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Hybrid Cloud: Harsh Reality and New Challenges


Hybrid Cloud: Harsh Reality and New Challenges


by Sasha Gilenson

Private cloudSo we can definitely say now that cloud computing is not just a trend anymore. Yes, there is no denying it: companies are either moving to the cloud or seriously thinking about it. 

Yet many questions are still being raised: How will the cloud integrate properly with my existing environment? Can IT keep control of workloads, data, and even costs? How secure is cloud? 

Many organizations consider the public cloud to be less stable and secure than their physical data center, making them reluctant to place applications and underlying infrastructure in the hands of third party cloud providers. Despite pressures from business, security concerns, combined with the fear of the unknown, hold IT back from adopting public cloud services. 

So to deal with today's agile development and fast pace of change, many in IT are looking to move applications to a private cloud. The private cloud offers the elasticity and availability of the cloud, while still staying under the control of IT and, if required, within the firewall. But what about dynamically adding new resources when you need to meet instantly growth on-demand? 

For these occasional peaks, a public cloud can be leveraged. Then how can you keep an eye on what's happening in all your clouds and still hopefully make the right decisions at the right time?

The Hybrid Concept is Taking Off With Enterprises

This is where the hybrid cloud concept comes in. Hybrid cloud can address these issues of integrating public clouds, legacy IT and private clouds together. This mix offers IT operations the benefits of self-serve provisioning and consumption-based optimization. 

Hybrid is not new to the enterprise. Organizations have been managing most IT resources in-house and using some cloud-based services for others for some time, allowing enterprises to maintain a centralized approach to IT governance, while experimenting with cloud. Leading analysts like Forrester, Gartner and others see hybrid cloud architecture emerging in the enterprise and even forcing the issue of legacy systems migration by 2015. 

Yet just as hybrid cloud combines the best features of the different platforms, it also introduces more complexity and less visibility. The key to getting the maximum value from all the Cloud resources will be to properly manage the hybrid operating environment.

Power of Hybrid

One of the key benefits of a hybrid cloud is the ability to 'burst' computing resource as needed, in order to cope with peak requirements, like dealing with seasonal peaks (e.g. four weeks of Christmas business), without having to compound the underlying infrastructure with additional resources. Hybrid cloud facilitates greater mobility, while keeping IT operations cost-effective. Hybrid offers organizations the potential to integrate various environments and leverage the cloud's dynamics and provisioning capabilities. This means that critical business backend services can be maintained in the private data center (legacy or private cloud) with the frontend, capacity intensive applications hosted in the public cloud, making it is easy to add additional resources to cover the additional frontend activity.

Declares Chris Howard, managing vice president at Gartner, "Hybrid IT is the new IT and it is here to stay. While the cloud market matures, IT organizations must adopt a hybrid IT strategy that not only builds internal clouds to house critical IT services and compete with public CSPs, but also utilizes the external cloud to house noncritical IT services and data, augment internal capacity, and increase IT agility. Hybrid IT creates symmetry between internal and external IT services that will force an IT and business paradigm shift for years to come." (Gartner Says Hybrid IT is Transforming the Role of IT)

Hybrid Cloud Options

When we talk about hybrid, what do we mean? The hybrid cloud architecture has several dimensions.

  • Hybrid Public/Private: Some applications move to the private cloud, serving as a dedicated cloud infrastructure for use by one organization which can be internally or externally hosted, and some (less critical) applications are moved to public cloud, serving as a shared cloud infrastructure hosted by an external provider. 
  • The challenge is how to deal with security across several different public and private cloud instances, with barriers including: different providers, differing levels of security in the existing cloud apps, and lack of standards tying the various disparate initiatives together.
  • Hybrid Public/Public: Following outages from some public cloud vendor service failures, many are looking at spreading their workloads among multiple clouds to mitigate risk. To hedge their bets, businesses are looking into multi-cloud solutions. Applications are deployed to several different public clouds, not in one cloud (multiple public cloud vendors). Another attraction for multiple clouds is that some public cloud offerings just don't have services, that another public cloud vendor can complement. For instance, Amazon doesn't have IaaS in the United Kingdom, but Rackspace does. 
  • Problems emerge with how to manage the connections to multiple cloud service providers. There is no one way to talk to all services. Each cloud service provider uses its own method for connection, like how Amazon and Rackspace have different hypervisors, different virtual machine file formats, and different service APIs. This creates a complex management problem with different processes for provisioning and management that can be counterproductive for outsourcing to multiple public clouds.
  • Hybrid Legacy/Clouds: The integration of Legacy system with cloud services is still necessary, as many back end operations are run in legacy IT environments. 
  • The challenge comes in integrating legacy systems with cloud applications, a complex matter with ample room for error. Most software or application vendors have APIs that provide access to the data or processes in their systems, this leaves IT teams to create the scripts and infrastructure that manage this integration on their own, a task that is neither quick nor simple especially when dozens of applications are involved. As Forrester's Seepij Gupta explains, "These systems simply aren't architected or capable of running in a cloud environment, let alone a hybrid cloud scenario. Now, with compelling reasons to adopt hybrid cloud approaches, organizations are having a much tougher time integrating their environments. (Cloud's Impact On IT Operations: Don't Overlook Your Legacy)

Dealing with New Challenges

The complexities introduced by the cloud require new management techniques, and tools. These issues are multiplied by the need to manage several different environments. For example, you can have an application running in your private cloud, yet due to pressure for more availability, the capacity needs to be expanded. The fastest and most cost-effective way to deal with this on-demand matter is to move the application to a Public cloud. 

Yet how do you maintain synchronization between these different environments? Won't the spun off image lose consistency with the image that stays in the source environment? How do you handle the issue of applications and application infrastructure moving between the different cloud environments, since there are different virtual machines for different platforms (i.e. VMware VMs, Citrix Xen, Red Hat KVM etc.)?

In the drive to reduce complexity, hybrid cloud sends you in the opposite direction, adding complexity as your operations start expanding on multiple platforms.

Hybrid Setup Needs Specialized Tools

Tools for managing hybrid environments need new specialized features.

  • Single Point of Reference: They need to provide a single point of view to manage multiple platforms. For instance, this can require collecting configuration data from your Azure environment and comparing it with the configuration used in your private cloud. Also since these various platforms in the hybrid environments may communicate with each other, the management tool should be able to monitor and analyze various parameters of these interfaces. 
  • This is an extremely tedious job when carried out without specialized tools and in many circumstances won't give the answers you need. How can you identify problems with the applications running across different cloud platforms? How can you access relevant system data from within the different clouds to speed up problem resolution?
  • Visibility: IT operations have enjoyed visibility into the workings and transactions of the data center. The monitoring mechanisms for facilitating hybrid cloud require a management layer that can work all sides of the infrastructure , internal operations, private cloud, and even into the public cloud activity. While IT may have a management console for monitoring internal operations and the private cloud , public clouds have their own toolset for monitoring activity, limiting visibility to overall operations for when something happens in the private cloud that affects the public cloud.

More Transitions, Migrations

As organizations seek to adopt the benefits of cloud to meet the higher demands and faster pace of change in today's data center, hybrid provides a mechanism for bringing about this transition. Security concerns can be mitigated, and migration of traditional legacy operations can start by moving to a private cloud platform. Then as capacity demands increase, and the public cloud's reputation improves, these operations can be reliably transferred to public clouds. As Chris Howard, managing vice president at Gartner, explains, "Many organizations have now passed the definitional stage of cloud computing and are testing cloud architectures inside and outside the enterprise and over time, the cloud will simply become one of the ways that we 'do' computing, and workloads will move around in hybrid internal/external IT environments." (Gartner Says Hybrid IT is Transforming the Role of IT)

Configuration Management Key to the Hybrid Cloud Evolution

You can't make the assumption that cloud automatically results in an effective services-oriented business architecture. The highly dynamic nature of cloud-based operations increases the volume of configuration information and the amount of changes needed to keep track of. This complexity grows further by the added dimension of IT having to manage and control operations deployed across several distinct (and unique) cloud platforms, and pay attention to the requirements unique to each cloud's stack (private or public). Will your approach add complexity to your technology environment – or will it bring elegance and simplicity?

One of the key challenges is the integration between the two clouds. This can be addressed to some extent by adopting configuration management interfaces to monitor and analyze configuration as system transition between cloud entities, enabling application and data portability.

Your Turn
How are you moving your data center forward? Are you in a hybrid arrangement?

Articles referenced

About the Author
Sasha Gilenson
Sasha Gilenson enjoyed a long and successful career at Mercury Interactive (acquired by HP), having led the company's QA organization, participating in establishing Mercury's Software as a Service (SaaS), as well as leading a Business Unit in Europe and Asia.

Sasha played a key role in the development of Mercury's worldwide Business Technology Optimization (BTO) strategy and drove field operations of the Wireless Business Unit, all while taking on the duties as the Mercury's top "guru" in quality processes and IT practices domain. In this capacity, Sasha has advised numerous Fortune 500 companies on technology and process optimization, and in turn, acquired a comprehensive and rare knowledge of the market and industry practices.

Sasha holds an M.Sc. in Computer Science from Latvian University and MBA from London Business School.