Get used to a complex hybrid cloud environment - Legacy applications are not going to disappear anytime soon

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In the past few weeks, I have had the pleasure of hosting a couple of roundtable dinners on behalf of Park Place Technologies on the subject of the challenges in maintaining IT operational excellence in a hybrid cloud infrastructure environment. One event was in Manchester, UK, and the other was in Wiesbaden, Germany.

We had a nice balance of retail, manufacturing and financial services organisations along with some public sector and, interestingly, a couple of much younger digital companies. While the detail of the discussions and who said what will remain private, they did throw up some interesting insights that are worth sharing here.

I have never had any doubt about the benefits of cloud computing for digital start-ups. Similarly, I have stated before that migrating to the cloud for everyone else has plenty of benefits, but also plenty of risks, both in the migration process and in the added complexity of managing a hybrid IT environment. Having two digital start-ups round the table served to highlight a real gulf in the expectations and experience of the different groups.

For me there were four key takeaways from the discussions.

The first is that everyone thinks they are running some cloud-based systems. Nobody, at either session, owned up to having no applications running in the cloud and there was general agreement that most, if not all new applications would be cloud based.  However, the vast majority of responses indicated that the focus was very much on using SaaS (Software-as-a-Service) solutions for new applications rather than developing systems themselves. ServiceNow and various Microsoft collaboration and office tools were mentioned most frequently.

That is hardly surprising, but when comparing the way in which SaaS companies structure their licensing, it was obvious that they fell some way short of a genuine pay-per-use model that should be a fundamental tenet of cloud computing. People also commented that prices were rising sharply and that use of such solutions, particularly those from any of the major cloud providers was a major lock-in concern.

The second is the ongoing challenge of deciding what to do about existing, complex legacy ERP systems. SAP came up in discussions a few times, but the problems are the same for most highly customised, monolithic systems. The fact that SAP are giving customers until 2040 before support for on-premises versions is halted, gives a sense of how long it will be before such systems have been migrated. While some modules, or elements of these systems, that don’t have too many linkages, are being viewed as possible migration targets, I got the sense that, overall, the potential risks and costs of moving these systems to the cloud had pushed their migration quite a long way down to-do lists.

The third takeaway revolved around attitudes to data privacy and data security. Here there was a real difference in attitude and focus between Germany and the UK. This topic was far more important at the German event. Partly that might be down to cultural differences, but equally it is probably reflected by the fact that, unlike in Germany, there were no manufacturing companies represented at the UK dinner. Issues around theft of IP and data sharing outside the EU were widely discussed and debated. It was interesting to note that no one reacted positively to the use of sovereign clouds or the ability to restrict cloud data to certain cloud regions. The focus was much more on what data could or shouldn’t be entrusted to the cloud. So, still some work for cloud providers to do to convince German customers at least that cloud is a safe environment for all their data.

My last takeaway is more of a general observation on the implications for vendors of some of the individual discussions I overheard or participated in. As an industry we can talk excitedly about all the wonderful new tools, techniques and methodologies that will make organisations more efficient and more agile and wonder why adoption isn’t as fast as we would like. The truth is most IT organisations have to prioritise ruthlessly or they would soon be overwhelmed. Often, senior business executives stipulate cloud only, or cloud first policies without really understanding what will be involved. Add on top of that internal organisational silos, company politics and often short term financial and operational goals that impede strategic decision making. So, you can perhaps forgive IT leaders for not prioritising a drive to reduce the number of IT Ops tools in favour of the latest greatest platform, or for relying on SaaS vendors to provide proactive assurance around service levels, or for apparently ignoring a host of other developments the vendor and analyst communities are touting as the latest cure-all.

Each person I spoke to had different issues and concerns, even those in the same or similar vertical markets, that would impact the speed and order in which those issues could be addressed. Two things are clear. Hybrid IT infrastructure environments are not going away any time soon and as a vendor you need to know your customer better than you do today and help them navigate the ever-changing technology currents. Tell them why they should care, not what you have developed.