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A buyer’s guide to hybrid cloud management tools

As more Asia-Pacific enterprises gear up for the hybrid cloud, a slew of tools has emerged to help organisations manage the lifecycle of cloud applications in a heterogeneous IT environment

In October 2017, Malaysia Airlines (MAS) embarked on a massive project to migrate its core datacentre infrastructure and applications to a hybrid cloud model, with 80% of its assets hosted on Microsoft Azure and 20% on a private cloud.

Within five years, the airline hopes to improve cost efficiency by 50% and business performance by 80%, as well as reduce customer response time from days to hours.

Joining MAS in the move to hybrid cloud was Cathay Pacific. In 2018, the Hong Kong carrier moved its legacy infrastructure to a hybrid cloud that would support more than 50 consumer-facing applications, scaling up and cutting down on IT resources based on business demands.

More importantly, Cathay Pacific would be able to bring new services to market faster in a highly competitive industry. Already, it has been able to roll out 200 application changes per day, up from just 20 previously. The improved efficiency has translated to a lower total cost of ownership for its production systems.

That the hybrid cloud is fast becoming the infrastructure of choice is not surprising.

Many enterprises see hybrid cloud as offering the best of both worlds, giving them public cloud resources on tap to meet new and fluctuating business demands, while continuing to run legacy and mission-critical workloads in private cloud datacentres.

According to Flexera’s 2019 State of the cloud report, 58% of enterprises have a hybrid cloud strategy, with 28% earmarking it as their top priority. On average, respondents planned to grow public cloud spend by 24% in 2019, while growing private cloud use by 8%.

“We see cost, agility and innovation as leading drivers for hybrid cloud deployments,” said Matt Maloney, senior director of technology agility strategy at Flexera, adding that enterprises are leveraging private and public cloud investments to accelerate innovation, meet compliance requirements and minimise costs.

In addition, with more visibility through hybrid cloud management and brokering, enterprises can centralise IT service delivery for more consistent performance, security and control in increasingly complex ecosystems, said Nick Lim, managing director for Southeast Asia and Korea at Micro Focus. “This could even reduce rogue subscriptions to shadow IT across the organisation,” he said.

But not all hybrid cloud management tools are the same. Without the right one, enterprises will struggle with managing the lifecycle of cloud applications, as well as the complexity of deploying heterogeneous infrastructure, said Charlie Dai, principal analyst at Forrester Research.

Adding to that, Dai said, is the difficulty to effectively deploy, monitor and upgrade applications across different cloud environments, the challenge to ensure unified security management across all technology layers, and the inability to have fine-grained metering and billing for different stakeholders.

What’s in a cloud management tool?

In choosing a hybrid cloud management tool, Forrester offers an evaluation framework that covers six key capabilities:

  1. Support for cloud platform resources: including resource discovery and onboarding, cloud platforms support and advanced cloud services support.
  2. Automation and orchestration: including automated provisioning, configuration management, workload lifecycle automation, workflow design interface and decision-trigger automation.
  3. Cloud service administration and governance: including administrator and user usability and experience, templates and designer usability and library breadth, permissions, directory services integration, quotas and incentives, and compliance tracking.
  4. Cloud optimisation: including optimisation on cost and performance.
  5. Cloud monitoring: including monitoring on cost, performance and capacity.
  6. Integrations and application programming interfaces (APIs).

Apptio, a hybrid cloud management tool supplier, believes cost optimisation is a key feature that will allow enterprises to monitor and calculate the total cost of ownership of their public cloud, private cloud and on-premise infrastructure investments.

To accomplish this, hybrid cloud management tools should be able to ingest hybrid infrastructure cost and consumption data from both cloud bills and an organisation’s configuration management database (CMDB).

After ingestion, the data should be normalised using a standard taxonomy and allocated to IT consumers and business units. Using machine learning, a hybrid cloud management tool can be configured to proactively discover cloud cost optimisation opportunities or anomalies – and right-size their cloud resource consumption accordingly.

An effective hybrid cloud management tool should also help to accelerate cloud migration by identifying candidates (applications, workloads, environments and datacentres), conducting scenario analysis of migration options, providing insight to build a defensible migration plan using true costs, and tracking progress against an organisation’s migration plan.

Elaborating on the need to manage the lifecycle of workloads to improve the quality of service, Micro Focus’s Lim said hybrid cloud management tools should also provide a unified framework equipped with intuitive workflow designer and execution engine.

“Enterprise-grade orchestration capabilities allow the IT team to design complete IT actions and processes across silos, automate typical IT processes and repetitive actions with ease, thus eliminating the need for custom integrations or expensive service contracts,” Lim said.

That requires hybrid cloud management tools to be cloud-agnostic, so that enterprises can deal with a complex IT environment that spans multiple cloud services, geographical locations, datacentres and private clouds, he added.

“The automation element lies in the tool’s ability to allow the IT administrator to aggregate and broker multiple services, apply settings such as size, region and software version, and make those resources immediately available to users any time and anywhere the permission settings allow,” he said. “Such capabilities can be further enhanced with automated monitoring and remediation, powered by artificial intelligence.”

Making choices

But given the myriad cloud management options available, including proprietary and open source tools, third-party and cloud-provider native tools, and even outsourcing, how should enterprises decide what’s best for their needs? The answer to this question, said Flexera’s Maloney, depends on an organisation’s needs:

Single cloud: Cloud-native tools are a good starting point as they are generally free or very inexpensive and offer full access to the cloud platform. However, the tools themselves are not always well integrated and there are often multiple tools for the same management domain. Also, cloud-native tools require a certain level of expertise and knowledge. Each cloud is slightly different. An area where many IT organisations struggle is governance, especially with complex cloud-native policies.

Hybrid cloud tools: these cloud management tools can provide a single pane of glass, standardise governance and reduce the skills required to manage multiple clouds. The IT organisation can focus on delivering value and not worry about the plumbing. In addition, many suppliers have deep domain expertise in the cloud and can provide additional services such as cost optimisation and jumpstart services.

Homegrown and open source tools: these have evolved organically over time to address specific use cases that are not easily solved by other third-party tools or when the cost or complexity was deemed too high. Sometimes, there is a great deal of expertise internally that can develop a bespoke, homegrown offering tailored to the business needs, which is deemed a competitive advantage. The biggest drawback, however, is the upfront engineering and operational costs. IT teams also needs to stay abreast of the latest cloud technologies to maintain the bespoke tool.

Managed services: Mid-sized IT organisations can benefit from outsourcing their hybrid cloud management to a managed service provider (MSP), which can speed up cloud adoption and management with the MSP’s technical bench and tool chain. The downside is potential lock-in and constraints around service delivery.

In addition, the MSP can offer cloud management capabilities at a lower cost due to economies of scale and even negotiate better cloud prices. Large enterprise IT organisations can also benefit from enterprise support for hybrid cloud management as part of a larger outsourcing contract.

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