Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Hybrid Cloud?

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Who's Afraid of the Big, Bad Hybrid Cloud?

From our latest Cloud Guide, we take a look at some of the challenges and solutions to cloud managment, as well as the solutions hybrid cloud brings.

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This article is featured in the new DZone Guide to Cloud: Serverless, Functions, and Multi-Cloud. Get your free copy for more insightful articles, industry statistics, and more!

Cloud management is a key aspect that organizations are looking at on their journey to becoming a software-driven enterprise in order to simplify operations, increase IT efficiency, and reduce data center costs.

Enterprise IT has to juggle supporting many different types of applications (legacy, mainframe, monolithic, cloud-native apps, microservices, serverless, and more) — each requiring their own stack and type of infrastructure that is operated and maintained in a fundamentally different way. In addition, enterprise infrastructure is commonly comprised of both on-premises data centers and public cloud workloads. Thus, a key challenge for enterprise IT is around managing hybrid/multi clouds — encompassing both private and public clouds — across VMs, containers, serverless applications, and more.

Hybrid clouds and cloud management platforms (CMPs) have gotten a bad rep in recent years, and with good reason. We now have the knowledge, the technology, and the opportunity to change the narrative. Let's review the challenges with CMPs and the key capabilities required for enterprises to support digital transformation for both legacy and modern infrastructure.

Challenges With Existing Cloud Management Platforms

  1. High cost: CMP technologies are typically proprietary and charge heavy license fees. Most prongs of CMP are implemented as point-products, which require considerable and lengthy investments in professional services and custom integrations in order to be implemented effectively. This typically breaks right off the bat some of the key benefits of the cloud around reducing cost and increasing time-to-value.

  2. Unnecessary complexity: CMP products have evolved to offer a lot of functionality that ends up as shelf-ware. These products are over-designed and overly complex from an installation, provisioning, licensing, and day-2 operations standpoint.

  3. Lack of developer engagement: Being dissatisfied with the provisioning processes or unresponsiveness of legacy IT, developers often turn to the public cloud ("shadow IT") to accelerate their work so they can move faster. CMP products have done a poor job catering to developers as a critical audience — mainly around UI, API support, governance controls, and lack of support for the IaaS/PaaS experience.

  4. Lack of management for cloud-native workloads and public clouds: The majority of proprietary CMPs are mostly tailored to manage virtualization providers such as VMware. A key challenge that needs to be solved in commercial CMPs is the built-in seamless support for cloud-native workloads and public cloud management capabilities.

Trends such as shadow IT, cloud migration, and developing cloud-native applications have created the need for greater environment visibility and control over all types of infrastructure. This means that cloud-native/container workloads need to be managed in the same way as VMs on private clouds.

The market in multi-cloud and hybrid cloud management is still evolving, and many of the vendors come from the virtualization management space. While this seems like a logical evolution, the challenge is that the new cloud-native workloads do not operate in the same way as VMs, and we see established vendors struggling to balance this new world with VM-centric infrastructure. The difference between these two paradigms needs to be abstracted away from both developers and infrastructure teams.

So, what are the key lessons we've learned over the years to enable enterprises to effectively manage their complex, hybrid environments?

Key Capabilities Required for Effective Cloud Management Solutions

  1. True hybrid cloud brokerage delivered as a SaaS: This refers to the ability to connect to and abstract connectivity to any of the underlying platforms — e.g. VMs, containers, private and public clouds — using a common open API that both developers and ops communicate with. Hence, even if the underlying clouds change, the applications and their backend processes (provisioning, config, performance, etc.) don't need to change. The key difference between traditional CMP platforms and the new evolution in this space is that the next-generation CMP will deliver this brokerage capability as a managed service.

  2. Developer self-service via SaaS: This refers to the ability to provide both a self-service portal and an API that enable developers to provision infrastructure for their applications using the cloud broker. The management of this integration should be automatically delivered as a service to IT ops, and should not require any additional management overhead or custom development on their end in order to support this at scale.

  3. Application catalog: The ability to provision VMs has been around for years. Next-generation CMPs need to provide the ability for users to provision complete application stacks from an application catalog or from image templates. The ability to specify and automate the placement and provisioning of new instances based on business and security policies is a key capability that must be provided.

  4. Performance metrics: This refers to the ability to provide visibility and detailed metrics on global cloud regions — across servers, network, and storage, as well as granular metrics on usage and performance across individual VMs and containers. A key use of these metrics should be around improving data center efficiency and utilization (which obviously translates to costs) on both on-prem and public cloud resources.

  5. Enterprise integration: Supporting seamless and open API-based integration points with existing ITSM tools, systems management platforms, service catalogs, configuration management, and all the public clouds and key stacks/technologies.

Getting Hybrid Clouds Right: Key Design Principles

Next-gen hybrid cloud management solutions need to be designed from the ground up with these key principles in mind.

1. Cloud Management Should Be Simple

You want to simplify and accelerate time-to-value for complex hybrid cloud management and operations tasks.

Cloud management should not turn into another ERP project for the enterprise; this approach is what makes digital transformation initiatives fail so often. The cloud is a journey — whatever your infrastructure choices, CMPs should be quick to set up and allow you to deploy applications into the underlying cloud with a push of a button, instantly.

Resist unnecessary complexity; it only lengthens the implementation and learning curve, slows adoption, and increases your investment before you see results.

Enterprises need to be able to instantly turn any infrastructure into a cloud and benefit from a unified cloud experience on any environment, for any application.

Many CMPs bundle in automation, billing, etc. to replace other tools that are already in use in the organization. By simplifying the core essential components of cloud management, organizations can stand up a cloud with support for day-2 operations within a day — seeing value faster without having to rip and replace additional services that are on the periphery of the core competency they needed to support.

To enable DevOps practices, CMP platforms should support both legacy applications and processes while enabling IT to easily experiment and adopt new technologies and to take advantage of modern architectures and delivery patterns (bimodal IT). This is critical so that (legacy) CMPs don't end up getting IT stuck in the "middle ages" but allow them a path to DevOps-ify and modernize their applications and infrastructure.

Not all applications are cloud-optimized. While greenfield applications will use Kubernetes, serverless, etc., a portion of your business will still run on VMs or bare metal for a while. Legacy apps may require refactoring but should not require re-platforming. The CMP should support a unified experience across all of these types of applications: VMs, containers, serverless, and whatever new technology comes next.

2. Cloud Management Should Be Delivered as SaaS

The most difficult thing about running a CMP is the setup, installation, configuration, and day-2 operations. I've seen enterprises take months (sometimes years!) of professional services and consulting in order to get a CMP running.

Public clouds have already set the bar for ease of use. CMPs should  "just work" out of the box in a similar fashion — in terms of developer experience, easy setup, easy integrations, and automated operations. The CMP and the infrastructure should be installed, managed, and monitored using a SaaS-based delivery model. No more manual work, heavy lifting on the operations side, or taxing management overhead.

3. Build on Open-Source Frameworks

Today, open-source frameworks provide the core capabilities that matter for any modern development, IT operations, or DevOps processes. Building on OSS as a fundamental principle ensures that your solution can:

  1. Incorporate the latest and greatest innovation in the space as it continues to evolve and benefit from the vibrant open-source community.

  2. Be future-proof for whatever new technology comes next.

  3. Allow you to avoid lock-in and allow you to be portable and interoperable across any environment or provider.

  4. Be easily extensible and flexible to support new integrations, services, and specific use cases.

  5. Benefit from the open-source economics and savings vs. high licensing fees of proprietary solutions.

4. Unified Experience

Whatever the underlying cloud or infrastructure provider, CMPs should  provide a unified experience across four areas:

  1. A single view of all types of infrastructure — servers, VMs, containers, storage, and network — across all VM providers and private/public clouds, cloud regions, and tenants across these regions.

  2. A single way for site reliability engineers (SREs) to administer hybrid infrastructure across critical areas such as security and identity management.

  3. Unified and open API for both developers and operations to perform lifecycle management and easy integrations with point tools or management processes.

  4. Continuous monitoring across all of the different cloud regions and environments.

Cloud management has become unnecessarily complicated, largely as a result of legacy VM management solutions being extended or retrofitted to support public clouds or containers. A badly conceived CMP can significantly drain enterprise resources, and with so many failed implementations, no wonder traditional cloud management solutions have such a bad rep.

There is a way to get hybrid clouds and multi-cloud right. Enterprises need to be able to instantly turn any infrastructure into a cloud and benefit from a unified cloud experience on any environment, for any application — to be able to consistently manage VMs, Kubernetes, and serverless — running on-premises or in the public cloud.

This article is featured in the new DZone Guide to Cloud: Serverless, Functions, and Multi-Cloud. Get your free copy for more insightful articles, industry statistics, and more!

cloud, cloud guide, cloud management, cloud management platforms, hybrid cloud, open source

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