In this edition of Voices of the Industry, Eric Carter and Rob Zimmerman of DataBank examine the challenges and risks of an unintentional hybrid IT infrastructure and how to avoid them.
Imagine this scenario: A company starts to grow as customers embrace its product offerings. In turn, this leads to new growth opportunities: new product launches, supporting services, expansions into new markets, and partnerships with a wide array of companies with complementary products and services. Early success leads to future success, and the business begins to grow in all the areas that matter most: customer acquisition and retention, employee headcount, market share, revenues, and profitability.
While business growth is almost always regarded as a positive trend, it can also lead to growing pains in all parts of the organization. These pains may be felt most acutely in IT, where infrastructure decisions must happen quickly to keep pace with new and unprecedented business demands.
The inevitable result is a hybrid IT environment that is like the mythical Frankenstein with too many mismatched parts. Done right, a hybrid IT infrastructure has the appropriate mix of on-premises systems, colocation data centers—including bare metal—and private and public cloud environments.
Business and Technology Challenges Caused by Hybrid IT
While unintentionally created hybrid IT infrastructures may seem to work short-term, the reality is they subject the entire company to business and technology issues that adversely affect budget, staff, and security.
Surprisingly High Costs
A common example: Many companies moving some of their workloads from on-premises data centers to the public cloud are often surprised by the associated costs. Hyperscale cloud providers and other public cloud vendors enjoy the reputation of being less expensive than on-premises or private cloud alternatives, but this is not always true. A recent IDG research report found that when asked to describe their top five public cloud challenges, 40% of enterprises struggle with the cost of their cloud solutions—the top response cited.
Their concern is well founded. Most public cloud vendors offer contract estimates, not a fixed monthly billing amount. These estimates include additional services, such as data management fees, as optional line items with prices that seem to be extremely low but can be deceptive.
For example, cloud vendors charge data egress fees for mere pennies per gigabyte of data. While many CIOs or business leaders go into these arrangements with the intent not to use these services, often the company’s needs change, resulting in a larger monthly bill. Unfortunately, many of these invoices are not just incrementally higher—they can quickly become exponentially more than expected. It is not uncommon for companies to receive invoices that are three, five, or even ten times higher than what was budgeted.
Overwhelming IT Teams
Many companies simply underestimate just how complex it is to manage a public or private cloud-hosted infrastructure. The migration effort may be difficult right from the start, leading to questions and potential missteps. Alternatively, it can quickly grow out of control as the business needs additional products, services, and options.
Maintaining this environment can be extremely time-consuming and require extensive training and learning on the fly for employees responding to changing dynamics and requirements—not an ideal model for such an important part of the business. In addition, IT staff may have the right experience to start, only to become overwhelmed as additional products and options are added. For example, a developer might know to add a virtual machine but may lack the experience needed to secure it effectively or make it work in the network.
Security Risks and Compliance Concerns
Data privacy and overall security are also real concerns for any organization. According to recent research, 75 percent of enterprises reported that cloud security was their top concern and the most pressing challenge cited was “the misconfiguration of cloud infrastructure.” Even outside a cloud environment, managing a data security profile can require a major part of an IT team’s resources.
Keeping company and customer data secure will continue to be a major challenge in the future. So, too, will governance and compliance. Companies today need to have cloud-usage policies that are clearly defined, and similarly, restrict access to various cloud applications. This means that only certain employees should be allowed to use cloud services, depending on their position, responsibilities, or permissions.
When it comes to compliance, many cloud providers may not do enough to help companies streamline processes, adhere to regulations, and easily demonstrate compliance. Many different regulations—such as HIPAA, PCI DSS, Sarbanes-Oxley, and GDPR—all have rigorous standards related to data privacy.
Hybrid IT Done Right
All these concerns point to the need for an effective hybrid IT infrastructure where all potential challenges can be identified, planned for, and easily addressed in a best-fit architecture design. However, what if your organization lacks the needed time and resources? That’s where the right partner makes all the difference.
Technology infrastructure providers can (and should) deliver a best-of-all-worlds approach—one that provides colocation hosting, private cloud, and access to public clouds in order to provide the most effective hybrid IT solutions. These providers should offer the following capabilities and services to bring a company’s vision of “hybrid IT done right” to life.
Colocation data centers
Colocation data centers are designed to the most rigorous standards with all the space, power, and security vital IT assets need, now and into the future. Colocation data centers should also provide dense, carrier-neutral network access for 100% uptime, service-level agreements, and business continuity.
Colocation data centers should offer valuable amenities such as physical and digital access controls, secure loading docks, conference rooms, office space, and other options. They should also consist of a high number of facilities located in North America and around the globe to support any company’s objectives related to disaster recovery, performance and latency, customer demands, and total service costs.
To support hybrid IT infrastructure and workloads, companies should also make sure their hosting partners can provide a wide array of interconnections with on-ramps to public cloud platforms as well as other connection options. These can include cross-connects, Internet Exchanges, Data Center Interconnects (DCI), Internet connectivity, and cloud connectivity.
With different options for physical and virtual connections, companies can make the best choices to exchange data, provide business continuity and custom services, and support mission-critical business practices.
Managed Security Services
Many companies also require security solutions other than attempting to manage everything themselves. This can include multi-layered, defense-in-depth security solutions, and other managed services to provide comprehensive protection over critical data and sensitive information.
Since hybrid IT environments can quickly spiral out of control, asking existing IT staff to manage ongoing security efforts may be ill-advised and may subject the organization to too much risk. To overcome these challenges, IT leaders should look for hosting providers who can offer a wide portfolio of specialized security services managed by expert, dedicated professionals. These services should consist of controls related to physical security, network/perimeter access, and system hosting, as well as continuous monitoring to protect hybrid IT environments.
The security services above help keep infrastructure safe, but they also provide compliance frameworks to address even the most stringent regulations. This is critical to complying with regulations such as FedRAMP, FISMA, HIPAA, PCI-DSS, NIST, SSAE-18, and GDPR. Additionally, the right infrastructure partner (such as colocation providers) can “own” the vast majority of compliance controls, whereas hyperscale cloud providers might not provide as many—if at all.
Cost-Effective Data Storage Solutions
It is also important to make the best choice related to data storage and management to avoid surprising high costs that can occur later. Many companies prefer data storage solutions that provide the hyper-scalability growing businesses demand but without surprising fees related to data ingress/egress or API calls. These data storage solutions should also reduce complexity with industry-standard API protocols to support easy data storage and retrieval.
Infrastructure providers able to deliver such a full range of solutions and services can help growing businesses control mission-critical IT to achieve their specific goals without any trade-offs.
A Proactive Plan for Infrastructure Success
Faced with high-paced growth and changing requirements for their infrastructure needs, many companies react by layering on new technologies, which soon leads to an out-of-control hybrid IT environment.
While every business’ version of a perfect architecture will be very different, one thing is clear: They need to approach hybrid IT proactively, not just with a kneejerk reaction that adds new technologies and options without a larger plan for how it will all work together. The answer often lies in working with a partner who offers multiple platforms who can help with an enterprise’s IT architecture and offers pricing transparency. Such a hybrid IT model helps control escalating costs, reduce operational risks, and prevent vendor lock-in—all while best positioning IT assets to scale to keep up with business growth.
Eric Carter is Director of Solutions Engineering at DataBank where he works with sales leaders to design efficient, budget-friendly solutions and process improvements for customers. Rob Zimmerman has more than 20 years of experience as an engineering leader and is Director of Solutions Engineering at DataBank. Contact DataBank to learn more about their data centers.