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As organizations adopt more cloud technology, IT admins must question when and how to invest in on-premises infrastructure and how to compose a cloud and on-premises model that works for any organizational need -- and has the right hybrid IT management tools.
The big challenge for organizations is getting their core data centers modernized enough to support new workloads and act more like a cloud data center in terms of the speed at which they can support new applications, according to Jennifer Cooke, research director of data center management at IDC.
With a goal to have data centers on premises act more like cloud offerings, more admins research hybrid infrastructure offerings. This makes it important for organizations to define how they see and decide to implement hybrid IT and cloud.
"Architecturally, it really is just a variation of the standard systems integration patterns, connecting and integrating disparate systems into a larger ecosystem," said Ed Featherston, distinguished technologist at Cloud Technology Partners, an HPE company.
The difference is that in the past, these disparate systems were all on premises. Now, in the new age of cloud, admins must integrate the technology of public cloud systems with other cloud systems, SaaS systems, on-premises infrastructure and edge computing networks.
Realizing the limits of cloud-only infrastructure
Hybrid cloud has been around since the beginning of most organizations' cloud journeys, according to Featherston. Even multi-cloud is often a special case of hybrid IT management that involves integration of purely cloud-to-cloud offerings.
"Very rare was the case that workloads were deployed to the cloud that did not still have some level of integration to on-premise systems," he said.
Though it's important to realize not every workload will go to or benefit from going to a cloud architecture. Many organizations over the last couple of years that did a massive lift-and-shift project to the cloud are now repatriating those workloads back on premises.
A majority of the originally migrated programs are applications that derive no benefit from the cloud, either due to architectural or other design issues (e.g., data gravity) that prevent organizations from gathering any benefit and may have actually increased the cost of support and maintenance for the applications.
Major cloud vendors, such as Microsoft and AWS, have come to accept this reality and have started offering products, such as Azure Stack and AWS Outposts, to try and address costs and maintenance while they still keep customers.
"Part of the logic behind these offerings is that managing a hybrid cloud environment is an extremely complex and intensive effort," Featherston said.
Offerings from the cloud vendors help reduce some of that management complexity. There are also other vendors providing offerings to help deal with these complexities.
"For most organizations, what stays in the primary data center is a lot of applications where they have on-prem or perpetual licenses, often classically tied to productivity," said Lauren Nelson, research director at Forrester Research.
Crucially, she explained, cloud tends to reward variable usage, so, in a data center, admins can actually have cheaper compute power if they use the infrastructure on a continuous basis.
Questions still surround hybrid IT management
Nelson said there is an ongoing debate -- one that doesn't seem near settlement -- in regard to whether an IT team can implement hybrid IT management with just one set of tools or whether it remains a necessity that cloud and on-premises tools differ.
In fact, the management tasks are often quite different, but that hasn't stopped vendors from trying. For instance, in cloud's early days, cloud management platforms evolved -- often, with the intent of helping to manage on-premises private clouds -- but some focused on public cloud.
Nelson said the questions that trouble decision-makers include whether to acquire two sets of tools or try to unify on one; whether the differing setups even have the same requirements; and whether one tool can effectively manage both cloud and on premises.
One approach that may help is the development by public cloud providers of on-premises services such as AWS Outposts, Google Anthos and Azure Stack.
"Those options let you use the same APIs to manage on premises and in the cloud," Nelson said.
No matter the exact orientation of an organization's IT infrastructure, it's recommended organizations have some hybrid element in their strategy.
"Up to now, we treated [on premises and cloud] as separate, partly due to a lack of choice," she said.
But moving forward, there will be more scale at all points, especially in the cloud.
"There is a desire for more portability and unity, and there will be increasing options to support that," Nelson said.
Some of this desire is through the SaaS marketplace concept -- an emerging space -- where admins can use the best service for each deployment model. The industry has developed marketplaces for specific industries, such as automotive and healthcare.
There is also the data unification or data fabric concept, which can help simplify management across a hybrid landscape. This is an especially relevant concept if an organization's applications live in different locations and draw information from dispersed data sets.
Determining whether it's the right investment for hybrid IT management takes careful study of an organization's specific situation and hybrid requirements, she said.
The growing importance of edge
While the main arguments for and against either on-premises or cloud-first infrastructure remain valid, IDC analyst Deepak Mohan said he believes the increased importance of the edge will shape future practices.
"With the growth in edge devices and data creation on the edge, there are new cases for computing to be closer to the real world," he said.
Thanks to edge growth, Mohan said, IDC expects specific uses cases for hybrid will increase. The future, he added, is likely to have both a growth in public cloud use and edge, forming a new kind of hybrid model.
"We are seeing some early signs of this now in both customer use cases and products, particularly the increasing number of cloud providers and telcos getting involved and preparing for growth in this sector," he said.