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Hybrid IT – Why You Need a Three-year Strategy

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A great question to ask anyone in an IT department is “What is your three-year strategy for IT?”  I would venture to guess that at least 80% of all mid-size organizations will respond with a blank stare.  When I ask this question, that’s typically the response I get.  This concept is extremely simple and seems like common sense, but I am amazed at the number of organizations that do not practice proper planning and strategy.

A three-year plan provides a road map upon which to base ALL IT decisions and consists of:

  • A high level vision of what the IT department will look like at the end of three years
  • Tactical goals to achieve within the next year
  • Initiatives to undertake in Year 2
  • Prognosticating goals for Year 3
  • A graphical roadmap to help explain
  • Research and development ideas on an ongoing basis

Depending on the size of your organization and how long projects take to complete, some of these items can be stretched and combined.  For instance, a hospital might have long-running projects, such as replacing an EHR medical records system —an endeavor that could take one to two years to complete.  The point is to have a good mixture of tactical and forward-thinking items.

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Part of the vision could be to get out of the hardware game and have all systems either delivered as Software as a Service (SaaS) or to have server infrastructure in the cloud delivered via Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) within three years. Most companies will say they would like to be out of both the hardware game and the mundane managed services game.

So consider a company that runs its own IT infrastructure. A new project comes along that will require additional compute resources.  The knee-jerk reaction is to buy new servers or add compute resources in the form of hardware to its virtual environment.  This puts more strain on the backup environment, DR environment —and don’t forget software licensing. Testing this scenario against a three-year plan that says the company wants to be cloud-based in three years would lead to the conclusion that new hardware wouldn’t be purchased.  Buying hardware would lock the company into a three- to four-year depreciation on the equipment purchased.  The workload needs to go to the cloud.

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Leveraging Existing Equipment

Just because you plan to be cloud-based in three years doesn’t mean that you throw out equipment that has a couple of years left in it.  Moving to the cloud is not an all-or-nothing strategy.  It is something that you can smartly move into over time.  You can keep existing applications where they are.  You can build new systems in the cloud and link the two environments together.  You can migrate more mission-critical loads into the cloud to make room for less mission-critical projects on your existing infrastructure.  If you are still hosting your equipment in your office, you may be considering moving it to a data center for additional protection and resiliency.  Before doing this, test that tactic against your move-to-the-cloud strategy.  Moving your equipment to a data center doesn’t really help meet your vision unless it also has cloud infrastructure in it. That would mean you could connect your equipment on the same VLAN as the cloud infrastructure so that they appear to be sitting right next to each other on the same network. Now that moves you toward your vision.  Enter  hybrid IT.

Hybrid IT can be a strategy in and of itself, or a means to an end to get to a pure cloud environment.  In the previous scenario, we used a hybrid cloud environment to ultimately get to a pure cloud infrastructure.

Keep in mind that there are certain types of workloads that don’t fit well in the cloud.  For instance, a data warehouse that requires a server with 512 GB of RAM doesn’t virtualize or fit well in the cloud.  An IBM p-series mainframe doesn’t work in the cloud.  Hybrid cloud providers allow you to have colocation space in the same data center as the cloud infrastructure, enabling you to securely connect those systems so they appear to be working together even though one is physical hardware and the other is in the cloud.

How to Make the Cloud Transition

Stick your toe in the water first.  Find a system that can be easily moved to the cloud, and quickly brought back if necessary.  Get familiar with how to monitor, test, communicate and configure cloud services. When the time comes for production systems to move in, you will know what you are doing.

After you have built up some confidence, put together a phased plan to migrate your systems into the cloud. Or, put all new systems into the cloud. You can also do both.  Whichever way you go, have a plan and execute on it.

A second approach is to engage with a partner that has experience moving customers into a cloud environment.  The right partner will provide enormous value and experience on how to move larger environments into the cloud.

Remember: how you build and architect an environment in the physical world is not how you do it in a cloud environment.  That’s why it is important to work with a partner and/or cloud provider with experience in building new architecture and applying design principles for working in the cloud.

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Build and Test Your Plan

Get your three-year IT plan done now and keep it up to date.  Promote it as part of your internal IT structure.  Get executive buy-in on the plan.  Make sure it that it helps to propel your business forward and aligns with your organization’s overall strategic plan.

Interview cloud providers for the services they offer that you will benefit from now, as well as for those that can help you later.  Check references for projects that are similar to yours.  Interview those references.  Your journey to the cloud starts now — make it a smooth one with the help of a three-year plan and a vetted partner.

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