Why hybrid IT is the driver of digital transformation

How to create the digital future without disrupting your existing business.


Digital transformation dominates CIO and business technology leaders’ thinking and, increasingly, their spending. Analyst group IDC, for example, suggests that in 2019, digital transformation spending will reach $1.7 trillion worldwide, a 42% increase from 2017.

In every industry and every part of the globe, new technologies are driving new business models and business opportunities and these, in turn, are demanding new application and infrastructure solutions.

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For CIOs and IT directors, it can be a difficult balancing act to deploy the infrastructure that fosters speed and agility, and which builds towards a digital future while, at the same time, minimising business disruption.

The complexity involved in real transformation means that over the next three years IDC expects ‘organisations will be internally focused on the systems, processes, and the culture shifts necessary to “get digital done”.’ However, Meredith Whalen, IDC’s senior vice president, IT executive programs, software, services, and industry research, predicts that by 2022 ‘80 percent of revenue growth will depend on digital offerings and operations’.

With the stakes so high, creating the technology infrastructure for fundamental change necessarily involves hybrid IT that combines private and public clouds with new architectures that bridge traditional IT, legacy applications and cloud native apps.

IDC’s CloudView Survey 2017 suggests that 87% of cloud users have adopted some capabilities for a hybrid cloud, an increase of 17% compared to 2016. The survey also reported 56% of users run more than one type of cloud deployment while 40% of cloud users say they are ‘Cloud First’ organisations.

This hybrid IT approach mirrors organisations’ increasingly composite business processes, according to analysts 451 Group. According to 451, decisions on where to place workloads rest on a complex calculation involving cost, business agility, control, security and compliance. However, the firm adds:

‘The ability to mix and match deployment choices within hybrid environments allows organisations to establish a balance between public cloud flexibility for developers and IT-savvy line-of-business managers, and centralised governance and control for IT managers and operations personnel.’

Done correctly, hybrid cloud allows an IT organisation to incorporate flexible, agile public cloud services into formalised IT procurement, management and governance processes, and ‘enables a situation where IT takes on a more strategic role of optimising access to the internal and external IT resources that run the business – serving as a business enabler in the evolution toward agile IT’.

However, this isn’t easy. Research by IDG for HPE found that 60 percent of CIOs who say they are working for innovative companies, believe IT remains an obstacle to faster delivery of applications and services.

For progressive CIOs, the challenge is to get the right mix of public cloud, private cloud, and traditional IT capabilities in a hybrid infrastructure. This has to be done with a single management environment to ensure efficiency, performance, scalability, security, and data-compliance requirements are met.

HPE is helping many different organisations do just that, from banks, educational institutions and manufacturers, to cloud service providers and entertainment companies.

For example, HPE hybrid computing powers the DreamWorks Animation studio, which created computer generated family movies such as Shrek. DreamWorks may not seem a typical enterprise IT operation, but Kate Swanborg, technology communications and strategic alliances executive, says:

‘Behind the scenes and under the hood, DreamWorks Animation is a digital manufacturer. We make data.’

A typical DreamWorks movie consists of more than 500,000,000 digital files, according to Swanborg, accounting for 350 terabytes of data, excluding backups. This data is stored in DreamWorks own HPE data centre and an HPE private cloud infrastructure.

“We’ve had at times ten films in active production simultaneously,” says Swanborg. “That means we have five billion active production files being worked on in a hybrid-cloud environment where any artist can access any file, from any film, at any time.”

Dropbox offers a different take on hybrid IT. Many enterprises (and many more consumers) use Dropbox’s cloud-based file synch and sharing services for collaboration and storage. But while providing public cloud services itself, Dropbox has worked with HPE to move key parts of its own IT from public to private cloud.

Launched in 2008 as a B2C service, Dropbox was always hybrid – using Amazon S3 (Simple Storage Service) to house data, while handling metadata on premises. When it launched a B2B service, however, the company decided it needed a new hardware infrastructure model ‘with greater scalability and the flexibility to fine-tune CPU, network bandwidth, and price-to-performance’. Working with HPE it deployed ProLiant SL4540 and HPE Cloudline servers and was able to migrate hundreds of petabytes of data to a new environment without disrupting services to customers.

Dropbox CEO Drew Houston says it ‘was a huge technical challenge’, like ’trying to swap out the engines in a jet mid-flight without any of your passengers knowing.’

The move to an on-premises private cloud solution helped Dropbox scale up and drive down costs while retaining the flexibility needed to profitably server 200,000 businesses including Hyatt hotels, Newscorp, the University of Cambridge and Macmillan.

Wherever organisations are on their transformation journey, whether they are digital natives like Dropbox or centuries old institutions like a university, hybrid IT is essential for business technology leaders trying to construct a long-term digital roadmap, develop their most important digital capabilities and build a digital platform.

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