How to Unify a Hybrid and Multicloud Environment into a Single Operational Model

Get a single view of operations across multiple cloud providers and systems using cloud native apps, virtualization, and hyperconvergence.

By Dipti Parmar

By Dipti Parmar March 10 2020

A Gartner survey found that over 80% of enterprise organizations are working with two or more public cloud service providers to support their operations – creating what is called a “multicloud” computing environment. This multifaceted operational model comes with overhead in costs and time spent on complex vendor and resource management tasks.

Advances in hybrid and virtualization technology that are increasingly pairing public and legacy systems allow for time and costs can be cut down to a great extent. They are enabling a move to a unified operational model for hybrid and multicloud environments, dubbed the “single pane of glass” by a GigaOm market landscape report.

So what are the keys to developing an effective cloud management strategy?

Enterprises should invest time and money now into finding the right middleware solution for both hybrid cloud and multicloud, according to David Linthicum, GigaOm.

Know the Options in Cloud Infrastructure Management

Growth in cloud-based IT has spawned mature Cloud Management Platforms (CMPs) that wrestle the on-premise, hybrid and multicloud environments into submission. CMPs expedite the ability to connect multiple environments to provide that single operational view. They can give self-service provisioning, deep analytics, layered and rules-based governance and compliance, faster incident recovery times, and more to simplify operations across all business units within an enterprise.

The question is not if an organization should make use of a good CMP, but how to get there. Many enterprises already have the resources needed to take advantage of a CMP but are looking for a definitive map to that destination. There are several considerations and questions to be asked before putting in place cloud management processes:

  • Why should an organization pay for a cloud governance tool when public cloud providers have free alternatives?

  • Are there industry-specific challenges to cloud management?

  • How does policy evolve as infrastructure scales?

  • What automation opportunities does a hybrid cloud environment offer?

  • What should the criteria be for provisioning and deprovisioning with so many cloud apps in the market?

Source: GigaOm Hybrid & Multicloud Complexity Whitepaper

Define and Document an Operational Cloud Strategy

Build and implement a defined, documented strategy if there isn’t one already. If there is one in the organization, it’s time to review, update and put it to better use. Here is where the inventory of applications, data, services and residencies are accumulated. The information is collected and refined, allowing the organization to move forward quickly and with confidence in its decisions.

Companies with no time for guesswork know this is critical to providing the path, the size, and the scope, pointing everyone in the same direction. Using references from recognized sources minimizes disagreement on meaning and purpose, expediting the discussion.

An effective cloud strategy takes into account facets like:

  • Resource usage: Capacity planning can be overwhelming, but is very necessary. Optimizing tools built for multicloud environments eliminates underutilized and unused cloud services based on the workload.

  • Single vs. multiple tenancy: Single-tenant architectures use software, compute, storage, and networking resources contained in an instance to support the needs of a single customer, offering better security. Multi-tenancy utilizes those same resources to support many customers, proving to be extremely cost-effective.

  • Vendor selection: Consider various cloud providers and players in the market, including managed service providers (MSPs).

  • Governance: Automated cloud governance tools deployed in conjunction with best practices help monitor for any anomalies and mitigate issues before they worsen.

Monitor Cloud Usage Costs

Tracking consumption across all cloud resources – per application workload, team and business unit – is necessary to prevent uncontrolled cloud spend and enable accurate resource allocation. This monitoring goes beyond contract costs for the current cloud configurations and is more reflective of true TCO. It is necessary to understand management and operational costs, as well as the actual staff-hours required to maintain each of the different environments.

However, tracking consumption is not a guarantee that all will be strictly cost savings. There are outlays and shifting of costs. The introduction of a single operational model will likely change processes and procedures in multiple areas, which will require resources. It may necessitate reassigning existing personnel or acquiring new skills to take full advantage of the product. It may also show that more than one product is required to meet all needs.

Financial considerations must be understood to allow the most prudent decisions to be made. However, they should not be used so rigidly as to limit the ability of the organization to reap the benefits of a single operational model.

Determine Function-Specific Business Requirements

The true TCO is now visible and speaks to the need for a single operational model. With the “what” and the “why” in hand, identify the requirements specific to the enterprise. Prioritizing and documenting the needs, wants, and future enhancements allow the conversations and decision to proceed. This can include regulatory, geographic, goal-supporting, and financial needs. Every organization is unique, and its CMP should fit its business.

The use cases that every CMP must address are:

  • Financial management and resource optimization

  • Security, compliance, and governance

  • Provisioning and lifecycle management

  • Operations and incident reporting

  • Analytics and machine learning

  • Third-party integration of apps and services

An organization's list will also include other items specific to their configuration. The requirements facilitate the short-list of potential providers but should be as complete as possible. Ranking within each category helps to identify the "must-have" items, should those determinations be required.

Source: Gartner blog

Further, all cloud vendors offer extensive support, but some are more proficient than others. Be specific when sharing expectations and how the organization generally works. If someone on-site is required throughout the implementation, make it clear from the beginning. These should be included in the requirements rather than after a provider has been selected.

Mix Cloud-Native Applications with Virtualization

A modern enterprise cloud will have a hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) that abstracts the underlying compute, storage, and networking primitives. This means applications use autonomous “containerized” services managed via agile DevOps processes, with a continuous delivery workflow. Unlike VMs, they scale up and down rapidly, which enables optimization of infrastructure resources.

Source: Pivotal

Andi Mann, chief technology advocate at Splunk, explained the importance of using cloud-native apps. "Taking advantage of cloud services means using agile and scalable components like containers to deliver discrete and reusable features that integrate in well-described ways, even across technology boundaries like multicloud, which allows delivery teams to iterate using repeatable automation and orchestration rapidly."

The technological considerations for a unified hybrid multicloud environment should be:

  • OS-level virtualization: A single OS instance is divided into isolated, dynamically created containers, each with a unique writable file system and resource quota so that underlying infrastructure dependencies are abstracted.

  • Updatability: This is one of the benefits of cloud-native apps, which are always available. In contrast, on-premises apps work on a subscription basis and need downtime when they’re being updated.

  • Flexibility: Custom-built applications and services must run on any private or public cloud with little modification, so that vendor lock-in is minimized.

  • Right-sized capacity: Infrastructure provisioning and configuration are optimized with dynamic allocation of resources. This means application lifecycles and workloads are better managed according to demand.

  • Collaboration: The ideal mix of cloud-native and virtualization facilitates improved DevOps, which means that people, processes, and tools are better utilized in operations to bring application code into production more quickly and efficiently.

Choose the Right Providers

It will be tempting to purchase and install the monitoring product from the largest provider with an existing relationship or the one that seems to have lots of features at a reasonable price. Here is a call to exercise caution. Only by matching the needs of the enterprise to the proposed product will the best fit for the organization be identified.

Pitfalls can include purchasing services that may not be fully utilized, accepting services that appear to cover most of the requirements, but may leave some unacceptable gaps, and products that can't be integrated – especially common with some on-premise, legacy applications. This last case could present a need for a second product or provider. There may not be a perfect answer to every scenario, but knowing the exceptions up front is critical to success.

There are several CMPs out there able to integrate on-premise, hybrid, and multicloud environments, each with their own services. Finding the one that best suits a given enterprise will depend on the requirements. Being mindful of the goal to simplify the operational model will require looking at several providers very closely.

Make sure to have direct conversations with the short-list of final provider candidates specifically about implementation and product support before final selection is advised. Often, this helps make the final decision more clearly visible.

Deploy and Normalize

Once your choices have been made, the unavoidable disruption during implementation must be managed. A phased approach is common practice while migrating to newer technologies. The internal team will partner closely with the provider’s team to define timelines and resources required for the migration.

Some environments will move quickly and rather seamlessly. Others may take a bit more work or custom integrations. It is important in the phased approach to allow learning, adjusting, and normalizing to happen along the way.

The post-implementation period will contain growth and present adjustments throughout the organization. Learning the big features and small nuances take time. Rules are often initially over-tooled. They require review and adjustment and fine-tuning them without limitations on access and functionality.

Some CMPs include AI and Machine Learning (ML) capabilities in their products. As these are integrated into the organization’s analytics, new patterns and opportunities will emerge.

The whole selection and migration process is ongoing and will take up more time initially, so it is best to start now. Hybrid and multicloud need no longer be synonymous with complexity. It’s time for organizations to claim the simplicity – or single pane of glass – promised by the integrated, converged cloud computing, networking, and storage model.

Featured Image: Pixabay

Dipti Parmar is a contributing writer. She has written for CIO.com, Entrepreneur, CMO.com and Inc. magazine. Follow her on Twitter @dipTparmar.

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