– Bret Clement, Senior Director Global Communications, RightScale, says:

“Hybrid IT is the new IT and it is here to stay.” So said Chris Howard, managing vice president at Gartner, in a 2012 report subtitled “How Internal and External Cloud Services are Transforming IT.” If you haven’t started spinning your organization’s cocoon in preparation for your own transformation, you need to at least consider the advantages hybrid IT brings.

Hybrid IT simply means combining internal and external resources – from data centers and clouds – to serve the business’ and users’ needs. The transformation comes from new benefits in business agility, reduced spending, easier administration and more.

Traditionally, businesses built their own data centers and populated them with their own servers. They purchased networking equipment and provisioned links to public networks. This practice had the virtue of being easy for IT to control.

However, it also had a number of drawbacks. When business users needed more resources, they had to go through the IT department. Capital budgets and administrator time could be a roadblock, and even if the users’ requests were eventually approved, it would take weeks or months before new resources could be made available for them.

Virtualization was an important first step in improving IT’s ability to meet user demands. With virtualization, IT could launch multiple virtual servers on a single hardware base.

The next logical step is cloud computing. It brings elastic scaling that can meet nearly infinite processing and storage demands. It is flexible, so businesses only pay for the resources they use, instead of having to buy enough hardware to meet infrequent peak demand. Cloud providers have created APIs that let cloud management software handle automated provisioning and management.

Typically there are two types of clouds: public and private. They share the benefits of elasticity and agility, but public clouds are maintained by providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google, Rackspace, HP, Microsoft and many others. You buy services from these vendors and run your workloads on their hardware, which may be shared by their other customers.

With private clouds, you acquire dedicated hardware, either on-premise or in a shared data center, on which to run your workloads. Private clouds frequently run under open source cloud platforms such as Eucalyptus, OpenStack and CloudStack.

An organization need not choose one approach over the other. The best idea is to use whichever make the most sense for a given task. Sometimes that means a combination of public and private clouds. That’s called a hybrid cloud. Hybrid IT encompasses hybrid clouds, along with any combination of in-house and cloud usage. Strategic IT professionals need to evaluate factors such as application workload, compliance, latency and cost to determine what solution best meets their most important criteria.

Can You Feel the Excitement?

Today, according to Jarrett Appleby, COO of data center and interconnection services provider CoreSite, we are facing a collision of the traditional IT world and the cloud world. Appleby said in a presentation at the recent RightScale Compute conference in San Francisco, that, in his 29 years in data center space, hybrid IT is “the most exciting and dynamic IT architecture we’ve seen.”

As a cloud management software provider, we at RightScale have seen several common use cases of hybrid environments. While we’ve seen applications contained entirely within a single environment, whether cloud or on-premise, we’ve also seen an increase in the number of larger organizations locating their private clouds near their public cloud infrastructure to help reduce latency and improve security.

One Fortune 500 clinical laboratory provider we work with had challenges shared by many larger organizations. The company wanted to maintain its existing data center infrastructure, but at same time leverage the cost and agility benefits of AWS and CloudStack. If the company were to be successful in its hybrid strategy, it would have to deliver consistent, approved configurations to developers, and data residency would have to meet compliance requirements.  Leveraging an IT vending machine approach, the company today successfully provides developers with standard configurations that can be launched without users having to create a ticket or make a request for service or a phone call. Provisioning a new server takes only 15 minutes.

With recent advances, especially in cloud management software, hybrid architecture has become a more viable IT delivery model. No one size fits all, so you must do your research around design, hardware, software and implementation details to find the right fit for your use case.

Hybrid IT does not mean you throw out all your in-house hardware next week – or ever – but if you’re not already considering cloud alternatives, you’re likely to be left on the ground when your more agile competitors take off for the clouds.