technology hurdles to get there and often this will depend on where you are as an organisation, the maturity of your IT capabilities and skillsets,” Lean adds.
Before embarking on a hybrid cloud journey, a thorough assessment of skills and capabilities is needed at any organisation, regardless of its size. Training, and the consideration of upskilling staff, is also key, she says.
“When you start to move you have to think of skills, because the last thing you want to do is move all your workloads but then your day-to-day staff don’t know how to access them, and when they do, they accidentally delete things and issues arise.”
These are a number of key considerations that organisations must factor into their thinking, and one of the most important is security.
Given enterprises operate in an increasingly perilous cybersecurity landscape littered with examples of high-profile data breaches, many see the public aspect of hybrid cloud as being a danger.
A report from Quince Market Insights earlier this year highlighted a “lack of knowledge on privacy and security issues” as a key stumbling block for hybrid cloud adoption.
Hybrid cloud adoption is “influenced by the low perception of the security benefits offered,” the report states.
Security concerns aren’t isolated to hybrid cloud, either. Across the broader cloud computing space there are still perception issues with regard to security.
A recent study from Dynatrace suggests that nearly three-quarters (71%) of CISOs believe serious flaws in cloud software are “going unnoticed” following the switch from on-premises storage to cloud platforms.
The increased adoption of cloud architectures, agile methodologies and DevOps could have “broken” traditional approaches to application security, the study warns.
Lean concedes that some organisations will “always struggle with putting their data in another person’s cloud or a place where they can’t physically go and do something with it”.
“I think this will always be the case, but for a majority of enterprises, the security issue is actually better for them even from just a physical point of view,” she says.
“Microsoft invests heavily in security, and we don’t just invest in that for our own organisation, we pass those advancements onto everyone else.
“And with all due respect to other organisations, very few are going to have the scale of support and capabilities that we provide, for example.”
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Fundamentally, the hybrid cloud question is not a one-size-fits-all scenario, and its benefits for enterprises vary based on individual circumstances.
Valued globally at $50.1 billion in 2020, the hybrid cloud market is projected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 17.8% until 2028, according to Quince Market Insights.
“This all goes back to the fact that hybrid gives you the flexibility to use what you love about on-premises data centres, and what you love about cloud. It gives you the choice, the freedom and the agility.
“It’s not locking you into a particular strategy or route, either, and gives organisations the choice based on their workloads, data and specific preferences.”
Join the Debate: Cloud First Summit
Sarah Lean will explore the adoption, management and benefits of Hybrid Cloud at the Cloud First Summit, held virtually on the 23rd June.
For more information and details on how to register for your free place at the Summit, please visit: www.cloudfirstsummit.com