Hybrid cloud ecosystem readies for impact from arrival of Microsoft Azure Stack
Learn what enterprises can do to make the most of hybrid cloud models
By: Dana Gardner
Jul. 27, 2017 03:43 PM
The next BriefingsDirect cloud deployment strategies interview explores how hybrid cloud ecosystem players such as PwC and Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) are gearing up to support the Microsoft Azure Stack private-public cloud continuum.
We’ll now learn what enterprises can do to make the most of hybrid cloud models and be ready specifically for Microsoft’s solutions for balancing the boundaries between public and private cloud deployments.
Here to explore the latest approaches for successful hybrid IT, we’re joined by Rohit “Ro” Antao, a Partner at PwC, and Ken Won, Director of Cloud Solutions Marketing at HPE. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: Ro, what are the trends driving adoption of hybrid cloud models, specifically Microsoft Azure Stack? Why are people interested in doing this?
Antao: What we have observed in the last 18 months is that a lot of our clients are now aggressively pushing toward the public cloud. In that journey there are a couple of things that are becoming really loud and clear to them.
Journey to the cloud
Number one is that there will always be some sort of a private data center footprint. There are certain workloads that are not appropriate for the public cloud; there are certain workloads that perform better in the private data center. And so the first acknowledgment is that there is going to be that private, as well as public, side of how they deliver IT services.
Now, that being said, they have to begin building the capabilities and the mechanisms to be able to manage these different environments seamlessly. As they go down this path, that's where we are seeing a lot of traction and focus.
The other trend in conjunction with that is in the public cloud space where we see a lot of traction around Azure. They have come on strong. They have been aggressively going after the public cloud market. Being able to have that seamless environment between private and public with Azure Stack is what’s driving a lot of the demand.
Won: We at HPE are seeing that very similarly, as well. We call that “hybrid IT,” and we talk about how customers need to find the right mix of private and public -- and managed services -- to fit their businesses. They may put some services in a public cloud, some services in a private cloud, and some in a managed cloud. Depending on their company strategy, they need to figure out which workloads go where.
We have these conversations with many of our customers about how do you determine the right placement for these different workloads -- taking into account things like security, performance, compliance, and cost -- and helping them evaluate this hybrid IT environment that they now need to manage.
Gardner: Ro, a lot of what people have used public cloud for is greenfield apps -- beginning in the cloud, developing in the cloud, deploying in the cloud -- but there's also an interest in many enterprises about legacy applications and datasets. Is Azure Stack and hybrid cloud an opportunity for them to rethink where their older apps and data should reside?
Antao: Absolutely. When you look at the broader market, a lot of these businesses are competing today in very dynamic markets. When companies today think about strategy, it's no longer the 5- and 10-year strategy. They are thinking about how to be relevant in the market this year, today, this quarter. That requires a lot of flexibility in their business model; that requires a lot of variability in their cost structure.
When you look at it from that viewpoint, a lot of our clients look at the public cloud as more than, “Is the app suitable for the public cloud?” They are also seeking certain cost advantages in terms of variability in that cost structure that they can take advantage of. And that’s where we are seeing them look at the public cloud beyond just applications in terms that are suitable for public cloud.
Public and/or private power
Won: We help a lot of companies think about where the best place is for their traditional apps. Often they don’t want to restructure them, they don’t want to rewrite them, because they are already an investment; they don’t want to spend a lot of time refactoring them.
If you look at these traditional applications, a lot of times when they are dealing with data – especially if they are dealing with sensitive data -- those are better placed in a private cloud.
Antao: One of the great things about Microsoft Azure Stack is it gives the data center that public cloud experience -- where developers have the similar experience as they would in a public cloud. The only difference is that you are now controlling the costs as well. So that's another big advantage we see.
Won: Yeah, absolutely, it's giving the developers the experience of a public cloud, but from the IT standpoint of also providing the compliance, the control, and the security of a private cloud. Allowing applications to be deployed in either a public or private cloud -- depending on its requirements -- is incredibly powerful. There's no other environment out there that provides that API-compatibility between private and public cloud deployments like Azure Stack does.
Gardner: Clearly Microsoft is interested in recognizing that skill sets, platform affinity, and processes are all really important. If they are able to provide a private cloud and public cloud experience that’s common to the IT operators that are used to using Microsoft platforms and frameworks -- that's a boon. It's also important for enterprises to be able to continue with the skills they have.
Ro, is such a commonality of skills and processes not top of mind for many organizations?
Antao: Absolutely! I think there is always the risk when you have different environments having that “swivel chair” approach. You have a certain set of skills and processes for your private data center. Then you now have a certain set of skills and processes to manage your public cloud footprint.
One of the big problems and challenges that this solves is being able to drive more of that commonality across consistent sets of processes. You can have a similar talent pool, and you have similar kinds of training and awareness that you are trying to drive within the organization -- because you now can have similar stacks on both ends.
Won: That's a great point. We know that the biggest challenge to adopting new concepts
is not the technology; it's really the people and process issues. So if you can address that, which is what Azure Stack does, it makes it so much easier for enterprises to bring on new capabilities, because they are leveraging the experience that they already have using Azure public cloud.
Gardner: Many IT organizations are familiar with Microsoft Azure Stack. It's been in technical preview for quite some time. As it hits the market in September 2017, in seeking that total-solution, people-and-process approach, what is PwC bringing to the table to help organizations get the best value and advantage out of Azure Stack?
Hybrid: a tectonic IT shift
Antao: Ken made the point earlier in this discussion about hybrid IT. When you look at IT pivoting to more of the hybrid delivery mode, it's a tectonic shift in IT's operating model, in their architecture, their culture, in their roles and responsibilities – in the fundamental value proposition of IT to the enterprise.
When we partner with HPE in helping organizations drive through this transformation, we work with HPE in rethinking the operating model, in understanding the new kinds of roles and skills, of being able to apply these changes in the context of the business drivers that are leading it. That's one of the typical ways that we work with HPE in this space.
Won: It's a great complement. HPE understands the technology, understands the infrastructure, combined with the business processes, and then the higher level of thinking and the strategy knowledge that PwC has. It's a great partnership.
Gardner: Attaining hybrid IT efficiency and doing it with security and control is not something you buy off the shelf. It's not a license. It seems to me that an ecosystem is essential. But how do IT organizations manage that ecosystem? Are there ways that you all are working together, HPE in this case with PwC, and with Microsoft to make that consumption of an ecosystem solution much more attainable?
Won: One of the things that we are doing is working with Microsoft on their partnerships so that we can look at all these companies that have their offerings running on Azure public cloud and ensuring that those are all available and supported in Azure Stack, as well as running in the data center.
We are spending a lot of time with Microsoft on their ecosystem to make sure those services, those companies, or those products are available on Azure Stack -- as well fully supported on Azure Stack that’s running on HPE gear.
Gardner: They might not be concerned about the hardware, but they are concerned about the total value -- and the total solution. If the hardware players aren't collaborating well with the service providers and with the cloud providers -- then that's not going to work.
Quick collaboration is key
Won: Exactly! I think of it like a washing machine. No one wants to own a washing machine, but everyone wants clean clothes. So it's the necessary evil, it’s super important, but you just as soon not have to do it.
Gardner: I just don’t know what to take to the dry cleaner or not, right?
Won: Yeah, there you go!
Antao: From a consulting standpoint, clients no longer have the appetite for these five- to six-year transformations. Their businesses are changing at a much faster pace. One of the ways that we are working the ecosystem-level solution -- again much like the deep and longstanding relationship we have had with HPE – is we have also been working with Microsoft in the same context.
And in a three-way fashion, we have focused on being able to define accelerators to deploying these solutions. So codifying a lot of our experiences, the lessons learned, a deep understanding of both the public and the private stack to be able to accelerate value for our customers -- because that’s what they expect today.
Won: One of the things, Ro, that you brought up, and I think is very relevant here, is these three-way relationships. Customers don't want to have to deal with all of these different vendors, these different pieces of stack or different aspects of the value chain. They instead expect us as vendors to be working together. So HPE, PwC, Microsoft are all working together to make it easier for the customers to ultimately deliver the services they need to drive their business.
Low risk, all reward
Gardner: So speed-to-value, super important; common solution cooperation and collaboration synergy among the partners, super important. But another part of this is doing it at low risk, because no one wants to be in a transition from a public to private or a full hybrid spectrum -- and then suffer performance issues, lost data, with end customers not happy.
PwC has been focused on governance, risk management and compliance (GRC) in trying to bring about better end-to-end hybrid IT control. What is it that you bring to this particular problem that is unique? It seems that each enterprise is doing this anew, but you have done it for a lot of others and experience can be very powerful that way.
Antao: Absolutely! The move to hybrid IT is a fundamental shift in governance models, in how you address certain risks, the emergence of new risks, and new security challenges. A lot of what we have been doing in this space has been in helping that IT organizations accelerate that shift -- that paradigm shift -- that they have to make.
In that context, we have been working very closely with HPE to understand what the requirements of that new world are going to look like. We can build and bring to the table solutions that support those needs.
Won: It’s absolutely critical -- this experience that PwC has is huge. We always come up with new technologies; every few years you have something new. But it’s that experience that PwC has to bring to the table that's incredibly helpful to our customer base.
Antao: So often when we think of governance, it’s more in terms of the steady state and the runtime. But there's this whole journey between getting from where we today to that hybrid IT state -- and having the governing mechanisms around it -- so that they can do it in a way that doesn't expose their business to too much risk. There is always risk involved in these large-scale transformations, but how do you manage and govern that process through getting to that hybrid IT state? That’s where we also spend a lot of time as we help clients through this transformation.
Gardner: For IT shops that are heavily Microsoft-focused, is there a way for them to master Azure Stack, the people, process and technology that will then be an accelerant for them to go to a broader hybrid IT capability? I’m thinking of multi-cloud, and even being able to develop with DevOps and SecOps across a multiple cloud continuum as a core competency.
Is Azure Stack for many companies a stepping-stone to a wider hybrid capability, Ro?
Managed multi-cloud continuum
Antao: Yes. And I think in many cases that’s inevitable. When you look at most organizations today, generally speaking, they have at least two public cloud providers that they use. They consume several Software as a service (SaaS) applications. They have multiple data center locations. The role of IT now is to become the broker and integrator of multi-cloud environments, among and between on-premise and in the public cloud. That's where we see a lot of them evolve their management practices, their processes, the talent -- to be able to abstract these different pools and focus on the business. That's where we see a lot of the talent development.
Won: We see that as well at HPE as this whole multi-cloud strategy is being implemented. More and more, the challenge that organizations are having is that they have these multiple clouds, each of which is managed by a different team or via different technologies with different processes.
So as a way to bring these together, there is huge value to the customer, by bringing together, for example, Azure Stack and Azure [public cloud] together. They may have multiple Azure Stack environments, perhaps in different data centers, in different countries, in different locales. We need to help them align their processes to run much more efficiently and more effectively. We need to engage with them not only from an IT standpoint, but also from the developer standpoint. They can use those common services to develop that application and deploy it in multiple places in the same way.
Antao: What's making this whole environment even more complex these days is that a couple of years ago, when we talked about multi-cloud, it was really the capability to either deploy in one public cloud versus another.
Few years later, it evolved into being able to port workloads seamlessly from one cloud to another. Today, as we look at the multi-cloud strategy that a lot of our clients are exploring this: Within a given business workflow, depending on the unique characteristics of different parts of that business process, how do you leverage different clouds given their unique strengths and weaknesses?
There might be portions of a business process that, to your point earlier, Ken, are highly confidential. You are dealing with a lot of compliance requirements. You may want to consume from an internal private cloud. There are other parts of it that you are looking for, such as immense scale, to deal with the peaks when that particular business process gets impacted. How do you go back to where the public cloud has a history with that? In a third case, it might be enterprise-grades workloads.
So that’s where we are seeing multi-cloud evolve, into where in one business process could have multiple sources, and so how does an IT organization manage that in a seamless way?
Gardner: It certainly seems inevitable that the choice of such a cloud continuum configuration model will vary and change. It could be one definition in one country or region, another definition in another country and region. It could even be contextual, such as by the type of end user who's banging on the app. As the Internet of Things (IoT) kicks in, we might be thinking about not just individuals, but machine-to-machine (M2M), app-to-app types of interactions.
So quite a bit of complexity, but dealt with in such a way that the payoff could be monumental. If you do hybrid cloud and hybrid IT well, what could that mean for your business in three to five years, Ro?
Nimble, quick and cost-efficient
Antao: Clearly there is the agility aspect, of being able to seamlessly leverage these different clouds to allow IT organizations to be much more nimble in how they respond to the business.
From a cost standpoint, and this is actually a great example we had for a large-scale migration that we are currently doing to the public cloud. What the IT organization found was they consumed close to 70 percent of their migration budget for only 30 percent of the progress that they made.
And a larger part of that was because the minute you have your workloads sitting on a public cloud -- whether it is a development workload or you are still working your way through it, but technically it’s not yet providing value -- the clock is ticking. Being able to allow for a hybrid environment, where you a do a lot of that development, get it ready -- almost production-ready -- and then when the time is right to drive value from that application -- that’s when you move to a public cloud. Those are huge cost savings right there.
Clients that have managed to balance those two paradigms are the ones who are also seeing a lot of economic efficiencies.
Won: The most important thing that people see value in is that agility. The ability to respond much faster to competitive actions or to new changes in the market, the ability to bring applications out faster, to be able to update applications in months -- or sometimes even weeks -- rather than the two years that it used to take.
It's that agility to allow people to move faster and to shift their capabilities so much quicker than they have ever been able to do – that is the top reason why we're seeing people moving to this hybrid model. The cost factor is also really critical as they look at whether they are doing CAPEX or OPEX and private cloud or public cloud.
One of the things that we have been doing at HPE through our Flexible Capacity program is that we enable our customers who were getting hardware to run these private clouds to actually pay for it on a pay-as-you-go basis. This allows them to better align their usage -- the cost to their usage. So taking that whole concept of pay-as-you-go that we see in the public cloud and bringing that into a private cloud environment.
Antao: That’s a great point. From a cost standpoint, there is an efficiency discussion. But we are also seeing in today's world that we are depending on edge computing a lot more. I was talking to the CIO of a large park the other day, and his comment to me was, yes, they would love to use the public cloud but they cannot afford for any kind of latency or disruption of services because that means he’s got thousands of visitors and guests in his park, because of the amount of dependency on technology he can afford that kind of latency.
And so part of it is also the revenue impact discussion, and using public cloud in a way that allows you to manage some of those risks in terms of that analytical power and that computing power you need closer to the edge -- closer to your internal systems.
Gardner: Microsoft Azure Stack is reinforcing the power and capability of hybrid cloud models, but Azure Stack is not going to be the same for each individual enterprise. How they differentiate, how they use and take advantage of a hybrid continuum will give them competitive advantages and give them a one-up in terms of skills.
It seems to me that the continuum of Azure Stack, of a hybrid cloud, is super-important. But how your organization specifically takes advantage of that is going to be the key differentiator. And that's where an ecosystem solutions approach can be a huge benefit.
Let's look at what comes next. What might we be talking about a year from now when we think about Microsoft Azure Stack in the market and the impact of hybrid cloud on businesses, Ken?
Look at clouds from both sides now
Won: You will see organizations shifting from a world of using multiple clouds and having different applications or services on clouds to having an environment where services are based on multiple clouds. With the new cloud-native applications you'll be running different aspects of those services in different locations based on what are the requirements of that particular microservice.
So a service may be partially running in Azure, part of it may be running in Azure Stack. You will certainly see that as a kind of break in the boundary of private cloud versus public cloud, and so think of it as a continuum, if you will, of different environments able to support whatever applications they need.
Gardner: Ro, as people get more into the weeds with hybrid cloud, maybe using Azure Stack, how will the market adjust?
Antao: I completely agree with Ken in terms of how organizations are going to evolve their architecture. At PwC we have this term called the Configurable Enterprise, which essentially focuses on how the IT organization consumes services from all of these different sources to be able to ultimately solve business problems.
To that point, where we see the market trends is in the hybrid IT space, the adoption of that continuum. One of the big pressures IT organizations face is how they are going to evolve their operating model to be successful in this new world. CIOs, especially the forward-thinking ones, are starting to ask that question. We are going to see in the next 12 months a lot more pressure in that space.
Gardner: These are, after all, still early days of hybrid cloud and hybrid IT. Before we sign off, how should organizations that might not yet be deep into this prepare themselves? Are there some operations, culture, and skills? How might you want to be in a good position to take advantage of this when you do take the plunge?
Plan to succeed with IT on board
Won: One of the things we recommend is a workshop where we sit down with the customer and think through their company strategy. What is their IT strategy? How does that relate or map to the infrastructure that they need in order to be successful?
This makes the connection between the value they want to offer as a company, as a business, to the infrastructure. It puts a plan in place so that they can see that direct linkage. That workshop is one of the things that we help a lot of customers with.
We also have innovation centers that we've built with Microsoft where customers can come in and experience Azure Stack firsthand. They can see the latest versions of Azure Stack, they can see the hardware, and they can meet with experts. We bring in partners such as PwC to have a conversation in these innovation centers with experts.
Gardner: Ro, how to get ready when you want to take the plunge and make the best and most of it?
Antao: We are at a stage right now where these transformations can no longer be done to the IT organization; the IT organization has to come along on this journey. What we have seen is, especially in the early stages, the running of pilot projects, of being able to involve the developers, the infrastructure architects, and the operations folks in pilot workloads, and learn how to manage it going forward in this new model.
You want to create that from a top-down perspective, being able to tie in to where this adds the most value to the business. From a grassroots effort, you need to also create champions within the trenches that are going to be able to manage this new environment. Combining those two efforts has been very successful for organizations as they embark on this journey.
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