Hybrid Systems: The Antidote to the “Resistance to Change” Poison

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I like to see the world today through the lens of history. As a cloud computing architect, many times I have come across the word “hybrid” and I can’t help but to wonder what it really means today and what it would have meant to our ancestors. In the cloud computing context it is used for hybrid clouds, normally portrayed as a mixture of two cloud consumption models: the private cloud and the public cloud. Even the Rider’s Digest Oxford Dictionary depicts “hybrid” as a thing composed of incongruous elements, in other words, a mix of different things that don’t necessarily go together. If you look at the word “hybrid” and how it has been used throughout history you will also notice it actually means a transition period, a direction of movement in time. This is especially evident when it comes to technological advances.

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Let’s take a look first at how roads for automobiles were introduced. For the most part, it was not mandated to drop the horse and use cars instead. In fact most people could not even afford a car. The roads for cars evolved from dirt roads suitable for horses and the carts they pulled, to “hybrid roads” made out of pavers where horses and cars could happily transit. In talking to my grandfather, he does not remember the exact moment when ice and milk carts pulled by horses where replaced by cars and trucks. This suggest to me that the transition was actually very smooth. Today all milk is delivered to end consumer markets, at least in the US, via trucks traveling through paved roads. You might still see in the news some guy crossing the Turnpike with his horse but the context of the news will focus more on the concept of insanity rather than the joy of going on horseback ride through a jungle of concrete. By the way, if you want to go back in history and witness “hybrid roads” firsthand, I suggest a trip to Cuba. Some cities like Old Havana and Trinidad intentionally keep their roads open for horses and cars. It is part of the charm of being transported back in history without a time machine. On the other hand, there are other many cities in Cuba that have no choice but to keep their roads open to horses. In these cases it is due to a phenomenon that I like to call the Cuban Clock Freeze. It is as if time does not run in that part of the world. I have a very good Idea why but will like to keep that to a more appropriate forum.

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In more modern times there has been other significant transitions marked by the use of the word hybrid. One example I’m very familiar with are the Hybrid Applications going from native to web application. The transition went like this. First, there was desktop application that also served as thick clients making RPC calls to servers also known as client/server applications. During those times it was very expensive to make a remote call due to limitation on internet bandwidth and latency. Then, came the hybrid systems. Some advanced newer companies where able to quickly embrace multiple web application technologies like JSP and ASP and the increased internet bandwidth. On the other hand, other more conservative companies decided to modify their current client/server apps into a hybrid still using RPC to servers but introducing the concept of Web Services via newer protocols like SOAP. Today we can still find client/server and hybrid application but for the most part the majority of IT companies and enterprises are moving to pure web application using a flavor of JavaScript libraries, HTML5 and REST APIs. We can say that the end of the tunnel is near for this transition.

Perhaps today’s best, well-known example of the use of “hybrid” as a transition is in the area of hybrid automobiles. If we learned anything from history and we have been following the trend we could predict that there will be no internal combustion automobiles in the future. It is impressive how improvements on battery technologies and on energy transformation systems are making possible the move from Hybrid cars to fully electrical cars. If you still doubt it, all you have to do is walk through the streets of San Francisco, put away your phone for a minute and look up and around you. The fleets of Teslas, Leafs and Volts are impressive.

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Let me extrapolate my experiences to formulate a theory. Yes, hybrid animals and plants were engineered for a purpose and are very permanent. However, when it comes to hybrids in the technology world they serve as an indicator of direction in a journey. The technology before the hybrid tells you the source of the journey while the technology being mixed in the hybrid is the target of the Journey. I am willing to venture even further to state that Technology Hybrids are the solution to the very natural human resistance to change. We are pre-wired to feel uncomfortable when in presence of a decision that brings change. We have all experienced the feeling when we move for example. I have also experienced firsthand when CTOs hear the words cloud, automation, DevOps, analytics and IoT. All they hear initially is work, more work and unnecessary work. The good news is that as they try to escape from reality to their favorite golf course their “resistance to change” syndrome starts to wear off and they start thinking about how to gradually transition into these new disruptive standards and technologies. They usually call back with a hybrid proposal that lets them slowly migrate. This is completely normal as we have seen with disruptive changes throughout history.

Now, I’m a cloud guy and, of course, will betray my reason if I don’t at least try to apply some historic insight to my field. When it comes to Hybrid clouds I also see them as a transition. Not a transition from Private Cloud to Public Cloud but transition from On-Premise IT to Cloud IT (Cloud here means Public Cloud). The actual Hybrid solution is the private cloud solutions. Private clouds are the transition. Private Cloud solution will happily re-use On-Premise resources to create the Illusion of a cloud Operation model. This is, however, a very important illusion critical in the transition step. It allows IT shops to still keep their existing On-Premise operation models intact while starting the process to cloudify their apps and solution. If the private cloud framework is integrated with the real cloud then it is even better. They can try things in the cloud without being “in the cloud.” As level of confidence on cloud operations go up they will also move up, literally.

With this revelation comes some important questions that I will continue exploring. What will happen to private clouds in, let’s say, five years let alone ten years? Will they completely disappear? My first guess is that they will probably morph as well from being a physical asset manager into a cloud broker solutions, a set of APIs that will allow us to connect to all the cloud providers out in the market. I am even entertaining some ideas on how to start preparing for that transition using OpenStack. I will let you speculate on what you think I mean here but for the moment consider it a trade secret. What? Coca Cola can keep a sugar mix secret for decades and I can’t keep some complicated IT solutions secret until my next posts? Give me a break. All I came here to tell you for the moment is to continue using the “hybrid” medicine to combat that “resistance to change” epidemic that very often cripples the IT world from taking smarter paths and transformational leaps.

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