Anyone who's ever set up a virtual machine, and many who haven't, can understand the nirvana appeal of the hybrid cloud that virtualization inspires. A pool of virtual machines running in either the public cloud or a private cloud, and all monitored and managed from one software console, gives IT pros the ability to configure and reconfigure their resources without physically touching a thing. And just as important, they can manage an app through its life, from development to deployment to maintenance and enhancement to retirement -- all without ever stepping foot in a data center.
That's the ideal scenario. Everyone from developers to testers to server and storage operators to security teams uses the same orchestration software to manage applications and resources, whether it's adding features, optimizing performance, ensuring integrity and security, or minimizing cost and downtime. Through a close partnership among these teams, new features can be rolled out on a regular basis and applications can be moved from private to public clouds and back again, all with a few mouse clicks.
Achieving this ideal, however, means completely remaking your environment, and the skill set and attitudes of your teams -- something that's nearly impossible in the short run. But like every transition IT has ever made, the important thing is to start the process and show that your new methodology and technology have merit. For the hybrid cloud, increasingly there is a hard return-on-investment proof point, even before you start factoring in the hard-to-measure value of improving the responsiveness of IT for the business.
What's The Challenge? IT teams have two avenues of pursuit in their quest to be a better business partner, and the hybrid cloud can contribute to both. First, they must find ways to be more immediately responsive to the needs of business partners. In both our 2013 and 2014 Strategic CIO surveys, the No. 1 lament among CIOs was that they simply can't implement fast enough to satisfy the business. The second avenue is to improve IT efficiency -- to cut IT operating costs, or at least do considerably more for the company with the resources that it has.
"More with less" is a refrain that IT pros are plenty familiar with, since C-level execs have been saying it for as about as long as there have been CIOs. There's new urgency to this old refrain, though. In one way or another the Internet of Things juggernaut, along with the desire to apply analytics to everything the business does, will eventually hit your IT organization. Gone will be storage growth of 30% to 50% more a year, and in its place will be storage needs that increase by factors of four and five times a year. Throw in the systems to process all that good data, and you have a challenge that IT can't possibly meet with the way it currently does business.
But it gets better -- and by better, we mean worse. The marketing department has its eyes firmly set on your turf. In IDC's Top 10 CMO predictions for 2013, prediction 5 states that 50% of new marketing hires will have technical backgrounds. With all that will come a new title, that of "chief marketing technologist." Feeling queasy yet?
A hybrid cloud architecture isn't going to fix all these problems, and we wouldn't be so cavalier as to suggest that, but it can certainly help. Forward-thinking IT architects get this, and even in Fortune 500 companies, they're realizing that in order to meet the needs of the data and technology onslaught that's about to come, everything possible that can go will need to move into the cloud.
Before getting into the particulars of the challenges of hybrid clouds, it's worth taking a look at just how well IT is doing on the foundation for the hybrid cloud -- which our data shows is in the very early stages.
In our survey of 362 business technology pros for this article, we asked about the use of virtualization, and 79% are using some form of virtualization. Of those, we asked what percentage of in-house applications and services are running in virtual machines. Almost half say that more than 60% of their apps are virtualized. One-third say less than 40% are virtualized. In two years, almost half expect to be at 80% of apps virtualized. The primary benefit reported for virtualization is better use of resources -- in other words, the payoff from consolidation.
The majority of virtualization users have not gone deeply into creating a private or hybrid cloud. While 72% have server virtualization in extensive production use, only 21% have a private cloud in extensive use, and just 10% report extensive hybrid cloud use. Much of the hesitation for virtualization resides in smaller companies. One consultant to SMBs put it this way: "Our client base is still highly resistant to many virtualization/cloud services' development aspects. We are primarily still in testing and light usage phases at the present, but promoting services such as Salesforce.com as potential entry points for our clientele."
Among the companies ranked in the InformationWeek Elite 100 this year, just 15% say they're able to switch between a public cloud and in-house data center based on demand; 43% have no plans to explore that option. Thus for many organizations, moving to a hybrid cloud is still years off.
That makes today's hybrid cloud users early adopters, and one of the primary pieces they've found missing is good management software to make their hybrid cloud a reality. Or at least the good software they have found comes with a steep learning curve. Many have spent significant time and money to build a private cloud based on VMware vSphere, only to find that vCloud -- now only a year old -- is an expensive and less mature infrastructure service than those offered by Amazon, Microsoft, and even Google. In our recent Hybrid Cloud Survey, only 7% of those who say they're using the public cloud report using vCloud Hybrid Service.
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Art Wittmann is a former editor for InformationWeek. View Full Bio