The growing adoption of hybrid work models is helping fast-track enterprise cloud deployments. As some applications and data spill into the public cloud while other workloads remain on-prem, what are the consequences for IT?
A panel of IT executives led by Nutanix CIO Wendy Pfeiffer recently discussed the cultural, cybersecurity and operational ramifications of today’s hybrid work and hybrid cloud trends.
Two CIOs, a CTO, and a research analyst at Nutanix’s .NEXT conference in September agreed during a session titled “Mythbusters: Cloud Edition,” for example, that there are organizational and educational reasons for employees to be in the office at least part of the time.
“The argument that employees can’t collaborate as effectively when working remotely has been disproved over the past 21 months,” said Harry Mosely, CIO at Zoom.
However, he was quick to add, “The challenge is how do you maintain an organizational culture? Connections among people?”
For instance, he indicated that those new to the workforce need the hands-on mentorship that physical collaboration often provides.
“Junior people really value the opportunity to be in the office and interact. I fundamentally believe [the future of work is] a mixed-mode, hybrid model,” Mosely said.
No Passing the Buck on Security
Pfeiffer pointed out that this democratization of work — whereby employees “work how and where they want to” — relies in part on public cloud technologies. She asked panelists whether they thought data security was stronger or weaker when under the auspices of a public cloud provider.
The panelists were unanimous in their assessment that wherever workloads are running, enterprises must remain steadfastly responsible for protecting their own valuable data.
“Security is a culture, approach and mindset,” said Christian Aboujouade, CTO at Keck Medicine of the University of Southern California.
“As long as you have the attitude and culture managed appropriately, you should be able to exist in both the public cloud and on-premises clouds.”
Mosely asserted that security has to be the bedrock in the culture of the organization.
“If it’s not, it doesn’t matter where your [data] is running,” Moseley said. “You still need the resources to manage, maintain, operate, support and put security practices in place” regardless of where workloads reside.
“Security is equally challenging on-prem and in the cloud.”
Jason Stump, CIO of Wynn Resorts, observed, though, that “if you have a large in-house security team, you might face less risk on-prem. If you’re a smaller company without [strong cybersecurity skills], the public cloud might improve your security posture.”
One reason, he said, is because of the geo-diverse nature of where public cloud providers run customer virtual machines (VMs), often moving them to maintain efficiencies.
“From this perspective, it can be more secure to be in the cloud, because your data could be on the East Coast or on the West Coast,” he said, potentially making it more difficult for a hacker to target a given business’s data specifically.
Innovation Might be Easier in the Cloud
One tenet that the group thought was a bit closer to fact than myth is that cloud providers can be more effective at IT innovation.
“Providers can stand up [a service or application] much quicker than you because that is their business operation,” said Stump. “This is what they’re selling, and they’ve done it before.”
Fundamentally, innovation could be a numbers game, given the sheer size of the hyperscale cloud providers and the increased probability of finding tech innovators among the individuals working there.
According to Aboujouade, what’s critical is having a team that’s actually innovating, looking outside the box or reinventing the box, possibly creating a whole new environment.
“Team culture starts there,” he said. “You need the organizational backing to push those ideas.”
Mosely pointed out that the cloud also fosters the opportunity to innovate because of its affordable, on-demand nature.
He recounted having built a startup in the pre-Internet days that required “a big chunk of change out-of-pocket” for computers and networks.
“If I were doing a startup today, I’d just swipe my credit card and spin up 10 times the amount of power for a fraction of the cost in probably 15 minutes,” Moseley said. “From an innovation perspective, opportunities are dramatic with the cloud by comparison.”
What’s ‘the Cloud?’
The group also discussed the very definition of “the cloud.”
Jason Ader, an equity research analyst at William Blair and Co., contended that “cloud is an operating model, not a...location. Cloud operating principles can be applied in private or public data centers.”
Among those cloud principles, he said, are self-service provisioning, a high degree of automation, and service-on-demand consumption.
Going forward, whatever IT infrastructures enterprises use should use cloud operating principles, the experts agreed. Increasingly, a hybrid mix of private and public cloud is likely, according to Ader, because “every application has cost, security, compliance, performance, and other considerations” and others that might depend on company culture and the industry in which the business operates.
He advised planning ahead and architecting applications so they can be moved to the public cloud.
Aboujouade added that having a little bit of structure in how you consume” public cloud resources is a good idea. That’s because “you can potentially end up with a very high bill at the end of the month if you let go of behavioral processes related to consuming resources,” he said.
Ader agreed, stating that with public cloud, the meter’s always running.
“You need management in place to make sure you’re not going to get sticker shock,” Alder said.
Pfeiffer challenged the group to name the most important factor to have in place for running a hybrid cloud environment.
Aboujouade cited “the ability to communicate and to be very succinct in collecting information about what you need from your employees and organization.”
Stump mentioned being able to “scale so you can deliver when called upon,” and Mosely said that “security has to come before everything else. Your reputation is at stake, your privacy, your data.”
Without that foundation, he said, everything else is up for grabs.
“We’re living in hybrid world,” Pfeiffer said. “Hybrid work, hybrid communications, hybrid schooling. And hybrid cloud.”
Joanie Wexler is a contributing writer and editor with more than 25 years of experience covering the business implications of IT and computer networking technologies.
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