Hybrid cloud benefits outweigh cons, say IBM customers

The benefits of a hybrid cloud transition outweigh complex integration challenges, according to IBM execs, users and industry watchers at the company's annual InterConnect event.

LAS VEGAS -- IBM has hitched a few more horses to the hybrid cloud bandwagon the company has been riding the past...

few years, as evidenced by a handful of recent buyouts, partner deals and new product pushes.

Even though adopting a hybrid cloud isn't easy, the complexity involved with managing hybrid environments is worth the trouble, because it can give enterprises a leg up on their competitors. That theme around hybrid cloud benefits -- with challenges -- resonated among IBM, its partners, industry watchers and end users at this week's IBM InterConnect conference here.

IBM sees almost all of its customers are in a hybrid cloud environment now, or are soon headed there.

"They are really trying to move to a hybrid cloud environment and take advantage of all the investments they have made," said Robert LeBlanc, senior vice president, IBM Cloud, speaking at a press event at the show.

Hybrid cloud means extending out from existing data centers, "and doing it in a seamless and consistent fashion," he said.

In addition to the much-publicized partnership with VMware announced this week, other moves include the purchase last fall of Cleversafe.

In 2015, IBM had more than $10 billion in revenue from what it categorizes as cloud computing, but it is still early for what LeBlanc said will be a long-term transition to hybrid cloud. The goal is to take the important applications running in enterprise data centers, and extend some of them to the cloud, "and combine it in new and unique ways," he said.

Manulife, a financial services and insurance company headquartered in Toronto, built a global integration platform with IBM as part of its move to a hybrid cloud model.

"This was hard work," said Mark Ouellette, vice president of global technology office at Manulife. "Like any large, complex project, you run into some issues, and it is not [so much] what the issues are, but how the team reacts to them."

Much of the company's data was buried in old, legacy systems, and the project goal was to pull it out and use it for new applications to interact with customers digitally, Ouellette said during a session here at InterConnect.

"From an IT infrastructure standpoint, we have just about one of everything -- from mainframe to distributed client-server and any tool you could possibly imagine," he said. "They key is, how do you tie that all together?"

Ouellette asked IBM if it had done something similar with other global customers that also had multiple divisions sharing the same assets. But Big Blue had no other cases it could share.

"Time spent upfront in the design stages paid dividends later," Ouellette said.

A lot of time was spent figuring out how to integrate the company's three divisions in Canada that all share assets before patterns were built.

"We wanted to build the platform so it could support logically isolated integration for each of those areas," he said.

The biggest challenge came from networking. When the integration platform was moved to SoftLayer, a lot of work was done to integrate SoftLayer and Manulife's on-premises data center.

"That turned out to be more complicated than any of us ever understood when we went into it," Ouellette said.

Middleware was the easy part, and it took just a day or two in the process, he said.

The hybrid challenge

About three quarters of the enterprises leading the way with hybrid cloud agreed it is not easy, and it "introduced greater IT management complexity into their environment," while also causing greater security concerns. That's according to a study released earlier this month from IBM's Center for Applied Insights.

"They are getting better business value, but they are feeling more challenged by the complexity and security," said Susanne Hupfer, senior advisor at IBM's Center for Applied Insights, here at IBM InterConnect, and co-author of the study, Growing up hybrid: Accelerating digital transformation.

"They are getting past these challenges, despite the concerns they have about them," she said.

The hybrid cloud benefits for what the study called "frontrunners" are felt across the enterprise, with 85% of them saying hybrid cloud is accelerating digital transformation in their organization, with greater efficiency and productivity.

Nearly all the frontrunners also said hybrid cloud is reducing costs -- they are 1.7 times more likely to see a cost reduction, compared with the enterprises the study called "chasers."

"These organizations that are doing hybrid, they are not going to all cloud -- they believe there is value in that blended environment," Hupfer said.

Hybrid cloud could help Edmund Quintana's goal of 100% mobility for IBM Maximo Asset Management at JFK International Air Terminal in Jamaica, N.Y., where he is senior manager of baggage and IT systems.

"I need to be in the cloud; I cannot lock myself into the data center," he said.

Right now, though, he uses Maximo and WebSphere on premises without hybrid cloud benefits.

"I've been lobbying for cloud solutions for WebSphere and the entirety of Maximo, but I can't convince my peers that it is safe," he said.

Changing the culture

The cultural undertaking of convincing leadership that hybrid cloud is the way to go heads the list of challenges for Rangesh Shah, a software engineer for applications software at The Prudential Insurance Company of America in Minneapolis.

His company runs a lot of Web services -- all of it on premises.

"I want to get the big picture and explain to management what [our] industry is doing, and convince them to move toward hybrid," he said.

The "cultural challenge" he described is focused mainly on concerns about security in the cloud.

"We are an insurance company, so security is a big thing for us," he said.

Once he begins the move to hybrid cloud, Shah said he's not able to predict some of the pain points, but did say he foresees a lot of work.

"We have lots of moving parts, and I don't know how they will all integrate," he said. "We don't know about them all, because we are still on-prem."

The study did find that frontrunners use hybrid cloud for mobile projects, with 83% of them saying hybrid cloud is essential for mobile initiatives.

"Time and time again, we are finding that mobile and cloud go together very nicely," Hupfer said.

It is that concern about security that is keeping applications on premises at JFK International Air Terminal.

"If we go to cloud, how secure is cloud?" That is the question Quintana keeps hearing. "We need to know how secure it is if we bring our stuff to the cloud."

But Quintana is not convinced on-premises instances are safer.

"We're dealing with so many systems, between the airline systems, the common use [and] the baggage system, we are going to be more effective and flexible if we bring, for example, Maximo into the cloud."

He's sold on hybrid cloud because of the flexibility he feels it will offer. Without using the cloud, "it's harder for mobility, because I have to open a port and things like that; I can be more flexible if I have my enterprise-wide application in the cloud versus being on premises."

Hybrid where it makes sense

Hybrid cloud means putting workloads where its purpose is best served -- making sure the right service is used for the right workload at the right time with the right level of security, according to Judith Hurwitz, president and CEO of Hurwitz and Associates, based in Needham, Mass.

This is summed up by what a customer told her a few months ago: "Ten years from now, we won't be talking about public cloud, private cloud or even data centers and managed services. We will be talking about compute, because that's really what this is."

IT pros managing hybrid cloud need to see things from the viewpoint of users - both internal and external -- so they see applications acting as one unified, seamless environment, said Hurwitz, author of Hybrid Cloud for Dummies.

"When we talk about hybrid cloud, we are talking about how we manage all these services together," she said. "They don't care where those services reside, they could [not] care less which service you are using."

Hybrid is designed to quickly respond to end-user demands to avoid shadow IT, she said.

"The more we can build this hybrid environment that acknowledges cloud services and computing services will be highly distributed -- that is the world we will be living in," she said.

About the author:
Robert Gates is a news writer with TechTarget. Contact him at rgates@techtarget.com.

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