This article was originally published on Intellyx.com
At Intellyx, we have a mantra that goes something like this: “We love confusion in the market. It gives us something to write about.”
Well, if confusion is what we like, Hybrid IT delivers it in spades.
The tech industry is a buzzword-creating machine, but the truth is that all of these buzzwords serve a purpose. As an industry, we are in a constant struggle to distill, comprehend and communicate new and complex ideas that are arising at a dizzying pace. So the industry coins terms to help simplify the process (and maybe sell some stuff along the way).
Hybrid IT is the latest entrant to go mainstream. And like its counterparts, it is rife with confusion, conflicting definitions, and outright abuse.
Unlike many of its fellow buzzwords, however, this one deserves serious attention from any business and IT executive who is trying to navigate their organization through the travails of digital disruption and transformation.
You need to get this one right.
Hybrid IT is an essential concept because it represents a fundamental shift in the way enterprise organizations architect and deploy their technology stack. In fact, as I described in one of my first Cortex pieces, I believe that the adoption of a Hybrid IT strategy is tantamount to envisioning a new digital business architecture.
The Confusion Behind Hybrid IT
The term Hybrid IT suffers from two primary points of confusion. The first is a simple case of mistaken identity.
The term hybrid cloud preceded the term Hybrid IT in management consciousness. Hybrid cloud represents an approach in which an enterprise organization uses on-premises private clouds in some combination with public clouds.
As we’ll discuss in a moment, the concept of Hybrid IT can include the integration of private and public clouds. As a result, many people came to see the terms as synonymous or may not have even realized that there were two terms in use at all.
The second point of confusion comes from an oversimplification. In broad terms, we define Hybrid IT as a management approach in which organizations create a workload-centric and value-driven integrated technology stack that may include legacy infrastructure, web-scale architectures, private cloud implementations along with public cloud platforms ranging from Infrastructure-as-a-Service to Software-as-a-Service.
The problem with this definition is that too many IT leaders have skipped over the “workload-centric and value-driven” part and have taken Hybrid IT to mean that they can pick-and-choose technologies indiscriminately. In fact, the adoption of a Hybrid IT strategy means the exact opposite.
Hybrid IT’s Workload and Value Centricity
This inclination to see Hybrid IT in terms of the infrastructure components of the technology stack is endemic in IT leadership teams and a result of a long-standing systemic architectural perspective.
The challenge is that the evolution of modern technologies continues to abstract workloads from their underlying infrastructures, making a traditional systems perspective out-of-date.
Instead, organizations must adopt a new architectural perspective in which the unit of control is the workload, and the driver of priority is its competitive value to the organization. This new perspective is the essence of a Hybrid IT strategy.
In this new paradigm, the organization must focus primarily on managing workloads rather than systems. To do so, organizations must view workloads in the context of their competitive business value and broadly define them to be either competitive or sustaining in nature — what I refer to as the workflow’s value state.
Using this perspective, the architectural decisions move away from designing and then connecting systems and move instead to designing integrated workflows aligned to the relative business value of the workloads they support.
In this value-driven context, it now makes complete sense for some workloads to remain on traditional, non-cloud infrastructures, while others move to different forms of cloud-based architectures, as the diagram illustrates.
The New Hybrid IT Architectural Framework
This new architectural perspective must, therefore, lead to a new architectural framework. Unlike the systems-oriented frameworks of the past that organized the architecture based on systems-type, this framework organizes the architecture based on the types of workloads they best support.
This new architectural framework consists of three tiers:
- Legacy: Platforms supporting sustaining workloads that are stable, too costly to migrate and pose limited competitive risk, so are left to run in traditional environments.
- Web-scale: Platforms supporting the organization’s most strategic and business-critical workloads, which thus drive competitive advantage. These workloads typically support in-house developed applications and run in web-scale-type environments either within owned data centers or in tightly controlled and managed environments.
- Commodity: Platforms supporting sustaining workloads that have been migrated from legacy environments, predominately to SaaS and public cloud applications (e.g. Salesforce, Workday, etc.), to reduce overhead on internal IT staff.
This architectural framework will challenge many traditional architectural assumptions and force organizations to re-envision the technology stack from the ground up. It will force IT organizations to use the value state to drive the architectural and deployment decisions of any given technology.
Realigning the technology stack from a competitive value perspective eliminates the guesswork on many of the critical decisions facing IT leaders today about which technologies to maintain in-house versus which to deploy to the cloud. It also makes it much easier to sort through the mass of emerging technology innovations to determine which are worthy of investment.
The four new architectural tiers may not seem to be a traditional architectural model. They do not describe either physical or logical structures. Instead, they represent a relative assignment of competitive value to the organization — and consequently, the amount of control and agility required.
The Intellyx Take
Embracing a Hybrid IT strategy demands that IT leaders be willing to challenge long-held approaches to the management of the IT function and the delivery of IT services. It requires a philosophical shift away from a technically-oriented systems mindset to a focus on the customer, business value, and competitive differentiation.
As we have written about several times before, digital transformation is fundamentally a shift in which the primary orientation of the organization moves away from a focus on the operating model to a focus on the customer.
This is true in the expected ways (e.g. the customer experience, etc.), but more importantly in the foundational architectures and operating models by which the business – and therefore IT – operates.
The workload-centricity that is implicit in an authentic Hybrid IT strategy is critical in realizing and sustaining this shift to customer centricity that digital transformation demands.
The abstraction of workloads from the underlying infrastructure enables them to cut across traditional architectural tiers to align with specific customer needs.
Like the entire concept of digital transformation, however, it is easy to whitewash Hybrid IT. Far too many leaders will use the term as a crutch, choosing expedience over a meaningful strategy and leave a mishmash architecture in their wake that is both non-transformative and which, in fact, sets them up for a spectacular implosion in the not-so-distant future.
Adopting a Hybrid IT strategy requires both a technical and cultural transformation that reorients the entire organization around workload centricity and the business value those workloads support. It is a transformation that IT and business leaders must get right.
Copyright © Intellyx LLC. Intellyx publishes the Agile Digital Transformation Roadmap poster, advises companies on their digital transformation initiatives, and helps vendors communicate their agility stories. As of the time of writing, none of the organizations mentioned in this article are Intellyx customers.