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Steering a safe course through hybrid cloud

We look at why hybrid cloud can create a tricky infrastructure to manage

This article can also be found in the Premium Editorial Download: Computer Weekly: When is it best to stick with paper?

It is a universally accepted axiom that the world is moving towards cloud. Even the most hardened sceptics have been converted and are taking their first steps on a cloud journey.

The figures back this up. IDC has reported that quarterly spending on public cloud IT infrastructure has more than doubled in the past two years, reaching $12.1bn in the third quarter of 2018 and growing by 56.1% year on year, while spending on private cloud infrastructure grew at half of this rate, 28.3%, reaching $4.7bn. This suggests more workloads are moving into the cloud.

What is even clearer is that most organisations are adopting some type of hybrid cloud approach, where the public and private cloud and on-premise datacentres are operating in parallel – complete with the means of controlling those services.

Research by Freeform Dynamics has found that companies using just one cloud provider are in a minority. “Most have five, 10 or even 20-plus ‘cloudy suppliers’, once you add up public cloud, private cloud, hosted, SaaS, and so on,” wrote Bryan Betts, principal analyst at Freeform Dynamics, in a recent Computer Weekly blog. “That’s on top of all that traditional on-site IT, which shows no sign even of shrinking, never mind disappearing altogether.”

Managing hybrid environments

Gartner’s report Critical capabilities for cloud management platforms estimates that by 2021, 75% of organisations without tooling to manage their multicloud environments will spend more than if they had they stayed on-premise, and will also lack needed policy and governance capabilities, increasing the likelihood of security and/or compliance exposures.

It’s one thing having the capability to move workloads to the cloud, but there are many other factors to consider. What applications work best there? How can you ensure you are not paying for services that you don’t need? How can you manage an infrastructure that operates on-premise and in the cloud? There are many more issues to think about.

According to Bill Talbot, vice-president of solutions marketing for digital service operations at BMC Software, the basic tenets for managing on-premise and cloud are the same, but there are some challenges thrown up by cloud.

“Managing on-premise infrastructure and software has typically been, and continues to be, managed by a centralised IT team that has the expertise, tools and processes to ensure that business needs are met,” he says. “However, the ease of access to cloud services now enables both IT and business owners to be buyers of cloud infrastructure and platform services, which has made managing cloud services and software more complicated.”

What complicates matters is that the emergence of new cloud-native services, based on microservices architectures, has created a new breed of operations and security practices, and organisations are still coming to terms with these.

Another factor is the cost of licensing. “Running licensed software in IaaS/PaaS [infrastructure/platform as a service] environments may have different pricing metrics,” says Kim Weins vice-president of cloud strategy at Flexera. “For example, Oracle licensing uses different CPU core factors for AWS [Amazon Web Services] and [Microsoft] Azure than for similar on-premise resources. In addition, to get an understanding of total cost of services, IT teams need to understand both software licence costs and infrastructure costs.”

So it is important for organisations to keep close tabs on costs when using cloud. BMC’s Talbot says: “The biggest challenges we see in companies’ cloud management are around migration, cost, security and governance – and typically in that order. “

In particular, companies could be paying the price for some bad practices in the past. “Cloud is exposing many of the bad habits enterprises had when managing on-premise IT resources,” says Talbot. “But because most IT expenses have come from capital budgets, there were no repercussions for over-buying or under-utilising on IT resources. With cloud services, there are immediate repercussions for buying oversized services, unused services, misconfiguring platform services for auto-scaling, or selecting the wrong pricing model.”

Flexera’s Weins sees signs for optimism, however. “CIOs are in the early stages of getting a grip on cloud use,” she points out. “Most companies have cloud architects and are creating a cloud centre of excellence.”

But that’s not to say there aren’t challenges, says Weins. “They are still struggling to manage fast-growing cloud spend, including SaaS [software as a service], software licences and cloud infrastructure. Because cloud use and cloud workloads are continually changing, this is not a problem that you just fix once. You need to leverage automated policies to continuously optimise cloud use and reduce wasted spend.”

Companies also still need to keep a close eye on licensing costs because using cloud services has not reduced the need to manage these. What CIOs should be doing, says Talbot, is trying to predict future usage. He admits this can be challenging, thanks to the ephemeral nature of cloud services. “Organisations need to deploy cloud cost management tools that help them control and forecast their cloud spend and budgets and understand the best pricing model for the workloads they are running,” he says.

Cloud-first approach

There is still a significant challenge in working out which workloads to move to the cloud. The type of shift that IDC has seen has completely changed the mindset. At one time, most major organisations felt extreme reluctance to shift to the cloud, but the trend today is a “cloud-first” approach.

That is fine for new applications – although not without its challenges – but what of legacy software? Weins sees the path to migration as fraught with difficulties. “For existing applications, the first question is often: what do I have?” she says. “Getting a complete picture of on-premise infrastructure and software is difficult, so automated discovery tools are needed.”

But that is only the start of the process, says Weins. “Once you have an inventory, you need to determine whether you will re-factor applications or lift and shift. In the case of refactoring, you may want to consider multicloud templating options. Next, you need cost management tools to map your existing workloads to appropriate sizes and types of cloud resources, and assess costs. Lastly, you need cloud management capabilities to deploy, manage and govern the cloud workloads.”

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And what are the tools to manage these processes? Companies identified in Gartner’s Critical capabilities for cloud management platforms report that are offering various features for hybrid cloud management include Flexera, Morpheus Data, Scalr, Embotics, CloudBolt, HyperGrid, ServiceNow and MicroFocus. The report found that some familiar IT management tools lack the crucial functionality demanded by this market. Also, startups that have full capability have received little industry traction.

Twin approach to management

BMC, with a long history in management software, has taken a twin approach. “Where appropriate, we have extended BMC solutions to provide capabilities for cloud services,” says Talbot. “A good example of this is our performance management solution TrueSight Operations Management and our capacity management solution TrueSight Capacity Optimisation to provide capabilities across on-premise, private clouds and public clouds. But we have also introduced solutions that address multicloud and cloud-native specific challenges.”

Flexera, which last year acquired RightScale, does not have such a history of traditional tools, but sees that, given the onset of cloud-native services, what will count is the degree of automation that CIOs can deploy. Weins says: “Companies have increasingly been automating the technical processes for delivering applications with continuous delivery, automated deployment and self-healing operations.”

They need to take this approach one step further, she adds. “They now need to extend these capabilities to optimise for business value, with automated tools that help them govern and manage costs for their cloud-based and on-premise workloads.”

As enterprises embark on their multicloud journeys, Gartner’s research has found that they are looking for tooling that enables automation, lifecycle management, brokering and governance across cloud environments.  

The shifting landscape of cloud will throw up many more challenges in the coming years and it is clear that companies will need a range of tools to help them adapt. It’s certainly the case that no CIO will be able to ignore this important area.

Read more on IT operations management and IT support

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