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IBM's Wesley Allen on the hybrid cloud opportunity

In this sponsored episode, we speak to Wesley Allen, Business Leader for IBM Cloud Platform in ANZ, about why the future of cloud is hybrid.

Seamus Byrne
Seamus Byrne
19 min read
IBM's Wesley Allen on the hybrid cloud opportunity

This episode is sponsored by IBM and I'm speaking with Wesley Allen, Business Leader for IBM Cloud Platform in ANZ. We're specifically digging into the discussion of hybrid cloud and the role it has to play in the enterprise.

Over the past year, in my wider work, I've spoken to a lot of it leaders about digital transformation, and it's clear that people are seeing that there is a lot more to life than either full on premises or a full lift and shift to the cloud. So it's important to get a grip on the nuance, in how to use a hybrid design to solve problems in a way that suits your specific needs.

We talk about scenarios, risks, misunderstandings, and key questions to ask when designing the right solution. Wesley brings a lot of insight and experience to the discussion. So it was great to get his time for the show. Let's dive in.

The big picture question now does seem to be people trying to work out. Okay. Where does it fit into the mix now, when it comes to a lot of businesses now realizing, oh, okay, actually on-prem is not what we need anymore. Especially after the last year, but that there might be certain scenarios where you want to have a little bit of both and you don't want to go full cloud.

Lots of people are just thinking, we'll throw it all in the cloud. And then some of them are discovering that that's not ideal either after the fact, which is its own problem. So , I thought as a big picture starting point , what's your thoughts on the importance of hybrid cloud  even in this new environment.

Wesley Allen: Yeah, sure, Seamus so I'm thinking maybe we quickly do some definitions and if you want to cut them later it's fine. But just in terms of , your subscribers, I think it's important just to define what we're talking about. So let's start with on-premise. I think everyone knows that.  Then we talk about co-location, which is , sharing space in a data center.

Maybe a private cloud service, which is consuming a customized cloud service built , just for your company. Then you've got cloud, which is loosely, I'd say consuming computing and applications, bed, infrastructure, platform, or software as a service. Then you've got multi-cloud and this is where we consume more than one cloud.

And then hybrid cloud, which is really a combination of all of the above. So let's start by kind of defining hybrid cloud is a combination of on-premise colo, private cloud and cloud, some of which may be needed in some, not by clients, but about bringing the benefits of all those together. And I guess how I'd start talking about hybrid cloud is it's not really sexy.

It's kind of a technical topic. And, um, you know, number of the sources that I've looked at so far have described it even as something that you might be, if you're a laggard, if you're delayed in moving to cloud, you might be stuck on hybrid cloud. And I guess I'd say that I disagree strongly with that in that I think hybrid cloud represents the future of cloud.

Seamus Byrne: Yeah. Look,  let's dive into that a little bit more then, what do you think is going to prove itself to be that value that means perhaps some people have decided, yeah, they've moved somewhere else, but that might, I actually end up bringing them back to it.

Wesley Allen: Okay. Think about, the environment we're in cloud today. I see it as, at its peak of inflated expectations. A lot of organizations over the last 12, 18 months have been saying clouds, the answer, what's the question, and wanting to move potentially a hundred percent of their workloads to cloud. We've had statements, like move a thousand apps in a thousand days  and that sort of thing from large organizations, I'm thinking, this is the strategy to pursue for the future, but I think it's a bit like the business boom we saw in the late nineties, the trend is actually generating a bubble and it's creating, false realities for what cloud can actually do.

So I think cloud's a really good solution for defined workloads and cloud itself, as it is in a pure hyperscaler sense is awesome for small business. I think back to early days in my career where I was on a tech support hotline and, small businesses would ring in and ask, how do I get help on my applications or my servers?

And we really wouldn't have an answer. We'd have business partners, we try and send out to those companies. But the reality for them was they'd have to be dealing with, a large number of different people, some of which were skilled and some not. Cloud solves that problem hugely, it gives them a great way to deal with that particular situation, but cloud in its pure sense and using the definitions we started with is definitely not a panacea for enterprise. Enterprise has much bigger challenges than can be solved just with cloud.

So introduce hybrid cloud. Hybrid cloud is really a way for customers to take the benefits of cloud, but combine those with the realities of their world. And thinking about that, the majority of companies that we deal with today, you know, mostly larger organizations. Are in a hybrid cloud world. They might be trying to get solely to cloud, but they're in hybrid cloud today and they're making it work.

So the first thing I'd say is, hybrid cloud is definitely not a representation of an organization being a laggard. It's definitely not a situation that can change easily to become a hundred percent cloud. And it's definitely something that can be exploited, particularly given some of the new tools that are available to make the organization more flexible and less cost constrained  than it would be if it ended up on a single cloud.

Seamus Byrne: For the kinds of businesses that only think of it as, well, they're either running things on their own servers and infrastructure or they're moving to the cloud. How would you explain the basic arrangement of, setting up a true hybrid cloud, rather than just having some stuff that's still local and some stuff that's offsite. What would help somebody understand that idea of actually having a truly hybrid infrastructure.

Wesley Allen: Sure. So I think the key to this is to think about the complexity of large enterprise landscapes or even medium size organizations. There are often a lot of projects going on, you know, cloud native projects that can easily send all of their workload to a hyperscaler and the right one.

But there are also a lot of applications and environments that are needed for, you know, running the core business for the enterprise resource planning for the supply chain, for other things that aren't as easy to lift and shift just to a public cloud. And we do see a lot of organizations that are stuck in a situation where they're considering moving things to cloud, because that's the strategy.

But there's no business benefit to it. They're just trying to look at a way of taking something that's working pretty well on premise and moving it without a lot of transformation to a hyperscaler environment, with the view to, I don't know, maybe standardizing their environment with that hyperscaler. But I think that's a fallacy.

I think the reality for those organizations as they've now had 12 months or two years, or in some cases, five years on their journey to cloud is that they're realizing that each of the hyperscale vendors has its own unique flavor and way of doing things that can't be replicated easily, um, to another one.

And so if it's possible to put everything with one and organization one hyperscaler, that's great, but the reality is it's not possible. There are always compromises, there are always applications. And then there's the simple reality that there is no business benefit in some cases for the move. So that's where hybrid cloud comes in .Hybrid cloud really is adapting the strategy to start thinking about that world for where is the best place to run each workload.

And I think this is something that IBM's tabling now as a key premise of our go to market is we don't want clients to bring all of their workload to our cloud. We actually want clients to run the workload wherever it runs best. And we see our job as being the organization that can help them do that flexibly, with security in a cost controlled way.

And with a management environment that actually allows them to have consistency because of course the challenges of hybrid cloud are in its, its complexity. You know, in the fact that there are more than one, um, way or approach to application development, there are more than one potential management environment.

And so the challenge for hybrid cloud really is around helping customers with tools to simplify that and offer consistent orchestration across the services they want to offer to the enterprise, but still giving them the flexibility. And what we can do today with hybrid cloud actually means that clients can continue to run things on premise.

They can colo things with their favorite data center. They can take them to a hyperscaler or to IBM cloud. They can continue to manage them on premise and actually just have a consistent, orchestrated way to deal with that particular complexity. So think what customers are thinking is that they want to make the right choice.

You know, they're really challenging situation. They're getting a lot of pressure from, um, cloud vendors and, a lot of messages from the market that say  clouds the answer, what's the question. But the reality is the right choice often is taking a step back thinking through the strategy for what the business needs, looking at, what you're doing when you start to try and standardize on a particular technology or a particular cloud platform and what the risks are involved with that.

So, cost risks, management risks,  as well as,  flexibility risks to business, and then trading that off against what's available in the hybrid cloud landscape, where you can choose whatever platform makes sense to run your application or workload, and then apply some of the new tools and capabilities against that in order to  provide a consistent orchestration and consistent security and, um, the flexibility to move it after the fact.

Seamus Byrne: The next question was really  gonna be trying to look at that idea of  misunderstandings and misapprehensions, but from what you're describing, I almost feel like some of that is more about  misattributing what full cloud is going to do for somebody and not necessarily  what it is that hybrid cloud might be doing wrong.

So,  are there sort of key things there in terms of what you think people  are getting wrong in sort of some of those choices they're making or is there even  certain features that actually, if they do decide to go towards setting up a really good hybrid cloud environment, that actually that there's some really pleasant surprises for them in terms of the things that   they've been told one way actually turned out to be really suitable for what they are looking for,  thanks to hybrid cloud.

Wesley Allen: Sure. So back to that, uh, thought process that we've been driven by a bit of a bubble and yeah. There are, there's a huge intensity and hype around just moving workloads to the cloud.

When you think about that from the perspective of a financial services organization, they've got,  existing processes and ways that they might deal with their regulator to show how they're managing compliance in their environment and how they're maintaining compliance in their environment.

And actually doing that with just one cloud provider may not be that much of a challenge for them. It might be something that they could just add on as another approach to their compliance regime. But when you think about the environments that they're inevitably landing in, where they've got software as a service vendors coming in and providing discreet services, they've got some cloud hyperscalers and cloud native development projects going on.

And then they've got a legacy environment, which they're still having to maintain that compliance around. The reality for them is, you know, it looks daunting. Hybrid cloud looks scary because all of a sudden we multiply the number of touch points for our compliance regime. We multiply the number of risks that we're trying to manage and show our regulator.

And I think this is where a lot of the vendors and IBM being a leader here coming forward with what we call an industry cloud. So the IBM cloud for financial services is an ecosystem of Independent software vendors together with  the core cloud infrastructure itself that allows a financial services organization to have confidence that if they deploy the combination of those things, they've got an environment that is already assessed against the APRA regulations in Australia, for example, and can be maintained and demonstrated using continuous compliance tools  that show how that environment continues to maintain its compliance against the regulations. So a nice feature for them is not having that complexity multiply when they start to look at  hybrid cloud, as opposed to just doing their compliance on premise or with one cloud provider.

I think equally tools like,  IBM satellite  and there are some from the other vendors as well, which enable control plane  standardization are going to be really important to organizations considering hybrid cloud as well. So with IBM cloud satellite, it's feasible to deploy an application to any number of different environments, be it your on-premise environment, be it a remote office environment, be it a hyperscaler cloud or,  IBM's cloud. And actually then manage that consistently using a single control plane. And so organizations may not know that they can actually take advantage of some of these tools to easily address the complexity that is involved in distributing applications and capabilities across multiple environments.

So that's the second thing. I think the third thing is advances in the security orchestration tools,  that actually give  people more confidence in the way that they can maintain security in that distributed environment. And then I think lastly is flexibility. So,  most of the hybrid cloud environments are taking advantage of some sort of a containerization strategy, which actually gives them the ability to move workloads between environments  flexibly. And it takes away the risk of getting locked in with a particular vendor or hyperscaler. And it also gives them that control over  how they deploy and manage consistently. They can write applications once and run them on any of those environments. And that's enabled by tools like OpenShift from Red Hat,  as well as other container orchestration platforms out there. And so I guess it's the combination of,  container orchestration,  single control plane management, security orchestration, and then,  the capabilities  in  thinking through hybrid cloud that actually gave organizations that advantage.

Seamus Byrne: I was actually just thinking I'm, I'm pleased, I'm talking to the right person, because I felt like you definitely gave me a lot more there than I was expecting in terms of, how many layers there are to why this actually is such a good solution.

What do you feel like as some of the key business cases or scenarios that you see from people that  really serves them well  to go with this style of infrastructure?

Wesley Allen: So the examples that I'd point to really,  we get a lot of  customers saying, we'll stay with you in a hybrid environment until we can move to our sole source, hyperscaler environment.

And the reality is,  they're currently making it work from a hybrid cloud perspective. And so, yeah. While they might think hybrid cloud is a laggard state and that they're moving to a future state. I actually think they're moving themselves to a state if they continue down that path of being potentially less flexible and more locked in to  a single way of working or a single way of running that environment.

So I think, we are already in a situation where we've got a massive amount of hybrid cloud. And the question is, do we see that shrink or do we see that adopted and embraced by organizations that some of the examples that I've seen in, in, uh, in our client base? Um, include clients that have actually gone to the cloud and then turned around and come back.

So, you know, Tomago Aluminium  is a big smelter and they were very worried about the risk of their network environment in a remote location combined with really a lack of performance when they started to take into consideration latency for their ERP environment, over a distance connection, and actually ended up turning around and coming back to  an IBM power systems environment on premise, but then consuming that in a way that actually allows them to leverage the benefits, both of the on-premise environment and the cloud environment. There are others, , Coca-Cola European partners is another large organization that is working with us on a hybrid cloud strategy and it involves helping them with their, uh, Big ERP environment, but also taking into consideration some of their legacy and refresh  environments and moving those to cloud  while keeping some of the other parts on premise.

So there are. As I said, a very large number of harbored cloud cases. The challenge to me is that not so many people are willing to call themselves out as a hybrid cloud leader. They're more likely to say I'm a, I'm a hybrid cloud 'adoptist' because I'm waiting for the ability to move a hundred percent to a hyperscaler.

But the reality should be that they change their strategy and start to look at hybrid cloud as the opportunity as the way they can protect themselves in the future  and run the workloads wherever they're going to run best.

Seamus Byrne: That's a great, yeah, a great way to think about it because of course, on a long enough timeline, I'm sure all sorts of things are going to change in the future.

Um, but yeah, in the here and now, and in the coming years, if this works really well, then, uh, why not embrace this mode and make sure you're getting the best out of it, rather than sitting there thinking you're waiting for the next, the next thing.

Wesley Allen: And I think we both know having spent some time in the industry that what's perfect today, it looks like the sole strategy today. Is rarely going to be  the one that we adopt in five years or 10 years time, we've all seen a lot of changes. And I think what hybrid cloud does for organizations is it sets them up best for that future. It allows them to take advantage of whatever they want in the hyperscaler world.

They can move as much workload to those platforms as they want, but it also gives them the ability to. Have flexibility when it comes to later wanting to move between those environments, maybe the cost reasons, maybe for strategic reasons, maybe because of an acquisition of another company. So that's one thing that, that they'll be able to do.

The other thing that hopefully they'll be able to do is provide themselves,  an overall advantage in that if a new service comes along from a niche, SaaS vendor or a niche cloud provider or an industry cloud for that matter, they can take advantage of that really easily as well. And so really, I think hybrid cloud is a no brainer when it comes to organizations future.

The question is just how much and how  granular to go on the management controls and trying to get to a single control plan for all of the different environments that you might need to maintain.

Seamus Byrne: As a, as a cricket tragic, I'm suddenly sitting here thinking of like metaphors of someone dancing too far down the pitch  in search of  putting it over the fence.

Wesley Allen: Exactly. Right. And I think we do create bubbles in our industry. We create hype that  makes people think that  the best choice is the one that's got the biggest  hype level attached to it. I think IBM's done that in our past. I think other hyperscalers are doing it today, but the reality is that no one hyperscaler is going to own the whole market.

And no one hyperscaler's development platform is going to be the right one for the variety of things that a large organization needs to do.

Seamus Byrne: Hmm. So we've kind of touched on a few of these, but just to state it pretty clearly, what do you feel like are  the kinds of key risks, I guess that hybrid is going to help a business to manage.

Wesley Allen: So I think,  the risks that hybrid cloud helps organizations manage include,  the risk of being locked in the risk of making the wrong choice around a hyperscale vendor. Because I think they're large decisions that are getting made,  moving the majority of your workload to a single platform provider is  a very large decision for most organizations. So it's mitigating the risk in that decision.  I think it's providing,  greater flexibility for your business to choose, different directions that may want to take.  Does it want to divest parts of the business? Does it want to acquire new companies? Does it want to, um, orchestrate processes on different platforms? So I think all of those things are captured by  a move towards adopting hybrid cloud as part of your strategy.

Seamus Byrne: So clearly there's been a very big set of over the past year. A lot of businesses that I've spoken to it, keep talking about that idea of  winding down on premise servers or, or treating them as legacy  and that they feel that they just  more keen to move forward than ever after  everything that's happened and scaling down offices, let alone servers, uh, that are in their offices. What do you feel like some of the important questions are that they should be asking themselves at the moment, when it comes to saying, okay, well, if that's your legacy system, there's still clearly a lot of options out there for how you modernize that aren't just pure cloud.

So, what are some of those key questions you think they should be asking themselves?

Wesley Allen: Number one, is there value in shifting this workload to a hyperscale cloud?  Too many organizations just assume that because cloud is providing some abstraction and some ability to reduce the on-premise data center and maybe some head count in the it team that it's a great, you know, cost arbitrage for them.

The reality is that in a lot of cases, The time that's spent just running an orchestrating, that project could be spent on a transformation project. It could be spent looking at one part of the application and moving it to one particular type of cloud provider or a type of cloud environment and actually delivering a different process or a different outcome for the customer.

And I think that's where the focus really needs to be first. I think after that, it's just thinking about longer term risk. And if you think about the transition we've been on  in IT over 20 years, 30 years,  there's been a lot of changes.  We've gone from  big mainframe computing to client server computing, and now back to what arguably is similar to what the mainframe services used to offer.

And we're going to see more innovations come. And the reality is. Not one vendor has ever  maintained its leadership or advantage in those spaces over the course of 10, 20 years. So I think  the reality for organizations is they should think about that risk and think what could I do to provide the benefits of what's being put on the table to me by maybe a large services firm or a hyperscaler cloud provider.

And then take the best of those and then also have a strategy for the rest  and think about not needing to  do that in such a comprehensive way  has been  pursued by organizations over the last period of time that we've seen.

Seamus Byrne: I've encountered a few stories recently, which actually looks at things like Robotic Process Automation and stuff like that to actually be able to keep some of those legacy systems  around without putting big expense into still getting the value you need out of it without  just suddenly needing to  do all sorts of other work to transform it.

Um, so it seems like  there's a lot of great techniques and opportunities out there now to keep getting the most out of something without having to spend a fortune to do something about it.

Wesley Allen: Yeah, a huge number of niche, orchestration platforms and vendors up and coming with really great capabilities.

One area I think about is  I was running a business for IBM, a couple of years back in regulation technology and the number of new regulation technology, things that have come along in Australia since the Royal Commission and our banking environment challenges has been astounding.

So there's always going to be something that  can deliver an incremental value. Sometimes it's not worth pursuing that because the larger picture is a better way for the organization to go. But the reality is you need the flexibility to be able to pick and choose. And by adopting a hybrid cloud approach as an organization, you're giving yourself that flexibility.

You're giving yourself the ability to take advantage of those new innovations, regardless of where they're coming from.

Seamus Byrne: Two last things here, one, what do you feel like  are some of the keys to  a smooth modernization or transformation process, over the coming years. It feels like sometimes it does boil down to  almost human elements rather than the technology itself, but what are your thoughts there on, on that sort of smooth path forward?

Wesley Allen: Look, I think we're facing an environment that's going to get increasingly constrained in terms of talent and,  the ability to bring people to come  and service the requirements for growth.

So I think talent management, culture and organizations is absolutely key as the foundation for growing into the future. Then looking through that lens at  innovative ways that you can take advantage of technology without having to make so many of the big monolithic decisions that you've had to make in the past.

And I think cloud's really brought that forward. You can now make decisions to move small parts of your workload. Or specific services to a SaaS provider and do that without the kind of need to make such an all-encompassing decision. As you did, you know, 10, 20 years ago, when it was a big  ESP environment or a SOA type platform you had to conform to.

Now you've got these really open standards. You've got capabilities like OpenShift to provide flexibility and write once, run anywhere type capabilities. You've got  really good  management and control plane capabilities you can take advantage of to provide consistency. And so I think taking that foundation of culture and then applying the look into the different services that are now available and chunking the decisions down. Becoming more agile as organizations really is the key to, uh, going forward without  locking things into much spending too much money on projects that  might change during the course of their lifetime. And also  ending up in a situation where you are kind of locked in and, and cost constraint to a specific vendor.

Seamus Byrne: As Business Leader for IBM Cloud Platforms  here in ANZ, what excites you most about your patch  of the IT space right now?

Wesley Allen: So this might sound a bit counter intuitive, but actually what I'm most excited about in some ways is that we're late to market. And the reason I say that Seamus is IBM's now been given the ability to look  through the revision mirror at what's happened in the cloud market over the last couple of years and actually adapt our approach.

And what that means is we can now lead in the areas that we see emerging and it's being most important to the future of cloud. And they're the areas of. You know, consistent,  control plane and management,  issues of flexibility, the issues of  trying to manage complexity and legacy. All those things have come about because we effectively came to the cloud market a bit late and we've been able to change our strategy to actually offer a notion to clients that they shouldn't move everything to us, they should move things to where they're going to run best. And I think that's what I'm most excited about is we can go to clients, you know, from our heart and say, we actually want to help you push things to where they need to go.

And, um, and there's so many choices for that now for you that, you know, we can help you with the, um, Journey and the thought leadership and bring other people in as well to actually decide what that's going to look like, you know, to make your environment the best it can be for the future. .

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Seamus Byrne Twitter

Founder and Head of Content at Byteside.

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