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The market has spoken and hybrid IT has become ubiquitous, as customers want simple portability of workloads across on-premise, private cloud and public cloud environments with a single control plane.

Analyst house Gartner has been predicting the emergence of hybrid IT since 2012, but it is only now starting to truly bed in as the strategy de jour at the enterprise level. What this creates is a world where portability is key, and customers have some important decisions to make over where to invest and how and when to move mission critical workloads from on-premise to the cloud.

"Hybrid IT is the new enterprise standard for IT because it provides the ultimate investment protection for secure application development and deployment across the hybrid cloud," Lee Caswell, VP of Marketing for Hyper-Converged Infrastructure at VMware says.

So if hybrid is the new enterprise standard, what do IT leaders need to consider when it comes to their own infrastructure investments in a way that ensures flexibility in the future?

"The hybrid IT model also introduces a new hardware investment path where server-based hardware replaces proprietary SAN arrays and networks," Caswell says. "Servers running hyperconverged infrastructure software deliver software-defined compute, storage, and networking resources in a scale-out architecture to meet changing workload needs."

What are the benefits?

The key consideration when going hybrid and investing in hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) is always going to be return on investment. VMware's own vSAN hyperconverged solution "delivers with 20% capex savings and 40% opex savings over traditional IT," according to Caswell.

Shifting to a hybrid model isn't just about short- term gains however. "Increasingly, HCI is also justified based on the flexibility to meet changing application needs with a consistent model that offers investment protection for new workloads and the public cloud," Caswell says.

"This solves one of the key dilemmas in today’s infrastructure, namely the difficulty of planning effectively because of the pace of application development. With HCI, it’s possible to support traditional virtualised applications in exactly the same way as cloud-native containerised applications. The same operational model is consistently available in the public cloud as well," he adds.

Another advantage with VMware's approach to hybrid is that it comes with a degree of freedom to help customers avoid the dreaded vendor lock-in.

"Every technology decision entails some level of lock-in," Caswell admits. "The important thing I advise customers is to make sure any new technology allows the degrees of freedom they are most likely to need to exercise. For enterprise customers, I see the most-requested degrees of freedom being access to multiple clouds, next-generation applications, and a broad eco-system of partners."

"We’re finding terrific endorsement of our consistent operating model that is available today from the edge to the private cloud and then to the public cloud. This platform approach we call the VMware Cloud Foundation offers a fully software-defined experience and gives leverage to enterprise IT that is being asked to do more with the same or even fewer resources," he adds.

How to get started?

Once IT leaders have the infrastructure in place to start taking advantage of all of the flexibility that the cloud can offer, next on their to-do lost must be the identification of the most effective workloads to shift first.

Caswell outlines a framework for this, which he calls SALT.

First, organisations should assess the level of business Sensitivity tied to the data. "It’s now possible to provide security across the hybrid cloud with a full software-defined stack," Caswell says. "But there are regulatory and business risks tied to data sovereignty and organisations need to consider how data is replicated in the public cloud and then read the fine print about how data can be subpoenaed."

Next is Assuredness, so defining what users expect in terms of predictable, reliable performance, and meeting this with a fully software-defined on-premises solution that can be managed by generalists.

Next is Locality: mapping how often data or applications will be moved across the hybrid cloud.

Then, last but not least, is Transience, or deciding how long a workload will be supported. "Dev and test environments are good examples of ‘bursty’ workloads where organisations may want to rent IT resources rather than invest in capex that would be underutilised in daily operations," Caswell says.

"We see a typical pattern of HCI adoption where customers start with low-risk but high-performance VDI environments," Caswell adds. "Once they become familiar with the easy operating model of vSAN, they introduce HCI into management clusters and remote/branch offices to free up staff for other higher-ROI projects. Finally, HCI moves into the data centre proper once the resilience, flexibility, and management model are proven."

In short, Caswell advises against customers putting all of their eggs in one basket.

"When HCI is selected, it’s most often added to an existing environment as part of a server, storage, or application refresh. Then as customers see the value and understand the operating model, the user expands their HCI footprint quickly," he says.

"We encourage customers to adopt any new technology responsibly and we offer many technical resources, on-line training, and certification resources to help customers get started. We also work closely with our ecosystem partner to jointly test everything from new flash devices, to full servers, to data protection partner products, so customers can benefit from our deep technical expertise."

To get started with VMware visit VMware HCI.