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IT infrastructure providers’ mandate? Bridge across silos of innovation

by Lauren Horwitz

Managing Editor, Cisco.com

At VMworld 2018, the message was clear. IT infrastructure providers now have a central mission: to bridge the gap between IT silos to fuel innovation.

LAS VEGAS -- As enterprises continue to move past the boundaries of their four walls to innovate, IT infrastructure companies have had to meet business needs where they are.

Historically, IT infrastructure companies sold hardware-based IT resources—servers, storage and networking—for traditional on-premises data centers. But, as cloud computing caught on, traditional IT companies transitioned from selling primarily hardware to helping enterprises move faster and manage less IT infrastructure themselves through cloud-based offerings.

But, of course, the move to the cloud wasn't straightforward. Enterprises couldn’t port all their older applications to cloud environments. Some apps weren’t written for cloud architectures. Others were too costly to move. And still other data couldn't migrate to the cloud given compliance and security hurdles.

As a result, most companies that have migrated to the cloud, in fact, have a hybrid infrastructure: a mix of private cloud assets and public cloud resources. And today, the challenge for IT providers is how to help these companies manage these hybrid environments together.

At the VMworld 2018 conference this week, the central theme was how crucial it is to build bridges between IT environments that previously operated as silos.

Similarly, at Cisco Live 2018, Cisco noted its unique capability to bridge the gap in a multicloud world. CEO Chuck Robbins depicted the importance of enterprise multicloud strategy, in which companies use private clouds, multiple public clouds and new architectures such as the edge.

“A few years ago, along came the public cloud. It was going to create more simplicity in your life. And, in some ways, it has,” Robbins said in the keynote. “But investment in private data centers hasn’t gone down.”

Robbins noted that Cisco had been developing various aspects of IT infrastructure to enable more seamless work between private and public clouds, though new developments in its hyperconverged technologies, its introduction of Kubernetes containers to hybrid cloud environments, and through a secure network that is “available on-premises and in the cloud—wherever it is that you want to consume [services]” he said. Cisco, he emphasized was bringing all its technologies to bear in this “multicloud environment that virtually all of you are living in.”

The IT infrastructure goal: Bridging the gap

These IT silos of innovation have become the new battleground for IT success and—ultimately—business innovation.

“Cloud informs a really important part of our technology strategy but also our business strategy,” said the head of cloud at a major bank in Australia, during a VMorld session on the importance of technologies like cloud in the financial services industry. “We see the public cloud as a place to build new applications. [Public clouds] enable us to focus on building better solutions for our customers. But we also see a role for the private cloud, particularly around traditional workloads.” For this head of cloud strategy and his bank, the economics of running some traditional applications in public clouds just didn’t make sense. Instead, it has proved more cost-effective to run these older applications in private cloud environments.

If IT infrastructure providers have any mission, it is to enable these kinds of mixed-IT environment scenarios. This becomes all the more important as multicloud strategy becomes the norm. Indeed, according to some estimates, more than 80% of enterprises have a multicloud strategy, and many use more than four public cloud providers.

Private environments, as well as these myriad public clouds, must be able to integrate with one another. So, too, management tools may not work across all these environments.

These are the new battlegrounds for IT infrastructure providers , as they strive to make it easier for customers to manage hybrid cloud and multicloud infrastructure. For companies to succeed in the multicloud era, they may need guidance on how to manage these environments in a more integrated way and when they may need to use best-of-breed tools to continue to manage environments separately.

So, too, most companies cite a lack of in-house IT infrastructure skills to navigate this new multicloud era. IT infrastructure teams may require training in software-defined networking or other cloud-era skills, such as containerization and DeveOps methodologies. According to one recent survey, nearly 40% of respondents said their companies could benefit from staff training in cloud computing skills.

As IT infrastructure providers help pave the way for their customers to migrate to the cloud, they need to understand these substantive gaps along the way. Bridging these gaps will make or break the enterprise journey to the cloud.

For IT infrastructure providers to succeed, they must help companies overcome these obstacles—whether they stem from people, process or technology.

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Lauren Horwitz is the managing editor of Cisco.com, where she covers the IT infrastructure market and develops content strategy. Previously, Horwitz was a senior executive editor in the Business Applications and Architecture group at TechTarget;, a senior editor at Cutter Consortium, an IT research firm; and an editor at the American Prospect, a political journal. She has received awards from American Society of Business Publication Editors (ASBPE), a min Best of the Web award and the Kimmerling Prize for best graduate paper for her editing work on the journal article "The Fluid Jurisprudence of Israel's Emergency Powers.”