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A Potted History of Hybrid IT

A Potted History of Hybrid IT

Hybrid. It’s a word we use a lot here on The Hybrid Hive. But it’s not just us.

In fact, hybrid seems to be something of a twenty-first century buzzword: there are hybrid cars that run off both electricity and petrol; hybrid companies that mix non-profit values with for-profit methods; even, in these days of genetic engineering, hybrid species…

It’s not exactly as if hybrid is a new word, yet in the last couple of years it’s become very trendy. Anyone who’s been in IT longer than 10 minutes will have heard the word in a computing context, and recognise it as a term to describe what they struggle with every day – so what’s with all the hype?

Well, like lots of trendy things, Hybrid IT at its core isn’t as new a concept as you might think.

Right back to the 1950s, computers were handling outsourced tasks in a way that would today fall under a “hybrid” banner.

For example, Britain’s first commercial computer was called LEO, standing for Lyons Electronic Office (LEO) and created by the Lyons Tea Company, a chain of tea shops found on street corners in many towns around the country.

The machine ran its first business application in 1951 and was initially created to solve clerical problems. However, from there it evolved significantly. The company’s president had the computer remodeled – and its role was extended to include the payment of staff and the management of inventory.

In fact, one of its early jobs was to deal with the daily orders received by the tea shops and use them to calculate overnight production requirements, assembly instructions, delivery schedules, invoices, costings and management reports. Today we’d describe this in much fancier language – probably as an integrated management information system linked up to a computerised call centre.

Then in 1956 the company took on the task of payroll calculations for other companies, including the UK division of Ford, all using this same machine.

If Ford was to use LEO today it would no doubt be billed as another shift towards hybrid IT – a mixed model of hardware, software and services, both on-premise and off-premise.

Of course, almost 60 years ago, Ford’s operational model was much simpler than the models of most businesses now. Today’s CIOs are managing a number of cloud service providers (in some cases as many as 15 or 20) – which makes for an incredibly complex ecosystem. That might be why the special “hybrid” tag has caught on.

Hybrid IT may just be the buzzword of the moment, but it does give us a very clear definition of the challenge CIOs face. And giving it a name may be half the battle!

Photo: Chantel Lucas

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