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When IT Universes Collide
How 'Swing Shift' Hybrid Clouds Can Help Transition Post-M&A IT Assets

You may be the CIO or IT manager for a fairly complex IT environment. You also may already have begun moving your data center to a private cloud paradigm that offers greater efficiency and agility to meet your company's needs.

While there are still a few challenges to work through, most days seem to run fairly smoothly. In the course of a week, however, the landscape changes. You are suddenly drawn into discussions with company management about a potential acquisition or merger in the works.

How do you advise your company on the impact of bringing both IT worlds together, let alone how best to navigate, post-M&A, the smooth integration of the other company's IT assets with yours?

As it turns out, a hybrid cloud paradigm - used in what I call 'swing-shift' mode - may be one way to mitigate risk when integrating  IT worlds after a corporate merger or acquisition.

Expanding Use Cases for Hybrid Cloud
We generally define hybrid cloud as the informational and managerial relationship between an organization's internal, private cloud and someone else's cloud (whether that other cloud is public or a hosted, private cloud). The idea of using the fast-growing hybrid cloud paradigm as a swing shift of sorts for post-M&A IT asset integration is the second of two use cases we'll describe here:

1. Cloud Bursting
This is the first and most commonly described use case for hybrid cloud computing. Often referred to as 'cloud bursting,' this allows a company to temporarily expand the processing capability of its own internal, private cloud environment by tapping into the added processing power of an external cloud provider. This scenario is used to better meet short-term, burstable processing needs that are often associated with seasonal fluctuations of retailers or business service providers. Examples that come to mind include Black Friday, Election Day or other significant, periodic inflection points.

Using hybrid cloud to temporarily boost in-house compute cycles can give companies an extra weapon in the capacity-planning arsenal and a better way to balance capital expenditures with on-going operating expenses. Capital expenditures can be budgeted to meet a company's general, steady-state processing capacity while operating expenses are contracted based on usage in order to meet a yearly services rush. The business advantage to buying-for-the-surge is that the additional cost can be associated with the specific event. Subsequent cost/benefit analysis is then focused on that specific event.

2. Swing-Shift IT Integration (Post-M&A)
Admittedly, using a hybrid cloud architecture to aid integration of IT assets for a corporate merger or acquisition project is not as common a use case as cloud bursting. But, it can have much broader appeal to more companies. I call it hybrid cloud in 'swing-shift' mode because this use case relies on an external cloud provider acting as a safe 'swing' architecture (or temporary home) for the merged or acquired company's IT assets and applications.

This type of hybrid cloud usage can help address many of the challenges that occur when acquiring companies with technology assets. Such challenges include:

  • Isolating and evaluating possibly outdated technology which the acquired company may not have kept up to date in anticipation of being sold.
  • Separating architectures -- especially where there are vast differences in security, compliance or other IT governance issues between the acquirer and the acquired.

In each of these cases, the acquirer may be unwilling to bring such IT assets onto the network or into the data center too quickly or without ample triage around the migration approach. In contrast, a hybrid cloud environment can provide a temporary holding place for users' desktops, mailboxes, or even certain business applications. For the acquiring company it can offer a useful virtual, 'cleansing' environment to use as a base prior to ingesting into the permanent environment.

Swing Shift Hybrid Cloud in Action
In recent years, a few companies have made IT news for their novel use of hybrid cloud to aid in their own M&A integrations.

In 2011, Gartner published its own case study surrounding international Milwaukee-based manufacturer Brady Corporation that had acquired 50 companies in relative short order. The case study, "Brady Corporation: Hybrid cloud sourcing accelerates post-merger integration," [ID Number: G00211838] described various ways the company was able to leverage cloud services to help it migrate IT infrastructure and systems following its various acquisitions.

In late 2012, enterprise cloud provider Virtustream also shared how Domino Sugar used its hybrid cloud services to migrate and integrate IT assets from a recently acquired holding, Tate & Lyle Sugars. In this case, Domino Sugar had to first 'carve out' Tate & Lyle Sugars' business applications from its prior parent company's IT environment before the newly acquired company could be integrated into Domino Sugar's IT environment. At the time, Domino Sugar was also using Virtustream cloud services. To aid the process, the cloud provider deployed an on-premise cloud appliance at Tate & Lyle Sugars' U.K. data center. It then connected the appliance to its own off-premise cloud nodes in the U.S. A post-merger integration, migration and archiving methodology was followed by Virtustream in order to successfully transition and merge IT assets between Domino and Tate & Lyle. [See press release dated 09/13/2012, "Cloud Leveraged for a Rapid Post-Acquisition Integration of Tate & Lyle Sugars." ]

Such use cases highlight hybrid cloud's ability to serve a number of functions, including its use as a viable staging and filtering area for incoming IT assets stemming from a recent acquisition.

Swing-Shift Hybrids: What You Need to Know
Domino Sugar's real-world case describes methodologies and planning needed to successfully use hybrid cloud in this type of swing-shift mode.

Here, it might be helpful to consider that much of the same methodologies and planning apply to the post-M&A environment as they do when you are conducting other major data center transformation efforts:

  • Physically moving your company's IT assets to a new data center
  • Consolidating or collapsing multiple data centers
  • Merging dispersed IT assets after a business-wide reorganization.

In all cases, a wide variety of large and small details and dependencies must be identified, evaluated and addressed. Experienced IT advisors can help minimize a company's risk during this process. This includes knowing where best to employ a hybrid cloud to further minimize risk and streamline integration. Armed with this type of advice, a company in the midst of M&A activity should be able to better address:

  • Ways to begin operation of the newly acquired entity within an often tight timeline
  • Interim and post-M&A handling of the acquired company's mail servers and Active Directory domains and domain controllers
  • Whether or not the acquired company's hardware should be added to the new company or whether it should be subsequently retired
  • The impact of archiving some of the acquired company's data and applications vs. retiring applications which may now be obsolete
  • The possibility of combining short-term data migration efforts in a hybrid cloud environment with a larger virtualization project. Such an environment may be able to facilitate migrating the acquired company's physical servers into a virtual server environment (P-to-V conversion)
  • The prospect of setting up parallel or interim test/development environments via hybrid cloud in order to try out migration and integration efforts between old and new systems, or between the two companies themselves

Other Considerations
In contrast to a cloud provider used for cloud bursting (where usage may only be needed over a matter of hours, days or weeks), usage of a swing-shift hybrid cloud provider is likely to span several months. This can impact what to look for when trying to find the right cloud provider.

Among the points identified earlier in this article, organizations also need to take a closer look at certain IT management elements like data protection and security. The term "hybrid cloud" implies that certain controls like authentication and management/monitoring can be extended from your company to the cloud provider. Even disaster recovery may need to be considered and included. Organizations should also spend time looking at the provider's data migration plan and application migration strategy since the data originates from an external source, the acquired company.

This is also an area where details really matter. A service provider that can effectively serve the role of a swing-shift hybrid cloud provider must exhibit the appropriate level of technical expertise, technological capabilities and customer references. The provider's contract and service level agreement must also have much of these details spelled out before you sign on the dotted line. IT advisors can help in this type of vetting process as well.

Once you have a viable roadmap to help navigate through these potential obstacles, hybrid cloud used in this type of swing-shift mode can be a very satisfying and efficient way to ease the burden of acquisitions. It can also help ease IT operational headaches and smooth the integration of an acquired company's people, processes and IT assets.

About Steve Bulmer
Steve Bulmer brings more than 30 years of strategic and tactical technology advice to a vast array of clients. As former CTO for StraTech and now advisory principal with Datalink, he consults with IT executives and managers on strategies across Big Data, IT service level management, data protection and data management, business continuity/disaster recovery, and IT automation including virtualization, cloud, and the software-defined data center. Steve has helped develop numerous frameworks, methodologies, and maturity models that bring efficiencies to IT organizations.

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