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APAC hybrid cloud adoption still cloudy

Although there are clear benefits of hybrid cloud, enterprises in Asia-Pacific aren’t making the most of them due to a lack of holistic understanding, strategic frameworks and skillsets

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: CW Asia-Pacific: CW APAC: Expert advice on hybrid cloud

The rise of public cloud computing has been nothing short of phenomenal in the past five years, driven by myriad digital transformation initiatives and, more recently, the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced many companies and educational establishments to work and learn from home.

But despite these numerous advantages, organisations with a lot of legacy workloads can’t or won’t move everything to the public cloud. Complete migration and modernisation can be highly resource intensive, as some legacy apps aren’t built to be hosted on cloud platforms.

Enterprises also face issues such as cyber security, lack of technical expertise to migrate workloads, and the need to manage ongoing operations while seeking to develop new disruptive solutions to stay ahead of the competition.

This is where hybrid cloud comes into play, with the promise it brings to deliver all the benefits of public cloud computing – flexibility, scalability and cost efficiencies – with the lowest possible risk of data exposure, says K. Raman, managing director of Microsoft Malaysia.

Speaking to Computer Weekly, Raman says a hybrid cloud is a computing environment that combines a public cloud and a private cloud by allowing data and applications to be shared between them.

Using a hybrid cloud allows companies to scale computing resources,” he says. It also eliminates the need to make big investments to handle short-term spikes in demand.

“Companies will pay only for resources they temporarily use instead of having to purchase and maintain additional resources and equipment that could remain idle over long periods of time, which translates to reduced capital expenditure,” he adds.

Eric Foo, vice-president for cloud, security and infrastructure at Hitachi Sunway Information Systems, defines hybrid cloud as any combination of an on-premise private cloud – such as a VMware-based or other hyper-converged virtual machine – and an off-premise but in-country managed cloud by a local or a global cloud service provider.

“Hybrid clouds allow flexibility for enterprises to have control of compute resources and achieve compliance requirements with privately managed on-premise or in-country cloud,” he says.

“A hybrid IT-ready enterprise is a trusted broker and provider for all IT services – cloud and non-cloud – including services provided by the IT organisation and external providers”
Alan Waite, Gartner

“It also has the scalability and agility to enable global market reach without performance or latency issues with global public cloud,” he adds.

Foo notes that besides scalability and flexibility, enterprises in Southeast Asia are also turning to hybrid clouds for disaster recovery and business continuity.

“I would argue that when defined as above, a large proportion of ASEAN-based enterprises in countries such as Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand may have a very high adoption rate of hybrid cloud environments,” says the executive from the Malaysia-based IT solutions provider.

The growth of hybrid clouds has not gone unnoticed for the three leading public cloud giants – Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP).

Born native in the cloud, the providers would normally champion moving all enterprise workloads onto their datacentres. But of late, they have conceded that many of today’s enterprises can’t or won’t do that, and as a result, all three have some form of offering for enterprises wanting to split their workloads both on- and off-premise.

In June 2020, AWS launched its offering to support hybrid cloud via AWS Outposts, a fully managed and configurable hardware rack that provides on-premise compute and storage capabilities, while providing access to AWS services in the cloud in two ASEAN countries. The solution is now available in Thailand via True IDC, and in Malaysia via TM One and Maxis.

In early July 2020, Oracle introduced its Dedicated Region Cloud at Customer, an Oracle managed service that touts the ability to enable enterprises to run an entire cloud region in their own datacentres.

Not all rosy

With the many benefits touted by hybrid cloud suppliers, adoption among enterprises should be encouraging. But studies conducted by two research firms suggest that adoption of hybrid clouds is mixed at best, fragmented at worst.

Duncan Tan, senior research manager for IDC ASEAN, notes that based on its most recent cloud-focused MaturityScape benchmark study, conducted in 2018, about 85% of enterprises polled in Asia-Pacific excluding Japan (APeJ) are rated at two out of five in IDC’s cloud maturity model. The survey involved 654 APeJ organisations across 11 countries.

Tan explains that this low maturity rating is probably due to the low competencies needed to support hybrid cloud deployments.

Arguing that enterprises are struggling to cross what he terms a “chasm of maturity”, Tan stresses that they need to mature in four critical dimensions – vision, technology, people and process – to gain true agility from cloud adoption.

“Some 42.7% of enterprises polled are in the ‘ad hoc’ mode exploring hybrid cloud, where individual development and line of business [LOB] teams are experimenting with cloud,” says Tan. “[This is where] shadow IT reigns supreme, with inconsistent approaches to security, information management and governance.”

Tan adds that another 42.2% are, at best, “opportunistic” in their approach to cloud, where enterprises are collaborating and learning from one another, formalising best practices and developing frameworks for implementing enterprise-scale hybrid multicloud architectures.

Similarly, Gartner approximates that only about 15% of large enterprises have implemented hybrid cloud computing beyond its most basic approach, which is to integrate applications and services across service boundaries.

This decreases to fewer than 10% for mid-size enterprises, which are mostly implementing availability and disaster recovery use cases, the research firm points out in its 2019 Hype cycle for hybrid infrastructure services research note.

“Most companies will use some form of hybrid cloud computing in the next two years, but more advanced approaches lack maturity and suffer from significant setup and operational complexity,” it states.

Cloudy terms, challenges faced

Clarifying the lack of hybrid cloud maturity in the region, Gartner’s senior director for cloud strategy, Alan Waite, says the term “hybrid cloud” is generally too loosely used by suppliers and service providers.

Compounding the problem is that the term is vague and does not allow enough granularity for implementation planning by cloud and infrastructure professionals, he says.

“In particular, hybrid clouds do integrate [public and private] clouds, but do not include environments such as on-premise virtualisation and edge computing,” he says. “The reality is that in today’s environment, applications and data reside within a mesh of public cloud services, private clouds, datacentres and edge locations.”

Waite adds that this is why Gartner prefers to define hybrid cloud as “policy-based and coordinated service provisioning, use and management across a mixture of internal and external cloud services”.

“The key question for all hybrid architecture is integration,” he says. “Put simply, what capabilities does an enterprise want across and between the environments where its applications and data reside?”

To meet the challenge of operating these disparate environments, Waite stresses that enterprise IT departments must evolve into a broker and integrator of IT-based services and do so by blending traditional services with both public and private cloud services.

“A hybrid IT-ready enterprise is a trusted broker and provider for all IT services – cloud and non-cloud – including services provided by the IT organisation and external providers,” he says.

IDC’s Tan says compounding this challenge is that many LOBs within enterprises are still struggling to understand hybrid cloud services.

There is also a lack of standardised governance and enforcement of hybrid cloud guidelines, which creates an ineffective structure for adopting hybrid clouds, he adds.

“Many enterprises are running multiple processes, tools and resources to manage hybrid clouds, and this leads to inconsistent policies and standards, including security and compliance, automated workflow and cost management,” he says.

“LOBs and IT must build a consistent and standardised enterprise-wide approach to cloud-based best practices and promote collaboration between business and IT to spur hybrid adoption.”

Hitachi Sunway’s Foo points out that another complex issue is cyber security implementation on hybrid clouds.

“Cyber security protection across hybrid cloud including end-to-end threats visibility, monitoring and response capabilities are key points that must be tackled,” says Foo.

Microsoft’s Raman concurs, adding: “An extension of security and privacy is the need for enterprises to know if their data and applications will be compliant with global regulations and policies.”

How to move forward

In addressing this mesh of complexity surrounding hybrid cloud adoption in Asia-Pacific, experts Computer Weekly spoke to advocate a three-prong strategy as a guide to holistically adopting hybrid cloud.

The first is to establish a clear policy framework and design a roadmap for a cloud adoption journey over time, covering infrastructure migration, orchestration and strategies for management integration. The second is to identify which critical applications should be moved to the cloud, whether private or public, and repurpose those that are to be moved for cloud services.

Last, enterprises need to invest in skillsets and technologies required to integrate public cloud and edge services with legacy systems, as well as cyber security expertise to safeguard the entire ecosystem.

“LOBs and IT must build a consistent and standardised enterprise-wide approach to cloud-based best practices and promote collaboration between business and IT to spur hybrid adoption”
Duncan Tan, IDC

Hitachi Sunway’s Foo believes that the first step any enterprise in ASEAN needs to look into when considering hybrid cloud deployments is to modernise legacy applications to take advantage of the cloud and open source technologies.

“There is a need to migrate legacy systems in phases so that the business impact can be minimised. Enterprises need to define and develop a digital transformation roadmap that can drive, sustain and support business growth,” says Foo.

When migrating legacy applications, Microsoft’s Raman advises enterprises to consider four factors: security and compliance; costs of migration; how data is migrated; and skill sets to manage migration.

“There is no one-size-fits-all approach to migrate the legacy applications and apps to the cloud,” says Raman. “However, enterprises should consider their goals and how the infrastructure and apps will align to them, and what value they bring to the enterprise.”

To achieve the end goal of alignment, IDC’s Tan suggests setting up a cloud centre of excellence so that it can build a cloud architecture team that bridges the gaps between business and IT, with the aim of streamlining business goals and how IT moves them towards those goals.

“The cloud architecture team defines workloads which run on cloud and would evaluate the security, cost and performance profile of each cloud option,” he says.

“They will also define operational policies, access and security guidelines to help businesses adapt to changing market needs so that it will be uniform across the enterprise and discourage shadow IT.”

Tan also argues that regardless of whether it is “lift and shift”, “refactor and shift” or “ground-up” migration, enterprises need to ensure they have a multicloud strategy in mind.

“Ensure that the digital services built are via an application programming interface [API] ecosystem, whether public or internal API-delivered services,” he says. “Enterprises need to deploy unified multicloud management processes and tools across public and on-premise cloud setups.”

Gartner’s Waite concludes: “Transform your organisation now, not later. Invest in the skills and technologies required to integrate public cloud and edge services with your traditional offerings.”

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