While a full public cloud infrastructure has worked well for some pure-play digital companies such as Netflix, most enterprises are now seeing that despite the benefits of cloud, not all workloads can or should move to the cloud. The hybrid cloud model is here to stay for the foreseeable future.
We still see software licenses that are not cloud-friendly and compliance and governance restrictions in some sectors and/or geographies continue to preclude 100 percent cloud infrastructure. Equally, there are many legacy applications that have performance or availability characteristics that just aren’t well-suited to public cloud.
For these reasons and more, most enterprises continue to retain some on-premises infrastructure, and instead look to service providers to help them enable hybrid cloud hosting, rather than making a whole-scale switch. Using cloud hosting, even only in part, has advantages that are well-understood. The care and feeding of infrastructure, or even operating systems, is not normally one of a businesses’ core functions. Organisations of all kinds stand to benefit from the economies of scale, safety, security and the access to expertise that managed cloud and other hosting services offer. In a hybrid scenario, enterprises must figure out how to get the most out of these advantages alongside the necessity of retaining on-site infrastructure.
Building the optimum hybrid environment
Recent ‘MarketsandMarkets’ research forecasts that the hybrid cloud market will grow at a rate of 22.5 per cent per annum till 2021. The question among prospective adopters is shifting from “why hybrid?” to “how hybrid?”. Once this is the question, the key practical challenge for a business adopting this hybrid approach becomes setting up the right IT management structure with your cloud services provider to get the most out of your hybrid environment. For any given enterprise, at the beginning of your journey towards a hybrid environment, the tools in use by the in-house teams might be quite different from those provided by a hybrid cloud hosting provider’s tools and technologies.
As you look to partner with a cloud service provider, the first thing to do is to audit your existing environment. Begin by making a list of the tools and processes your organisation currently uses for tasks such as OS monitoring, application monitoring, patching, antivirus, authentication and auditing. Essentially build an inventory of everything you currently use to manage your application portfolio, including the underlying infrastructure.
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These tools will need to be evaluated against those that a provider is able to offer, and the decision needs to be made as to whether the cost savings that come with using a service provider’s tools outweigh the benefits of customisation and familiarity that you have with your own tools.
Often the tools used in the enterprise were selected because they provide a particular value or a particular customisation that is important for the existing systems. On the other hand, the tools chosen by service providers are often chosen because they operate efficiently at scale and provide the ability to implement a standard offering. In these instances, teams must work together to evaluate the business need for customisation versus the ability to work with, or within, the tools provided by the service provider and ensure that they can work towards an efficient delivery model at a compelling price point.
That said, in some instances, where, for example, in-house teams have spent years fine-tuning their monitoring environment to provide the right information in the right way, it may not be the correct move to change to the provider’s solution.
Similarly, an enterprise might also have the credentials processing management in place for their own two-factor authentication. Here, it may make sense to actually extend the people, tools and processes in place into the hybrid cloud environment as well.
For each of your tools, you will need to ask not only if it can be extended into the hybrid cloud, but also whether this is the best approach. One key consideration is to understand the level of customisation that both exists and is ultimately required across your portfolio of enabling tools and technologies. A skilled hosting service provider can accommodate almost any combination of the management tools that an enterprise needs to operate in ways that are both customised to the business’ needs and cost-efficient.
Cloud services: Finding the right provider
Deciding on a service provider is not only a question of the tools they can offer, but also how they will work with you to manage your hybrid infrastructure. More so than other cloud models, hybrid cloud provides fewer natural delineations and prescribed areas of ownership between in-house teams and third party providers.
You should therefore look for evidence of an appropriate level of service rigidity, SLAs, and capacity for customisation and integration between your environment and the provider’s environment.
A desirable service provider should also be able to demonstrate a long history and provide references regarding their OS and application management capabilities. Not because they will necessarily be managing your applications, but because a provider that has a history and a legacy of managing applications, all the way up through the application stack, means that their OS management practises have been highly optimised and tuned. After all, infrastructure doesn’t exist to be infrastructure: it exists to run applications.
A hybrid environment also requires connectivity between providers and in-house infrastructures. The power of hybrid cloud is based on the ability to extend the network and thereby provide a seamless experience between assets in the cloud and those that are on-premises, enabled by a high-speed network. A key consideration is therefore finding a provider that can offer this high-speed connectivity on the same networks that are connecting your enterprise data centre.
In some cases, and notably if you are highly virtualised on-premises, finding a provider with a compatible hypervisor can also be important.
The hypervisor can be a factor that streamlines the hybrid experience. If, for example, you’re running VMware on-premises and you partner with a VMware-based service provider, the integration and compatibility of moving workloads between the on-premises environment and the managed cloud can be dramatically simplified.
Integration between the on-premises cloud and the public cloud through APIs can often allow for a level of automation that’s necessary to ensure a seamless and scalable experience across the different assets. So, depending on the size and sophistication of your own situation, it may be advantageous to find a provider that offers a cloud platform that surfaces APIs for integration. In this day and age, most will.
The evolution of hybrid infrastructure
Cloud computing has evolved and matured rapidly over the past few years, which has enabled the development of increasingly sophisticated and customisable hybrid models. Hybrid tools and enabling technologies such as the network now allow for discrete management options and seamless integration with on-premises infrastructure, leading to increasing opportunity for enterprises that take advantage of these offerings.
Hybrid infrastructure management is all about choosing the combination of management options that will enable flexibility and appropriate customisation, while also reaping the benefits of hosted services. Businesses that learn to manage their hybrid infrastructure effectively stand to benefit substantially, both financially and technologically.