Beyond the Known Universe

Understanding the hybrid cloud: an education process. 

GUEST COLUMN | by Adam Stern 

The cloud computing landscape of 2017 will increasingly be dominated by platform and database services supporting hybrid infrastructures, according to study conducted by IDG Connect on behalf of Oracle.  According to the study, organisations are more likely to choose hybrid cloud when considering their next steps in cloud computing. Deploying more hybrid cloud services (36 percent) was selected ahead of private (32 percent) and public cloud (17 percent) services.

– The Financial Times (Jan. 22, 2015)

CREDIT NASAIT specialists within schools and colleges are often in an unenviable position.  They need to serve as tech emissaries to their institutions without necessarily letting on just how obtuse the IT world has become. Case in point is the matter of the so-called “hybrid cloud.”  As The Financial Times reports, there’s finally some clarity around that subject. Or is there?  The Oracle findings strike me as problematic – even though I believe hybrid is generally the way to go.  It’s just that the term “hybrid cloud” has been stripped of any real meaning.  The truth is, everything is hybrid now.  It’s akin to having a conversation about breathing oxygen.

Bottom line: whatever your school’s technological sophistication, you can’t not be in the cloud these days. 

Understand first that there’s absolutely nothing new about the hybrid cloud.  You’d think that accepting that fundamental fact would be self-evident, but unfortunately it’s not – and it’s especially vexing when others within academic setting (say, the business office or someone in governance) begin to read about/pick up IT lingo. The terminology is misleading and has long since ceased to describe anything specific. Educational institutions have been shifting workload to the Internet virtually forever, no pun intended. Public compute space and private compute space were coexisting when Zuckerberg was watching Sesame Street. Compute on-premises, store off-premises – we’ve all been there and done that.

Way back when the term “ASP” (as in “Application Service Provider”) was a fresh addition to the lexicon, “hybrid” did indeed mean something quite specific. The idea was that virtual machines were under a school’s physical control in a data center – that’s where applications were hosted. And that same school might then contract with a service provider – MSP, ASP, CSP, choose your mnemonic – to put some of that workload in the provider’s virtual environment. In other words, schools and colleges built their own infrastructure and placed some applications in another virtual infrastructure – hence, “hybrid.” IT mavens would go to VMware or HP, build a virtual data center, and tie the two things together with an API.  Done.

Somewhere along the way, as the cloud expanded beyond the known universe, something (e.g., the true concept of hybrid) got lost in translation.  Today, some of your workload is under your control and some outside of your control – that’s just painfully obvious.  From that perspective, the hybrid cloud is ubiquitous, even pervasive, right now.  The majority of educational institutions rely on servers and computers, and some data resides on various desktops; some is stored with Apple or Dropbox or Microsoft, and some organizations have embraced SaaS and virtualization.

Now, here’s where the jargon becomes perilously close to gibberish.  Strictly speaking, very few educational institutions are actually building virtual environments on their own, never mind their size.  Creating that piece is exceedingly hard to do.  So, no one is doing hybrid by the book – and loosely speaking, everyone is doing it.  Virtualization has taken off; within that world, users are renting space rather than buying virtual equipment themselves – and what they’re getting in return is, yes, the hybrid cloud.  Bottom line: whatever your school’s technological sophistication, you can’t not be in the cloud these days.  Slapping a term like “hybrid” is just a faddish way to package a long-established status quo.

What difference does all of this make?  Quite a lot, since once again the vendor community appears to be choosing obfuscation (or, charitably, empty buzzwords) over clarity.  Keeping things murky may sell goods and services, but it does very little for schools and colleges.  If you’re an IT decision-maker for a chain of charter schools, you can’t be fooled (and you certainly can’t afford to be fooled).  And if you’re a user, you need to separate the trendy from the strategic.

The right question isn’t, “Should I go on or off premises?  Should I opt for the hybrid cloud, the public cloud, or a private cloud?”  The smart question is, “what’s strategically best for my institution?”  When you frame the query in that manner, you can determine where to place your compute power, and you begin to gain control over the dynamic.  Want to reduce costs?  Increase efficiencies?  Achieve some other objective?

First, decide what your metrics are and how they serve your school – then select the technology.  Go back to basics.  Pick the tool that works.  Otherwise, the tail wags the dog.

Or worse.  The dog ends up chasing its tail.

Adam Stern is founder and CEO of Infinitely Virtual ( in Los Angeles.


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