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Hybrid Cloud and Small Business

A Hybrid Cloud Solution is when your IT infrastructure is located in both your on-site and cloud environments. Your business may have servers, services and apps located in your office, but it may also use apps or infrastructure components that are hosted in a cloud environment. In this post, we outline some of the drivers behind hybrid cloud adoption, discuss what it could look like, and walk through the findings of the Microsoft ‘State of the Hybrid Cloud’ report.

It isn’t all or nothing

For those organisations who are not quite ready to fully embrace cloud, a hybrid solution can deliver the best of both worlds. Businesses will benefit from the scalability and flexibility of a cloud solution but coupled with the surety, regulatory compliance and localised nature of an on-premise solution. This is of particular relevance to those organisations governed by regulation such as healthcare, financial services, banking and e-Gaming.

Many industries are synonymous with regulation, GDPR changes the landscape somewhat, casting its net far wider, reaching beyond traditionally regulated sectors to all industries.  Whilst many will turn their back on cloud, an optimal balance achieved through a hybrid solution.

What does a Hybrid Cloud Solution look like?

In our experience, the most common Hybrid Cloud solution is where resource-intensive, administratively burdensome, or flexible workloads are shifted to cloud platforms, whereas the more traditional IT functions, such as file servers and domain controllers, remain on-site.  We have increasingly seen more customers leverage the benefits of Office 365 Exchange Online and Sharepoint; typically an admin overhead for the average IT department.

When considering a hybrid solution, the first step is to really understand and document your current IT environment and workloads. From here, you can identify candidate IT components that may be well suited to the cloud. In all cases, remain engaged with the business – understanding your cyber-security, privacy, regulatory and compliance requirements must be a feature throughout!

State of the Hybrid Cloud

Office 365 Hybrid CloudMicrosoft’s State of the Hybrid Cloud Report set out the drivers, challenges and discussion points around Hybrid Cloud. In many respects, the report echos what we have seen in the market place; that Hybrid solutions are an increasingly compelling choice for businesses of every size.

A Hybrid Cloud solution, coupled with a flexible IT Support and Managed IT services model provides predictable performance, security and costs – a world away from traditional capex and maintenance heavy IT models, typically saddled with high-connectivity costs.

Key takeaways

The key takeaways from Microsoft’s survey included:

  • Digital transformation and business growth drive the need for hybrid cloud.
  • Hybrid cloud usage is generally high and varies widely by industry, country, and age of the organisation.
  • More established organisations are very likely to be using hybrid cloud.
  • The top benefit of hybrid cloud is flexibility, offering the opportunity to achieve cloud benefits while still maintaining existing resources. The benefits outweigh the challenges.
  • The top challenges with hybrid cloud are complexity and lack of skill sets. Organisations that have deployed hybrid cloud put more value on consistency across cloud and on-premises environments.

Industry Perspective

What may surprise many, the use of hybrid cloud in regulated industries such as banking and healthcare is towards the top of the adoption rankings

The hybrid approach enables these sectors to remain compliant within their regulatory environment, but allow them to benefit from cloud wherever possible.

Retail also features highly, in part because many retail businesses have distributed or remote sites, outlets or warehouses. The centralised nature of a hybrid environment, with a fixed corporate HQ infrastructure suits this type of business.

More than 80% of respondents from the following sectors answered ‘yes’ when asked were their organisations using Hybrid Cloud solutions.

  1. Wholesale
  2. Retail Trade
  3. Banking
  4. IT Services
  5. Professional Services
  6. Healthcare Services

Required Capabilities

When Microsoft surveyed the most important capabilities of a Hybrid Cloud solution, the following items were in the top 6:

  1. Network connectivity between on-premises and cloud. If you are relying upon cloud workloads, your business needs dependable and reliable internet connectivity. For an SMB, this could be VDSL or fibre, whilst larger organisations need to consider MPLS or more enterprise-grade connectivity.
    Next Generation Firewalls and SD-WAN changes thing somewhat, allowing larger companies to leverage relatively inexpensive VDSL and FTTP connections, but intelligently load-balancing and routing Cloud traffic in an efficient, quality-controlled manner. Equally, the provider needs to ensure their network connectivity is of suitable quality. You need to consider resilience, latency, peering and other factors that ensure a predictable, high-quality cloud experience.
  2. Unified management. The ability to manage, provision and monitor multiple cloud workloads using different platforms and OS is an important factor. Without this, by introducing different management planes, processes and suchlike – introduces additional burden and overhead.
  3. Consistent end-user experience. Your users shouldn’t know you are using cloud or not, they are entirely outcome-based and judge you on the user experience. Emphasising the need for robust connectivity and platform performance, the right solution should be invisible to the users. To ensure buy-in from the business and key stakeholders (i.e. Users!), the experience in the cloud needs to be consistent with on-premise workloads.
  4. Seamless portability of apps and data. Similar to the previous point, the ability to migrate data and apps should be as seamless as possible. Your business and IT team should not need to drastically re-engineer processes or go through extended, painful migration processes to facilitate cloud adoption.
  5. Common APIs , services and tools. If cloud is going to be at the core of your business, you need a consistent set of tools and APIs to leverage. Inconsistent and haphazard tools can be frustration and increase complexity, which may lead to higher costs and mistakes. This is an important point if extensibility and customisation is a goal of the business.
  6. Single User Identity. Having to login across multiple applications, systems and platforms is frustrating, and can hinder successful cloud adoption. SSO (single sign-on) and a single user identity can ease authentication and authorisation between on-premise and cloud environments. Multiple identities can actually increase your risk from a security perspective – rather than focusing on one, hardened and audited identity.

Challenges

Manx Technology Group - Cloud Consultancy

The report highlighted a number of challenges that people perceived with hybrid cloud adoption:

  • More complex environment. Different tools, provisioning, environments and operating models can be confusing for the business owner or IT department, particularly those accustomed to on-premise IT. Fortunately, MTG can assist with hybrid cloud adoption, we work across all major cloud platforms including Azure, AWS and IBM.
  • Lack of hybrid cloud skills. We work with customers who have cloud skills, or on-premise skills, yet struggle to make the two function as a collective. Integrating the two environments requires a new skill-set, something our IT support team can assist with. Administering Azure and AWS is a different beast to Active Directory.
  • Limited support available for issues. Is the problem with the cloud? On-premise? The network or the integration? Ambiguity leads to frustration and outages. Partner with an organisation who fills that vacuum and takes ownership.
  • Less secure. This is a myth in many respects. A poorly configured on-premise IT environment is equally insecure when compared to a poorly configured cloud environment. Most reputable cloud providers will have more intensive and hardened security controls than your traditional on-premise IT solution.

Hybrid Cloud Use Cases

  1. Global Application Deployment. Build applications and platforms in the cloud to facilitate a global user base. Consistent performance and user experience, anywhere in the world. This is why MTG is frequently deploying more apps in AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.
  2. Application front-end in the cloud, sensitive data located on-premise. Shift many of your apps into the public cloud, whilst maintaining a secure link to data hosted on-premise (and with regulatory oversight and defined ownership).
  3. The use of the cloud for data archival. Shift old or ‘cold’ data into the cloud for inexpensive storage. Data can be encrypted for added security.
  4. Use of data analytics, warehousing and BI. Migrate some or all of your data to the cloud for data operations, data warehousing, analytics and reporting is made easier in the cloud, without the need to invest in expensive (But infrequently used) on-premise data analytics platforms.
  5. Integrated e-mail from on-premise to Office 365. Combining Office 365 online with on-premise Exchange is a great way to ensure a balance of cloud with on-premise surety.
  6. High-speed network between cloud and on-premise. Two parts. You need high speed and reliable connectivity at your sites, and your cloud provider must have high performance, scalable and well-connected networks (with peering). This provides a high speed ‘motorway’ between your operating environments.
  7. DR-as-a-Service DRaaS). The storage outlined above, coupled with the connectivity and security characteristics make hybrid a great choice for DR. With pay-per-use pricing, it is well suited to infrequent or variable workloads such as DR.
  8. SD-WAN (Software-Defined WAN) allows a business to use modern firewalls with SD-WAN technology to intelligently route and switch traffic towards cloud environments (such as Office 365) over inexpensive connectivity.

Next steps

If your business uses Hybrid Cloud, wants to explore its usage or has it firmly defined in your roadmap, you should consider engaging MTG to work with you on your journey.

Microsoft Office 365 is a no-brainer for small businesses and enterprises alike. Microsoft Azure is a great choice, but you can consider AWS, Rackspace, Google and many others. In some cases, a dedicated private cloud is a great option. Speak to our team of experts for advice and assistance. The Microsoft report can be found here.

Further Reading

Best Small Business Firewall / Router

Office 365 Compliance : Resources

8 x Office 365 Features that ease GDPR compliance

 

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