Concerned about the ballooning costs of his legacy on-premises infrastructure, Brad Meyer, systems administrator at Middle Tennessee State University, knew he had to embrace the cloud. But how?
To Meyer, it was clear a public cloud service like Microsoft Azure could lower costs and lighten administrative tasks for many workloads. But he also knew that on-premises infrastructure would remain important for many academic applications. So, he started looking for the right balance in a hybrid cloud implementation.
“The hybrid model is definitely what we’re shooting for, with public cloud eventually a seamless part of our infrastructure,” Meyer explained.
His first step down the hybrid cloud path was to overhaul his on-premises IT infrastructure. “In the last three years, hyperconverged infrastructure has changed our lives,” said Meyer. “We got rid of our SAN and our heavy compute nodes. We condensed from six racks to one. It’s way cheaper to go HCI on-prem.”
Taking control of the university’s infrastructure through HCI is key to Meyer’s hybrid cloud strategy.
“Our end goal is to have a seamless network with site-to-site VPNs across clouds that are extensions of our [on-premises] network,” said Meyer. “We want to be able to move VMs up there and back or move Docker containers from one place to another easily.”
Rajiv Mirani, CTO at Nutanix, explained why HCI is a necessary first step for the hybrid cloud journey. “Hybrid computing requires running your private data like a cloud, and HCI provides the foundation for that,” said Mirani.
For his part, Meyer is not alone in eyeing the hybrid cloud as the ultimate IT environment. In the just-published Nutanix 2019 Enterprise Cloud Index (ECI) survey and report, 85% of global IT decision-makers named hybrid cloud the ideal IT operating model for the second year in a row. Hybrid cloud has garnered top honors among ECI respondents largely for its flexibility to match workloads to the right environment, on-premises or in the public cloud, dynamically. Meyer’s implementation plans reflect what a majority of businesses say they need: 95% of ECI respondents said that they consider app mobility across clouds to be important or essential.
How Do You Get There?
The path to a hybrid cloud implementation that delivers the kind of fluidity Meyer envisions is not as smooth as one might imagine.
“There are issues around app mobility, data mobility and cloud mobility,” said Mirani. Organizations seeking to move applications and data from their private cloud to the public cloud and back must assure that the software in each place is interoperable. Mirani described this as cloud mobility, a desired state that is still a work in progress.
“Public cloud was built for certain reasons, on a certain set of principles – and they don’t match those of the on-premises infrastructure,” observed Mirani. Though enterprises are “cloudifying” their data centers, the environments aren’t technically the same; at least, not yet.
“What we as an industry are working toward is getting the cloud on the left (i.e., public) to match up to the cloud on the right (i.e., private),” said Mirani.
The disconnect between legacy applications and cloud-native applications creates a significant wrinkle in hybrid deployments. According to Mirani, application mobility is readily achieved if the application is “cloud-native,” or designed from the ground up for cloud. However, IT shops often face having to completely rewrite legacy apps to work in the cloud, creating steep upfront costs and deployment delays.
Meanwhile, data mobility might be an even tougher nut to crack than app mobility. Here, a major obstacle is the cloud providers themselves.
“Cloud providers don’t have an incentive to help you get data out of their infrastructure; they don’t provide the hooks you need to move things in and out,” said Mirani.
Worse, he added, cloud providers also charge egress fees to get data out of their coffers when a customer wants to leave the service—a potentially unforeseen (and unbudgeted) cost of cloud computing. Help is on the way, however. Startups like cloud storage vendor Wasabi have entered the IaaS market offering simplified, flat-rate, commodity cloud storage pricing with no egress charges, with a stated goal of “shedding the old-fashioned storage tiers and complex pricing schemes” of traditional cloud providers.
Realizing the Hybrid Cloud Promise
To build a flexible hybrid cloud environment, enterprises should start by making both private and public cloud infrastructures compatible, according to Mirani. That way, when they move applications and data, there are no hiccups. Like Meyer at Middle Tennessee State, he said, first build a private cloud with a hyperconverged infrastructure.
Seeking out a public cloud service with the same characteristics means organizations will be able to run legacy applications on their hyperconverged private cloud infrastructure and move them to a public cloud service when it makes sense. Conversely, they’ll be able to run applications built for public cloud services on-premises when appropriate, said Mirani.
What does this look like in practice? Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS), which lets IT set up and run a relational database in the cloud. Nutanix Era, a software suite that automates and simplifies database management, works the same way, enabling IT to move applications and data between an on-premises HCI implementation and the public cloud. Similarly, Amazon offers Simple Storage Service (S3), which provides object storage through a web interface. Nutanix Objects is an S3-compatible object storage capability that enables the mobility of objects between the Amazon cloud and an enterprise data center.
Here’s another example: Shops running a VM on AWS and a VM on premises might have to copy all the data associated with that VM every time they move from one to the other, Mirani said. By using change log tracking through the Nutanix extended AWS API, they can avoid this costly and time-consuming step. Nutanix Xi Clusters will take this a step further, allowing cloud operators to manage applications and infrastructure in public clouds as they do on-premises by running Nutanix AOS clusters on AWS bare metal instances.
Finding the Right Tools
Meyer is looking forward to using public cloud services for DevOps and testing, having already tested the waters with Microsoft Azure. But he’s concerned that developers might spin up a cloud server, then forget about it — leaving that server abandoned to generate ongoing, hidden charges to the university. Security is another concern, he said.
“The way you do security in the public cloud is a whole new thing that we have to learn, and our people are already busy day in and day out,” he said. “We absolutely need tools to see and manage all those workloads across cloud environments.”
One solution that he said could help is Nutanix Xi Beam, which offers the ability to identify and fix cloud security issues in real time, as well as to move resources across clouds and pricing plans to keep costs under control in AWS, Azure and Nutanix private clouds.
According to the 2019 ECI, hybrid cloud is not a waystation on the path to a world dominated by public cloud services. The study found that traditional data center usage unexpectedly increased last year, showing that organizations value on-premises as well as cloud-based implementations. But the benefits of a hybrid cloud architecture won’t just materialize on their own.
“By planning ahead and implementing the right technologies, enterprises can achieve the flexibility of application, data and cloud mobility,” Mirani said. For IT decision-makers like Meyer, that means significant operational, cost, and deployment time benefits.
Stan Gibson is a contributing writer with 36 years of experience as a technology journalist.
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