About 100 years ago, as electrical power became more widespread, many large companies and factories opted to build their own power-generation plants. This meant that electrical systems were generally small and localized, serving only those who could afford to construct and maintain one themselves.
Over time, a gridded system of electricity was developed across America, allowing all households and businesses to tap into the wider system with a small investment and pay only for the electricity they used. In the same way, the hybrid cloud can provide powerful storage and tools to businesses of all sizes for a relatively low cost of entry, says Kevin Petrie, tech evangelist at Attunity, a data-management software provider.
“It’s the same philosophy that you have for cloud computing—shared resources that are part of a public infrastructure can be more cost effective and help companies focus on what they do best,” Petrie says. “I think the cloud can benefit most any organization, in one way or another.”
Increasingly companies are discovering that they can use the cloud for at least some of their business functions, Petrie says. And, that they don’t have to move all of their data or operations to a cloud-based model if that’s not what makes sense for their business needs.
Companies often struggle to add a new platform to their IT suite, Petrie says. But innovations in data mobility and security mean that there are a myriad ways to do so without taking on exhorbitant costs or adding too much complexity. And those platforms increasingly come with the option of storing data conventionally, in the cloud--or both, depending on the firm's needs for that data.
"There are exciting new platforms that work very well for certain types of workplaces," Petrie says. "No single platform is going to replace the others."
And what makes sense is, for many companies, a solution that involves both private and public clouds for data storage and access. “There’s been a big shift in the industry,” Petrie says, “from private clouds to hybrid clouds.” Companies can now have both public and private clouds, for different needs.
Petrie gives the example of his company's work with a healthcare provider. Of course, dealing with healthcare data requires a high degree of security and sensitivity. It also requires that patient data be stored, potentially without being accessed for long periods of time--but easily accessible when required.
"They used us to move data to and from data warehouses," Petrie says of the healthcare provider. "They’re not moving data to one place and leaving it there for all time, but actually moving it as needed." That's where a cloud solution for storing that data can provide a significant advantage to an organization.
Of course, it's important for that data to be securely stored. Healthcare organizations told Modern Healthcare, in a survey released last month, that the threat of cybersecurity breaches will have some (51 percent) or considerable (42 percent) impact on their IT security spending in 2016. That underlines the importance of security for data storage solutions, cloud or otherwise.
“The public cloud itself can be relatively secure,” Petrie says. Even the CIA uses a public cloud—the data is so distributed that it’s an advantage, he says.
“It would be hard for a bad guy to reassemble the bits into any sort of readable format,” Petrie says.
That ability to both encrypt data and to know where it is when, and who is accessing it, is a key feature of a good cloud storage solution, Petrie says.
“I think one of the misconceptions about the cloud is that data can be moved to one place on the cloud, and that’s where it will reside in perpetuity,” Petrie says. Data needs to keep moving to meet different needs for workload and analytical objectives, he says. That means encryption is a popular and critical measure when transferring data.
“In addition, usage-tracking software of a variety of types is really helpful to make sure that your data is only being used in appropriate ways, by appropriate people,” Petrie says.
Automation is another cloud benefit that can help companies manage data effectively, whether it resides in the cloud or not. This can often be accomplished through software that helps organizations integrate data and move it in an automated way across platforms. The software also helps organizations understand how data is being used.
That involves making decisions on things like cloud solutions, data platforms and warehouses. It also means helping companies understand how data is stored, which can improve performance and reduce costs.
“The final piece is helping companies prepare data for analytics by creating data warehouses and managing them in an automated fashion,” Petrie says.
When it comes to data management, automation is key. “We find the most successful companies use automation tools,” Petrie says.
Aside from managing the data itself, those tools can also give companies powerful analytic abilities--ensuring that businesses don’t just know where their data is and who is accessing it, but are able to use it to learn more about their business operations.
“The key value of analytics is more precise and more meaningful data points or incorporating new data points in order to arrive at better conclusions,” Petrie says. It allows companies to make business decisions more accurately and effectively, he says.
To bring it back to power companies, a 2014 PwC survey found that 73 percent of power and utilities executives had changed their organizations’ approach to big decision-making because of what they learn through data and analytics. And 50 percent of Canadian executives described decision-making at their organizations as highly data driven.
The benefits are clear to Petrie. “There’s no company that wants fewer insights about their companies, about their market. You can always use more information,” he says. “Analytics is designed to help you use that information in a meaningful way, to help you make meaningful decisions.”
Terri Coles is a freelance writer based in St. John’s, NL. Her work covers topics as diverse as food, health and business. If you have a story you would like profiled, contact her at [email protected].
The IT Innovators series of articles is underwritten by Microsoft, and is editorially independent.