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Hybrid Cloud & the Next-Generation Data Center: Why the Top-Down Approach Matters

17 Feb 2017 by Claudia Hrynyshyn

From midmarket to the enterprise, the hype around hybrid cloud and the next-generation data center is becoming all-too-real.

More organizations are embarking on data center transformation journeys to not only drive agility and cost savings, but to differentiate themselves in a new era of business and buyers. As stragglers struggle to deliver seamless app experiences to end users, they’ll miss out on the agility and scalability that the cloud promises while successful adopters soar ahead. It’s enough to make any CEO sweat (or in the spirit of the cloud, condensate), especially when the global hybrid cloud market is expected to reach $91 billion by 2021, according to research by MarketsandMarkets.

This bar graph depicts the size of the Hybrid (Public/Private) Cloud Market Worldwide, from 2014 to 2021 (in billion U.S. dollars).
Figure 1

Figure 1 shows the size of the hybrid cloud market worldwide from 2014 to 2021. From 2017 and onward, the graph reflects a constant annual market growth rate of 22.5%.

But effective hybrid cloud adopters and business visionaries both have one thing in common: They ask the right questions guided by the right approach.

Bottom-up approach: Too much “what”

Misguided questions on the road to data center transformation are all just the result of a bigger, yet surprisingly simple issue: The order of the questions themselves.

In the technical world, it’s common to start with and prioritize the infrastructure — from the bottom-up. After all, seeing an infrastructure’s components are a clear indicator of a business’ day-to-day. But when it comes to hybrid cloud architectures, the infrastructure is a silo operating within a far bigger ecosystem. A bottom-up approach can leave organizations erroneously starting their hybrid cloud journeys with these questions:

  • What do we need to get more traffic through our network?
  • What type of storage is best when consolidating our data?
  • What products do we need to get this off the ground?

While these things are important, 1. They are mere outcomes of a smart hybrid cloud approach, and 2. They focus on exactly that — things. Network traffic. Storage. Products. Things that any organization has or can obtain.

A better strategy

Missing from this equation is an understanding of the total business. Today’s digital-first organizations are putting less emphasis on the day-to-day and more on the big picture. What’s driving your storage to begin with? What’s driving the increase in data? What is your business trying to achieve?

Fully accounting for the organization’s objectives first is critical to designing a future-ready IT plan. Where many organizations fail is in oversimplifying decisions, for instance deciding, “We know the cloud will save us money and let us scale, so we’ll just move our virtual machines there.”

But, were business needs such as seasonality of demand or compliance issues considered? Do you really need so much space all year round, potentially wasting funds on unused resources for part of the year? And, are you sure your data can legally live off-premises?

The best strategy considers goals and objectives first. “Understanding the business’ needs should drive the solutions we choose,” says Scott Cameron, Insight’s technical solution executive, practices — data center. “That evaluation will help design an infrastructure from a business perspective. And there may be several solutions that can be delivered to maximize the value of the cloud to the organization.”

A comprehensive review of the business gives way to a more intelligent hybrid cloud strategy: the top-down approach.

Application migration: The top-down advantage

In a digital-first world, the applications you use — and how you use them — make up the core of the business itself. After all, an application is the automation of a business process — nothing more. So in a hybrid cloud model, wouldn’t starting with an honest assessment of your actual business processes make more sense? Focusing on application migration first is at the core of a top-down approach reflects, and it sets you up for real success.

Starting with top-down questions and then working backwards to the infrastructure level might take on a flow like this:

  • How do my applications interact with one another?
  • How are these specific applications being used?
  • What data are we moving? Why? How much is required to be moved?
  • What data has to be utilized to get us what information, to what ends, and in what cycle times?

The top-down approach uncovers questions along the way that you’ll be able to address more intelligently. Traveling this path means all bases are covered, potential gaps are exposed, and your IT teams avoid headaches down the road.

The headaches down the road

As IT starts from the bottom and works its way up, not being aware of application interrelationships may cause applications to respond poorly to changes in the infrastructure. This forces IT to switch to a reactive mode, backtracking to decode what application did not respond well to and why, often resulting in cost-over runs and avoidable inefficiencies.

By re-hosting, retiring, rebuilding or retaining applications first, organizations are able to reduce their application footprint. Of course, this will require less infrastructure to support those applications and lead to more cost savings.

Now, a caveat: Sometimes a bottom-up approach is appropriate and necessary, usually reserved for companies whose IT processes are far enough behind the digital curve, or not digital at all. In this case, reworking the infrastructure may be a necessary first step to achieve a future state. But for most businesses operating under a primarily modern mentality, starting with the infrastructure is not ideal.

The ever-important end user

Even though all of a data center’s moving parts may seem detached from the end user, a top-down approach forces you to consider the end-user experience more than if you were in the weeds of your hardware and stacks.

When it comes to assessing your architecture, sure, the end user is not a central driver but certainly a factor. Your business doesn’t want to break the experience, it wants to improve it — something that, at a high level, is top-of-mind for businesses navigating today’s consumer expectations. Keeping end users satisfied during your hybrid cloud journey is best done through being mindful of the applications they use to stay productive and empowered. And determining how to move those applications together into the cloud, creating an input to ensure a seamless shift, is what application centricity promises.

Building your master plan

Before going full-speed-ahead with a top-down strategy, you have to first create it. But since finding in-house cloud expertise is one of the biggest challenges for businesses, enrolling a team with broad capabilities spanning both infrastructure and applications — will build a better foundation for that approach.

This figure shows two bar graphs depicting the challenges of Using Cloud Computing Worldwide in 2015 and 2016 in percentages.
Figure 2

Figure 2 reflects the risks of cloud computing for enterprises worldwide in 2015 and 2016. 32% of respondents cite the lack of resources or expertise for cloud computing as a risk of enterprise cloud adoption in 2016.

Additionally, an assessment that is both application-focused and partner-agnostic eliminates bias, saves time and resources and paints a clearer picture of cost savings and other factors to embrace your hybrid cloud journey. An assessment that will yield the most effective strategy should have applications at its heart, but will unite all layers of the organization that are typically siloed, from network to compute & storage teams to the virtualization layer.

A workload assessment from Datalink, an Insight company uses a vendor-neutral, application-centric methodology to make application migration clearer and more intentional. Using insights from all layers of the organization, a custom, multi-phased roadmap is delivered to more strategically realize your next-generation data center.

Glean insights from Forrester.

Learn more about building the right cloud computing strategy in Forrester’s report, “Take the Wheel: Build Your Cloud Computing Strategic Plan Now”. You’ll learn how to weave the needs of customers, developers and technology managers into your cloud strategy. When you download the report, you’ll be entered to win a free Microsoft Surface Studio.

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