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When posed with the question, “Are you considering an on-premises, cloud, or a hybrid approach for your content services?” most practical decision makers who are looking to gradually and safely move away from the high costs of an on-premises data center and legacy enterprise content management (ECM) solution will respond with a hybrid approach.

Traditional ECM vendors began offering hybrid cloud software to address this request, entering the cloud and software as a service (SaaS) market while fighting against new entrants with cloud-only SaaS models (e.g., Box, Dropbox, Veeva Systems, etc.). Like most new concepts, the term first arrived as a marketing vehicle that grew in popularity as each new solution by various vendors appeared. As a result, hybrid cloud approaches and solutions can be a confusing topic for ECM buyers.

Hybrid Approach Versus Hybrid Software

Deciding on the specific steps and timing for your “journey to the cloud” can be difficult. Decision makers have to weigh conflicting goals, including:
  • Business concerns around moving critical documents to the cloud and third-party security controls
  • Investments in on-premises content services that have not been fully depreciated and continue to meet their business goals
  • Plans to reduce information technology (IT) spending while improving capabilities that are only available in the cloud
  • Easily sharing content with outside partners or remote employees via the cloud
Businesses are looking to mix the potential cost savings and capabilities of the cloud with the established security and services offered by their current solutions.

Looking to capitalize on the SaaS and cloud movement, content services vendors began building and marketing hybrid products that could address some of these business goals. Typical hybrid cloud solutions would provide software to sync (push and pull) content from the internal content management system to a cloud solution (from the same vendor) to provide the best of both worlds. With this approach, on-premises content service vendors could leverage their internal footprint to position themselves against the pure-play SaaS companies.

The focus of the hybrid content services cloud was not to provide efficiencies in the data center by moving the internal content management system to cheaper and more elastic cloud resources. Instead, the hybrid cloud focused on allowing document access and collaboration (typically in a multi-tenant, public SaaS cloud from the content services vendor) to external resources outside the firewall.

The Hybrid Content Services Cloud: What Are the Challenges?

While many ECM vendors began offering hybrid cloud solutions, most approaches have struggled. Why has this been the case? Along the way, there have been some key challenges that have proved to be too difficult to overcome.
  • Often, business users are more comfortable with existing email or file sharing tools that are not connected to the on-premises content services system, like Dropbox, Google Drive, and Slack.
  • Business users need to buy into the effort required to analyze and determine whether certain documents should be synchronized to the cloud. Most just don't see the benefits of this undertaking, given other collaborative alternatives.
  • The solutions and additional software offered by vendors aren't as intuitive as public SaaS offerings, like Slack and Dropbox, requiring additional software and costs that just increase risk and complexity for customers.
  • Business and IT teams looked to the cloud to reduce internal data center costs and improve scaling and elasticity, something that hybrid cloud software did not offer.
  • The success and security achieved with infrastructure as a service (IaaS) vendors, like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, have made SaaS for content services less attractive. These IaaS solutions for IT can be leveraged beyond just content services, with many customers deciding to skip hybrid altogether and move to a private cloud.
“There are many factors that should be considered in deciding where to locate applications, data, and files. In most cases, businesses will really need to decide if that is on-premises or in a secure cloud,” says Alan Pelz-Sharpe, Founder of Deep Analysis and noted content services analyst. “A mix of the two can work in theory but may just add unnecessary complexity and cost."

As business and IT teams become more comfortable with moving all their documents to a secure private cloud with one of the large IaaS vendors, choosing between on-premises, hybrid, or cloud could only be a black and white decision between on-premises and cloud, given the cost, challenges, and risks facing the hybrid software approach.

Dave Giordano is the Founder and President of Technology Services Group (TSG), a Chicago technology consulting firm with 40+ enterprise content management (ECM) consultants. Previous to founding TSG in 1996, Dave worked for nine years for Accenture (Andersen Consulting). Follow the TSG Blog or follow them on Twitter @tsgrp.