Navigating the Cloud Management Space
Just 10 years ago, it was hard to fathom the notion of an enterprise IT organization relying on shared infrastructure sitting outside of their own datacenter and corporate data being stored on hardware owned by a service provider. Fast-forward to today and the model has changed significantly, to where it’s nearly impossible to stay relevant and competitive as IT responds to the rapidly changing environments and business demands placed on them by executives. Looking back, it may feel as though the predictable offerings from hardware providers such as Dell, HP, IBM, Fujitsu and others was much more manageable in comparison to the crowded market of cloud services that we have today. “As-A-Service” is taking over and defining how IT transitions from capex to opex models in a matter of months versus years. Adopting cloud methodologies has been an exciting and yet confusing change in modern technology but “How did we get here?” and more importantly, “How does this benefit a given business model today?”
“Adopting cloud methodologies has been an exciting and yet confusing change in modern technology”
The most natural phase in cloud computing is server virtualization, in which a large portion of environments have achieved some level of success in consolidating servers, expanding capacity and simultaneously reducing hardware and utility costs. But what’s next on this journey to the cloud? I contend that adopting automation of traditional datacenter tasks - provisioning, configuration, resolving issues - must be next on your portfolio of IT services. After that, building out a list of standardized services that can be delivered in a predictable and repeatable fashion with little to no intervention is a key step in a cloud model. Within your own organization, a service catalog becomes the bible and helps to keep you honest based on the datacenter topology. This services phase then enables you to think about each of the various levels of your environment that you can empower users to request and consume on their own based on policies that are unique to your organization. This includes infrastructure (compute, networking, storage, and security), applications (1st or 3rd party), and micro-services whether delivered internally within the organization or externally to customers and partners. Throughout each of these layers you will see vendors begin to differentiate their offerings as a service based model across a broad spectrum of capabilities; where in fact, some will be extremely specialized into a given tier or the larger players integrate up and down the entire stack.
Most companies asked the same questions—“Do we build a private cloud?”, “How can we leverage the public cloud?”, “Who do we leverage for our existing on-premises infrastructure?”, “Who do we use from a public cloud perspective?”— But the “who do we use” often brings the most challenging part of the process as you evaluate offerings that claim most of the same capabilities. Established as stable on-premises businesses, private cloud offerings from VMware and Microsoft, they’ve been able to solidify traditional IT organizations that have heavy investments in their own hardware and software implementations, enterprise-wide. From a public cloud perspective Amazon Web Services has had a stronghold on the market and has built a diverse set of offerings equivalent to the depth of physical infrastructure capabilities but is delivered solely as-a-service. With Microsoft Azure being a primary competitor their value prop of spanning both on-premises and public cloud infrastructures offers a compelling roadmap to hybrid cloud scenarios. Which best comes down to perception, business case, and your unique policies that allow for various capabilities to be implemented within your processes.
One of the most interesting layers in any given cloud stack will come down to the application and platform services. This is a space where vendors such as ElasticBox have been able to meet a need for customers looking to take advantage of their existing infrastructure investments while adopting cloud applications. This offering focuses on the orchestration of applications at both the deployment and management phases and can integrate across various providers. This becomes very compelling for application owners and their native toolsets that can plug in as well as the IT professionals who manage core infrastructure systems. Many in the market suggest that the infrastructure layer is becoming commoditized over time and is fostering more and more parity amongst providers. However, with applications nearly being like humans (no two are alike), how IT and an application team can efficiently architect and deploy modern cloud applications into production in a relatively short time frame, is extremely compelling. Of course with Amazon, you’ll see a list of offerings such as deploying, scaling and managing applications on the AWS public cloud. The same would be true across the Azure cloud.
There are companies which are natively born in the cloud and have adopted public cloud platforms from the beginning - think, any one of the many modern SaaS companies of today - and then the traditional corporations who have an on-premises datacenter. The modern cloud application managers, or Cloud Management Platforms as designated by Gartner, are ideal solutions for flexibility across environments as well as simplified dashboards for the application management layer. Integration with AWS or Azure compute, storage and networking solutions should be a must-have.
Orchestration between the application and infrastructure is one of the leading drivers for implementing cloud solutions for applications. Deploying modern multi-tiered applications while simultaneously provisioning infrastructure resources in an automated environment is best achieved in platforms where providers are delivering management capabilities of both layers natively. Now add in the capability of role-based scenarios for users that are building the applications versus those deploying the applications versus those who are requesting the consumption of said applications, now this provides a broad service offering that can only be achieved in the modern cloud environment, agnostic of on-premises or in a cloud provider.