The journey to a hybrid cloud can have a lot of roadblocks and wrong turns. Ideally, hybrid environments merge the advantages of private and public clouds to drive the best return on IT investments. Things can get messy, however, when the rubber meets the road.
“Collapsing silos is often easier said than done,” said Manoj Agarwal, Nutanix’s senior vice president for engineering and GM Cloud Partners. For the past two decades, Agarwal has seen first-hand dramatic shifts toward datacenter virtualization and public cloud.
He said bringing together on-premises IT with off-premises IT services can speed up digital transformation, but it’s a balancing act that requires new technologies and training. Research commissioned by Nutanix bears this out. The company’s annual Enterprise Cloud Index (ECI), which surveyed 2,650 IT leaders worldwide in 2019, found that 85% of enterprises consider hybrid clouds the ideal operating environment. At the same time, just 51.7% of those surveyed expected to be running or deploying hybrid clouds in the next 3-5 years.
If pretty much everybody wants hybrid clouds, then what’s holding them back? A lot of it has to do with the complexity of synchronizing private and public cloud technologies. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure, for instance, have an expansive, high-powered toolbox for managing resources in public cloud servers. Private, on-premises clouds often use different tools and interfaces than public clouds.
Agarwal said it can get expensive and time-consuming to reconcile the differences between private and public clouds. “But a hybrid cloud environment can be a marvel of power and flexibility — if IT teams have the tools to seamlessly coordinate their public and private clouds,” he said.
That’s the principle behind what Argawal’s software engineering team created, Nutanix Clusters, which lets IT teams manage their entire hybrid ecosystem from a single management plane. The story behind Clusters illustrates the kinds of challenges IT teams must overcome on their journey to a hybrid cloud.
Reconciling the Conflicts Between Private and Public Clouds
Private clouds are public cloud-like solutions built on conventional on-premises data centers with racks of computing, networking and storage gear. Public clouds are giant server farms operated by Amazon, Google, Microsoft and other tech companies.
The common view is that private clouds work best in scenarios that require tight security and abundant, concentrated computing power. Public clouds, by contrast, are ideal for rapid software development and services that must scale up or down quickly. As next-generation technologies like IoT and edge computing move into the mainstream, experts believe that smaller clouds will be built closer to the point of data collection to help address latency challenges.
In this rapidly evolving environment, enterprises need the ability to move resources like applications, containers and virtual machines between public and private clouds.
“Hybrid environments have the potential to make this happen, but up until now it’s nearly impossible to move applications across platforms without re-architecting them,” said Agarwal.
[Related blog post: Nutanix Clusters: Hybrid Cloud Infrastructure for the Multicloud Era]
One component of tackling this challenge is to implement a unified cloud platform to manage workloads in both environments, as the author Philip Trautman recommended in an e-book titled “Designing and Building a Hybrid Cloud.” Trautman points out that Nutanix already solved the private cloud challenge in the course of pioneering hyperconverged infrastructure, which virtualizes compute, storage and networking in a single software package running on commodity hardware. Still, businesses needed help getting their workloads to flow seamlessly between public and private clouds. This is what Agarwal’s team set out to tackle.
Finding a Solution at the Bare-Metal Level
Nutanix’s enterprise-scale clients often need much more control over their public cloud resources, according to Agarwal. Hybrid cloud providers, like Nutanix, answer these needs by utilizing public cloud “bare-metal” compute instances that assign dedicated servers to them upon which they can install their own HCI software. Nutanix Clusters utilizes these bare-metal instances to build their hybrid cloud solution with ease, which typically would have required substantial expertise to master.
“The people managing an on-prem infrastructure may not be the same ones managing the cloud infrastructure,” said Agarwal. This often gets expensive because different people do essentially the same job on separate cloud architectures. “It just gets out of hand very, very quickly,” he added. With Clusters, on-prem and cloud services work the same way in both on-prem and bare-metal public cloud instances.
“Most companies have skills silos, including ours,” Agarwal said. The Clusters service can break down these silos.
Work From Home, Seasonality, Disaster Recovery
Agarwal outlined some best use cases for a unified hybrid cloud management tool like Nutanix Clusters:
Work-from-home, adding secure connections for remote employees
Seasonality, ramping up computing resources during the busiest times of the year, like the holiday shopping season
Disaster recovery, reducing downtime and getting services online faster after a major shutdown
“With Clusters, our customers can spin up more capacity and shrink it when they need it,” he said. “They don't have to go and reinvent these environments.”
All the commands and operations are the same because the service runs through customers’ existing Nutanix and AWS accounts, he said
“There’s no new tools to learn, no new interface to learn and no new API to learn.”
Ensuring Hybrid Success
Agarwal’s approach to software development provides a good rule of thumb for any enterprise creating hybrid cloud environments. He focuses on getting his product out in front of the customers — letting them try it out, gathering feedback, fixing bugs and iterating quickly to generate improvements.
He talks directly to customers and asks them about their pain points and everyday challenges. IT leaders can use that methodology to ensure that hybrid environments deliver the most value to corporate users.
“I'm lucky in that way,” Agarwal said. “I bring that information back to my team, and that helps them really build it the way the customer is going to consume it,” he said. “That keeps us grounded.”
This continuous input from customers will help Agarwal’s team improve Nutanix Clusters.
“This is how we build a bridge to a hybrid and multicloud future.”
Editor’s note: Learn more about Nutanix Clusters and take it for a test drive.
Tom Mangan is a contributing writer. He is a veteran B2B technology writer and editor, specializing in cloud computing and digital transformation. Contact him on his website or LinkedIn.
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