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Hybrid wins for all of IT

Written by on October 30, 2013 in Blog, individuals - Comments Off

Today CSC (Computer Sciences Corporation) agreed to acquire ServiceMesh.  We at Ignition invested in the company more than two years ago before anyone was really saying much about hybrid anything other than vehicles. Our thesis was that hybrid would win and that ServiceMesh was defining what hybrid IT means.  As THE proud and only venture investor we are excited to see the ServiceMesh vision (which is already deployed in multiple large organizations) now multiplied by the capabilities of CSC on a global basis.  I thought it would be a good time to reflect.

Over the course of the past few years a lively discussion of which is the right or winning cloud type has gone on and on.  We have private, public, virtual private, hosted private, and then the variants of PaaS (public and private) and let’s throw in SaaS just for good measure.  All of this collectively can be described as Hybrid IT or more popularly Hybrid Cloud. I won’t try to link to a definition for all of this because well the definition is just “all of it”.  So the winning model will be “all of it” but working together in a way that at least seems coordinated and coherent.  

I use analogies from the earlier days of IT to draw parallels to where things are going.   I’ve started using the first PC style file servers as the initial examples of hybrid IT.   In the 1980s the PC came into being and we all had islands of storage contained on our PCs.  It was possible to store information “off machine” in the first clouds that were merely telnet or ftp servers or in places like AOL or Compuserv or on a company owned mainframe system (anyone remember Irma). Each of these off machine places had a unique way of getting files back and forth to our PCs and it was way different than the file access we had locally on our PC disks.  So the end user had to know specific commands and had user ids and passwords all that good stuff. The application software (word processing and spreadsheet) of the day didn’t bother trying to figure out how to store files in these clouds. It was the user’s job to move files around and understand the protocols (modem or 3270) and unique commands to store and retrieve things in these places.  So the PC was our private place and these off machine places were our clouds. They were separate and apart. The local area network, the PC style file server, and some clever software changed all that. A software trick enabled disk space on the file server to appear to the LAN connected PC as if it was a locally attached disk. We called this technique redirection at the time but it really was a form of virtualization and namespace management.  The magic enabled application software and end users to use storage in a hybrid way without the user having to think (too much) about where things were.  This hybrid storage between PC and server gave the IT folks the ability to provide real services for their end users while getting some control in the form of data governance and protection. 

Fast forward twenty years and we can talk about all IT services in a similar way but now the dividing line is a company’s network and the outside world of the public cloud and SaaS.  Its way more than the “where it is”.  It’s clearly about how it’s delivered. It’s not enough for IT to simply allow the use of off network resources.  The combined on and off network resources need to be presented and accessed in the same way.  The unit of access and definition is no longer something that looks like a disk drive but rather an entire complex application or a collection of applications and other resources that would look a lot like a datacenter.  The hybrid cloud is all of this together and appearing to act as one.  The challenge is that very few of these components were designed together and nor should they be.  As a result each component has its own way of being used and accessed (ie. AWS compute is different from using an HP  or Dell Server in every way but both run VMs).  Software systems that enable hybrid cloud result in organizational agility by delivering a prescriptive model for incorporating arbitrary private and public components that end up looking and acting like a cohesive whole. Governance and compliance is a centerpiece here.  A complete hybrid cloud framework won’t let users do the wrong thing (like replicate a private database off premises) but it won’t get in the way of users doing their jobs (like enabling prescribed use of elastic computing quickly).  The file servers of old did the same things like enforcing disk quotas or setting read/write permissions on file shares. The user didn’t need to remember what was allowed.

Of course the framework needs to adapt over time to incorporate things it doesn’t know about today but a proper architecture will support that without user and application disruption.  As businesses of all sizes adopt the many kinds of cloud computing resources the only way to realize full potential is by deploying a hybrid cloud system early in the cycle such that a culture of inclusiveness as opposed to silos takes root early as opposed to late.  By doing this the ability to use “all of it” becomes a reality as opposed to something only presented at a conference. When I met the team at ServiceMesh a few years ago I saw the new hybrid IT for the first time. Congratulations to them and our new friends at CSC. Best speed on the journey ahead together.

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