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The Hybrid Model and Why the Glass is Half Empty

There has been, and continues to be, a lot of conversation around the concept of hybrid-cloud communications deployments. Hybrid offers the best of both worlds, bringing the benefits of the cloud to owned and managed hardware and applications on premise. At first glance, it seems like the perfect way to leverage cloud technologies without giving up ownership of hardware on site.

This model is perfect for many businesses, but I have serious concerns about hybrid strategy that need to be considered for the more mainstream businesses.

The truth about hybrid this: While it brings together the best of both worlds, it also brings together the worst of both worlds. I promise I am not trying to be intentionally contrarian or overly cynical, but I can't help but see the glass as more half empty than half full.

Consider the following areas as evidence to my concerns:

Cost: The problem with on-premise solutions is the high capital expense. The problem with cloud solutions is the high recurring cost. In a hybrid environment, you have both expenditures to contend with. In a recent project I was working on, the hybrid solution was considerably more expensive than the on-premise and hosted solutions.

Organizations looking to make improvements without capital expenditures can really benefit from moving to the cloud. Other organizations have one-time project budgets to spend money from and are mainly focused on keeping recurring costs down, and are a better fit for an on-premise solution. Hybrid solutions can require significant investments in both and can be a tough sell to the CFO.

Management: One of the great benefits of true cloud deployments is not having to manage the servers, hardware, and software required to run communications applications. While you still have switches, routers, and networks to manage, the core applications all move to the cloud, as do all of the issues related to service provider management. In a hybrid deployment, this advantage is significantly lessened. While you reduce the management and maintenance responsibility on premise, it still exists, as do the resources required.

Additionally, you now have to manage the cloud provider, and in some cases, you have to manage the integration of the cloud provider to the premise hardware and applications.

One of the benefits I see of cloud deployments is the ability to reallocate technical resources from the data center out to the business itself, where these employees can work on solving business problems instead of being locked away solving hardware problems. In a hybrid environment, this is much harder to do, as you still have to have on-site technical resources focused on managing servers, hardware, and applications.

Security: Many businesses are reluctant to move to the cloud because of concerns over security. While hybrid can mitigate these concerns by only partially moving to the cloud, it also can introduce security vulnerabilities that are keeping those types of customers from moving to the cloud in the first place.

Also, the complexity of managing security grows in a hybrid deployment. Now you have to be concerned with the cloud provider's security, in addition to the on-premise security concerns that you still have. You may have made your deployment less secure and have not removed the on-premise security responsibilities that might help outweigh some of the risks in a pure cloud deployment.

Looking Back
So we see some challenges facing the hybrid pitch from the customer perspective. But as for the marketplace, it will be very interesting to see how the hybrid approach evolves with the solutions providers selling the concept. One clue to how this will play out can be found the last time we were talking about hybrid deployments.

If we jump back in time 10-12 years ago, we see the term hybrid being used to talk about systems that supported both digital and VoIP endpoints. The approach really made sense--you could leverage your existing investment and migrate at your own pace to the emerging technology of VoIP. Dumping everything and starting over with a pure VoIP solution didn't make sense to many in the industry, including myself.

Nortel became one of the most vocal champions of the hybrid solution, while Cisco advocated the all-or-nothing approach. And while there are myriad factors that led to the rise of Cisco and the demise of Nortel, the industry never did fully embrace the hybrid concept. Those that bought into the value of VoIP went all in--most of the time with Cisco. Those that didn't, even with VoIP capable PBXs, mostly stayed in the digital world. Many of them are still there today.

I think we could see a similar trend in the new hybrid world, where cloud-averse businesses never move into the cloud, and those that aren't cloud-averse move full speed ahead into the cloud. While there will be some in the middle adopting a hybrid model, it might be a smaller group than we think.