Data is the currency of the digital revolution. Business and technology leaders everywhere are racing to extract value from the data they own, while also building partnerships and new ecosystems that give them access to additional data sources and help create whole new industries.
They are implementing, or planning to implement, a host of technologies that will bring vast quantities of new data into the enterprise – from the Internet of Things and machine log data, mobile and location-based data and social media data, to say nothing of the additional data being produced by business apps and even from archives.
The opportunities are enormous, but so too are the challenges. Progressive CEOs, CIOs and line of business leaders are driving forward digital transformation projects to bring new products and services to market more rapidly, and to use trusted real-time data to make rapid business decisions.
But while CEOs and line of business leaders are overwhelmingly looking at the top and bottom line, CIOs must both create the infrastructure that enables innovation and try to manage the data explosion they are facing, while also driving down infrastructure costs and rationalizing their technology estate.
They must ensure that their business is not replicating its existing organizational and functional silos with its new data projects. Plus, they also have to be certain that the IT admin and management costs don’t spiral with the volumes of data the enterprise produces.
The challenges are significant: data integration, curation and administration, to say nothing of security and governance.
Peter Hulme, Business Technical Lead for Data Centres at digital infrastructure and IT services company Dimension Data, says, “Hybrid cloud is probably the only way organizations can transform themselves into digital first businesses, while driving down costs and sweating their existing IT assets. But don’t believe a piecemeal implementation of cloud services means you have a hybrid cloud strategy. You need a coherent data strategy and a coherent cloud strategy, both driven by business needs and able to respond to rapid technical change.”
The traditional three V’s of data management (Volume, Velocity and Variety) have now become five (Veracity and Value). Having up-to-date and accurate data available and accessible drives business value, insists Hulme.
If cloud is the data platform for digital transformation, getting it right isn’t simple. The concept of hybrid cloud is sold as an environment where everything can be managed from a single platform and data can move freely to where it’s required.
The promise is that organizations will be able to securely manage data across different clouds, whether on-premises, in private clouds, through managed services or using multi-tenanted Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, while also having access to hyperscale compute and storage services such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services.
Delivering on this promise is difficult, though. The reality is that almost all enterprise IT environments are a combination of legacy systems, outsourced services, and internal and externally owned data in both private and public clouds.
Many of these cloud environments were not designed for the levels of integration and data sharing required in the digital era. Enterprise applications, often running on-premises, use a variety of data interfaces and formats, some proprietary, that have evolved over time and are mandated by the application architectures. Cloud services use newer data formats based on a RESTful architecture, such as Amazon Web Services’s S3 API or OpenStack’s Swift object protocol.
And the discrepancy between legacy and cloud-native applications presents obstacles for companies as they inevitably evolve towards hybrid cloud.
“Many organizations find themselves struggling with applications distributed across a growing number of incompatible cloud services,” explains Hulme. “At the same time, in the modern data economy, data sharing, inbound and outbound, defines your value proposition. The way to deal with these challenges is to embrace the concept of data fabrics.”
The data fabric concept is not new, but it has come into its own in the digital era as the means to manage, move and maintain data in the hybrid cloud.
The aim is to meld the various data elements of the hybrid cloud into a single, integrated architecture that delivers control and choice. By creating a common operational model for data in hybrid cloud, firms can significantly improve efficiency and control. A common data format is essential in bringing together data from multiple diverse sources within and outside the organization. It saves time spent on ETL (Extract, Transform and Load).
It cuts the cost of moving data round your networks and it offers a consistent way to secure and protect your data in all your clouds and in your on-premises applications.
This data fabric approach makes it easier to bring programs to the cloud, rather than having to rewrite them for the cloud. It also makes it simpler to move data from one cloud to another, with advantages that range from being able to use the most cost-effective solution available, to easier compliance and avoiding cloud service provider lock-in.
Hulme insists that this sort of data fabric approach in hybrid cloud raises new possibilities for extracting value and cutting costs associated with data. “Take storage and archiving, for example,” he explains. “Traditionally, organizations have moved data down different layers of storage as it becomes less immediately operational, until in the end it is consigned to a tape store. It might be safe but it is out of sight, out of mind and not available for productive use.
“If you can move your data storage and archive from a back-up data centre or tape vault to a cloud service provider, that data can be both secure and used for another purpose, say deep, long-term analytics. You might be able to mine data that is of use to a third-party organization. Suddenly, what was once a cost becomes a new source of income and value.”
Whatever way you have come to hybrid IT – whether it is a boardroom mandate to move to hybrid cloud or the result of the organic growth your IT infrastructure and of business units adopting SaaS – hybrid IT is the future. The mix between on-premises, private cloud and public cloud will constantly shift to meet your rapidly evolving digital business priorities, but whatever you prioritize, data will be your lifeblood. That means getting your data strategy right matters, right now.
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