Why the Hybrid Enterprise Will Endure
Using the word “hybrid” to describe any technology often connotes a sense of something that is temporary during a period of phased adoption, as opposed to a new norm following a period of convergence and integration. Consider a potential example in the auto industry – is the electric car the end game to replace the gas-electric hybrid car? Or is the hybrid car a new model that reflects an effective use of two viable methods of powering a car? Advocates of moving all IT systems to the cloud hold up the “hybrid enterprise” as a short-term situation – a bridge period from the traditional on-site data center to a 100 percent cloud-based IT infrastructure. The hybrid enterprise is a mix of data center and cloud-hosted apps and of networks comprised of private (hosted), public (Internet) and cloud infrastructure. So as organizations continue to adopt cloud computing, managing the hybrid enterprise must just require a temporary workaround approach, right?
Wrong. In fact, the increasing adoption of cloud computing is actually driving a parallel increase in the implementation hybrid enterprise model. According to International Data Corporation (IDC), more than 65 percent of enterprise IT organizations will commit to hybrid cloud technologies before 2016, and play a significant factor in driving the rate and pace of change in IT organizations. Likewise, Ovum found that by 2016 over 80% of enterprises globally will use IaaS, with investments in private cloud computing showing the greater growth.
“IT buyers are shifting steadily toward cloud-also and cloud-first strategies and nearly all are reconsidering their IT best practices to embrace hybrid cloud construction and operations, secure data management, end-to-end governance, updated IT skills, and improved multi-vendor sourcing,” said Robert Mahowald, Program Vice President, IDC SaaS & Cloud Software research practice, during IDC’s FutureScape: Worldwide Cloud 2015 Predictions Web conference last December.
While moving certain applications to the cloud can significantly reduce the time and money IT must devote to maintaining and upgrading systems, there are security and business reasons for keeping mission-critical applications and information stored on premises. The hybrid enterprise model enables enterprises to retain control of their IT environments while sending non-mission-critical workloads to the public cloud. As a result, businesses are transitioning to hybrid networking architectures to leverage the ubiquity, cost economics and speed of the Internet to complement the highly reliable Multiprotocol Label Switching (MPLS)-based network.
The hybrid enterprise refers not only to where apps are hosted but also to how they are accessed by end users consuming services. Until relatively recently, the vast majority of enterprise applications were hosted within private data centers and accessed through a corporate network using a standardized WAN solution such as MPLS network services. Now, with both public and private resources readily available, network access is also going hybrid, combining the strengths of the highly reliable carrier specific MPLS paths with the lower-cost Internet infrastructure. Private networks (MPLS links) plus public networks (the Internet) offer a choice in delivery channels: more costly private networks for mission-critical apps, less expensive public networks for bulk loads like backup.
The need to connect remote branch offices of varying sizes and increasingly mobile workers to both the internal, hosted data center and cloud-based applications make the use of a single private MPLS WAN service an inadequate connectivity option.
The typical enterprise WAN connectivity architecture evolves using the Internet to offload MPLS, connecting mobile broadband to the Internet, and adding public cloud services as application needs arise. In other words, it becomes the foundation of the hybrid enterprise, prompting network planners to design and implement a WAN architecture that incorporates both the Internet and the MPLS in an integrated hybrid WAN solution.
For many enterprises, that’s easier said than done. Implementing hybrid networking has proven to be difficult due to the complexity of defining what traffic goes on which network. Configuring systems and policy-based routing are a burden on network administration and ultimately not reliable enough to provide application value.
Historically, mobile workers or any worker connecting to enterprise applications from any location other than an office on the corporate network were required to login to the network via a virtual private network (VPN) solution. Deploying VPN hubs at key locations was not designed to have the end user take the shortest path to their ultimate application destination – simply designed to get users to the corporate WAN for access control and management purposes. In the hybrid enterprise, unless end users are able to directly use public Internet, mobile workers have to take multiple long-haul trips to get to a relatively local application. Not ideal.
The keys requirements are to address the needs of both the users and the IT team. Employees want (even demand) anytime, anywhere access to applications without the risk of performance slowdown or outages that can directly affect their productivity. IT needs to be able to monitor all traffic flow across the network, no matter whether the applications are based in the cloud or data center, and whether users are working in corporate headquarters, their homes, a remote office or at a customer’s location.
How? Analyst firm Gartner states there is no one-size-fits-all answer and outlines several options:
Gartner adds that ideally, network planners have the capability to combine many or all of these options into one solution that provides the necessary level of visibility and control. 
The questions over the long-term future of the hybrid enterprise are not new, and there may eventually be a day when enterprises move their entire IT infrastructures to the cloud. But that day is far, far away. Josh Greenbaum, principal of Enterprise Applications Consulting, summed it up nicely in a post to the EAC blog more than three years ago:
“The proponents of revolution always have an abundance of vision and limited patience, but the fact remains that change happens in the business world more slowly than any of the proponents of SaaS would like to imagine. Their time will come, but not until we’ve squeezed a lot more value out of the hybrid model. And there’s still lots more value to squeeze, even in those old, supposedly dead, ERP systems we all love to hate.”
 Gartner, “Hybrid Will Be the New Normal for Next Generation Enterprise WAN,” September 2, 2014
 “The King is Dead, Long Live the King: The end of ERP and the birth of the Hybrid Enterprise,” Enterprise Applications Consulting, February 27, 2012.