When I was a kid, going shopping meant piling into the car, driving somewhere, trolling around a parking lot to find a decent spot, then walking into a massive building holding the products we wanted. The mighty brick-and- mortar retail store was a fortress of capitalism, and the bigger it was, the better.
In years past, the same could be said for business technology. If you wanted to use technology to capture knowledge or gain efficiencies, you had to make a substantial investment. The bigger the better: more power, more storage, more speed. Overseeing all this power required an army of certified engineers in a network operations center that looked like NASA’s Mission Control.
Then suddenly, technology shifted and made the traditional paradigms obsolete.
The transformative effect of the Internet
The Internet’s rise turned those retail fortresses' advantages into disadvantages. Instead of taking the time to drive to the store, I could stay put and browse products on my computer. With the emergence of mobile technology, I didn’t even have to be at home to do my online shopping. I could do it from anywhere I had an Internet connection—even from inside those retail fortresses.
Similarly, the Internet changed how businesses competed. No longer did you need a storefront to compete—a URL and a web host was all you needed. You could rent big enterprise functionality at a fraction of the cost of what the big enterprises spent building and maintaining it. And if you wanted to scale up rapidly, you didn’t need to take on huge capital expenditures. You could just turn to the cloud and rent the capacity you needed.
Blending the best of both worlds
To become competitive again, brick-and-mortar businesses transformed themselves into hybrids of retail stores and distribution centers. They improved their e-commerce capabilities, allowing customers to find products online and save costs by have them shipped for free to the store. If a product was already on the shelves, a customer could easily pick it up at the store with minimal waiting.
The same blending idea has transformed business technology. Firms with massive investments in server technology and data centers began upgrading to virtualized environments and then to hybrid cloud environments where non-critical systems could be outsourced to cloud providers, rapid software development could occur in cloud environments and communications could be fully hosted.
By moving to hybrid cloud technologies, businesses could enjoy the best of both worlds. Critical systems no longer needed that army of certified engineers. A few technical staff could oversee your on-premise servers and data centers, while other solutions could be moved to the cloud and monitored by the host’s experts. In short, hybrid models are proving to be effective systems not only for the retail market, but for growing businesses as well.
Interestingly, as small online retailers become more mainstream and sales increase, they've started making investments in mall storefronts and brick-and-mortar buildings. Likewise, these cloud-only businesses have started moving resources out of the cloud and into data centers they control.
You've got options
There’s no longer a single model for success. You’ll have to decide what makes sense for your business. But in the end, it’s great to have options.
So, it's become a race towards the middle for both industries. In order for established brands to stay competitive with more nimble cloud-based rivals or enterprises with heavy infrastructure investment, hybrid solutions are the best solution today and for years to come.