Streamlining the Management of Hybrid Clouds with IT Operations Analytics


A hybrid cloud incorporates—not just bridges between—public and private clouds, enabling businesses and their IT organizations unprecedented flexibility. But a transition to a hybrid cloud brings its own set of challenges. Sasha Gilenson addresses some of these difficulties and offers some IT operations analytics solutions.

IT operations face stringent requirements from the business related to performance, delays, and service uptimes. Despite the significant interest of large enterprises to move their applications into the cloud, the issue raises major questions related to application performance in the cloud, response times, and data security.

To overcome these concerns, a hybrid cloud brings together the best of a public cloud provider (such as Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud, or Microsoft Azure) with a private cloud platform, designed for use by a single organization. A hybrid cloud incorporates—not just bridges between—public and private clouds, enabling businesses and their IT organizations unprecedented flexibility. It incorporates public clouds for access to a wide array of applications and services, and private clouds for reliable performance and security for critical business applications. Hybrid clouds also increase business agility—the flexibility to use a variety of services, the scalability to keep pace with business volume, the efficiency to keep costs to a minimum, and, of course, the ability to protect data and other technology assets.

There is tremendous drive toward a hybrid cloud today. According to a 2013 special report by Gartner, hybrid cloud computing is at the same place today that private cloud was three years ago: Actual deployments are low, but aspirations are high. The technology research firm predicts that nearly half of large enterprises will likely have hybrid cloud deployments by the end of 2017.

Hybrid Cloud Challenges

The cloud promises security, control, predictability, and easy access to large data sets, and it is set to accelerate the speed of change. As Forrester’s James Staten wrote in a ZDNet article, “Cloud services and SaaS bring high degrees of automation, standardization, and autonomy that empower the business to work faster, more flexibly, and adopt new capabilities more readily. . . . And as clouds deliver a growth proliferation of services, components, and applications that accelerate new business service creation, their appeal will widen further.”

Although it’s reasonable to expect that in the cloud the percentage of faulty changes and time of change will decrease, in absolute numbers, however, the same number of issues remains. Furthermore, incident response becomes a great deal more complex, with lack of visibility into the cloud significantly altering the very fabric of incident response.

High Volumes of Changes

The cloud is characterized by an elevated degree of automation, driving high volumes of changes in applications and infrastructure—for example, automatically moving virtual machines to a new, physical server that supports more processors. Information about the changes is distributed between platform-specific tools (e.g. vCenter), deployment tools, and sometimes a configuration management database or content management system. Some information is simply not available, such as a change in the content of a virtual image. At the same time there is a tremendous amount of such information, making it impossible to validate, investigate, or audit it manually. As a result, information is not accessible or is ignored when environments are updated or when an issue occurs, leading to failed audits, undesired configuration drift, and increased administration costs.

Automation Hides Actual Changes

One key challenge facing IT in the evolving hybrid cloud arena is seeing what the heck is going on! Automation hides the actual changes within automation assets (scripts, images, packages, etc.), which leads to growing complexity for enterprise systems. At the same time the scale of a single change grows. For example, a mistake in a Puppet manifest could be replicated across the entire application estate if not discovered early. Without an automated way to validate deployment results by performing a physical configuration audit, IT organizations face a new level of management difficulty because they must enforce consistent security, ensure compliance with operational and industry regulations, and minimize administration costs across multiple environments.

The Cloud Container Black Box

At lower levels, infrastructure as a service cloud containers represent a black box to IT operations, with varying degrees of limited visibility into the software components running within these containers. Users do not manage or control the cloud infrastructure. Such lack of visibility leads to unexpected issues and long issue resolution times.

Greater Complexity in the Application Layer

At higher levels like platform as a service and software as a service, configuration of the application layer becomes increasingly complex due to the high degree of flexibility required to support diverse business requirements. So even when the information is accessible, it is difficult to interpret and control because of its sheer volume. Though IT operations cannot manage or control the underlying infrastructure, it nevertheless should control deployed applications.

Interdependence between Heterogeneous Environments

A hybrid cloud leads to interdependence between heterogeneous environments frequently managed by different teams. IT’s propensity to work in silos ends up isolating applications, storage, servers, networking, and virtualization. The lack of a single pane of glass for management of the state of end-to-end environment leads to conflicts and, eventually, performance issues.

Limited Configuration Standardization

Configuration management is a major hurdle in hybrid environments. The level of configuration standardization across a hybrid cloud is more limited than in the environment stack. Even if virtual machines are portable, the environmental configurations typically aren’t. The higher an application is located in the stack, the more difficult it is to standardize. For example, you can have a limited number of OS configurations. However, the number of application server configurations will always be higher. Plus, there are still some percentages of the applications that require nonstandard infrastructure.

Hybrid Cloud Lacks Standardization

The transition to a hybrid cloud encounters a lack of standardization. Standards are a challenge in the sense that there are no universally recognized standards; the standardization process itself is also very complex. Network configurations, security settings, monitoring policies, and more are often tied to a specific cloud. To standardize, an organization needs to know what environments it actually uses.

Transitions into a Hybrid Cloud

Hybrid cloud solutions must support enterprise-class virtualization and a cloud platform that provides the scalability and availability to meet business needs, such as supporting large numbers of virtual machines and offering rapid provisioning and deployment features, monitoring and optimization capabilities for meeting service-level agreements, and resiliency features to reduce downtime and ensure high availability.

After a hybrid cloud deployment, the enterprise looks to transition applications to cloud platforms. Moving existing enterprise applications is a challenge and often problematic to replatform, and it tends to be labor-intensive, expensive, and error-prone, undercutting the cost savings sought through cloud implementations. How do you preserve stability and performance of existing applications and application infrastructure when redeploying them into the new cloud environments, considering some aspects of configuration should be adjusted while most of the configuration and bill of material should remain the same?

Transitions within Hybrid Cloud

Managing the cloud environments within a hybrid cloud as one seamless unit is quite difficult. Transitions and migrations take place within the hybrid cloud, where software components are moved to a different cloud platform, virtualization infrastructure, or container environment. Not all applications running on a private cloud are compatible with a public cloud, with nearly every cloud having a unique infrastructure for the provision of services and applications. Other cloud providers may have a different architecture of cloud origin. Nevertheless, it is essential that these software components maintain their working configuration after migration.

Hybrid clouds introduce more complexity and less visibility with the need to support complex multi-cloud architectures. 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 maintaining synchronization between these different environments further complicates operations. The spun-off image could lose consistency with the image in the source environment.

In the drive to reduce complexity, hybrid cloud can send you in the opposite direction, adding complexity as your operations expand on multiple platforms. How do you quickly ensure—and with minimum overhead—that applications will continue to work effectively in the new environments?

Real-Life Examples of Hybrid Cloud Challenges

Although many financial services organizations will see immediate benefits in discrete private and community clouds, the ability to move workloads between clouds has made a hybrid cloud model attractive.

  • A large US financial institution is operating a hybrid cloud by running tens of thousands of virtual servers. Its private cloud platform was developed in-house, with the deployments all fully automated. Though it reports a lower number of performance and availability issues, each issue shows greater impact and carries with it a longer resolution time. Due to specific application needs, 20 percent of the applications still run in dedicated environments, further complicating the consistency across environments.
  • A large European financial institution was one of the first banks in its region to implement a hybrid cloud. It even productized itscloud management and automation platform as a solution for the rest of the market. However, it still reports a high degree of drift, which is causing stability and performance issues.

IT Operations Analytics Solutions for Hybrid Cloud Management

To address the evolving demands of the business, IT operations run dynamic environments to drive rapid changes while maintaining high levels of performance and stability.

As enterprises prepare to entrust more and more of their IT infrastructures to hybrid clouds, IT staffs must see into these clouds, understand the dynamics of their resources and workflows, and manage them as they do traditional data center environments. Functionalities that make hybrid clouds so attractive, however, also render them challenging to administer. Resources are pooled, shared, and dynamically allocated and moved in virtualized cloud environments. Services require elastic infrastructures as they appear, expand, contract, and vanish according to user demands. Their myriad configurations continually change.

Emerging IT operations analytics solutions help IT operations teams effectively manage the increasingly complex hybrid cloud environments. One of the key challenges is the integration between different platforms, which can be addressed by monitoring and analyzing configuration as systems transition to cloud entities, enabling application and data portability. Using innovative analytics and an integrated approach to performance, capacity, and configuration management, IT operations analytics solutions provide the intelligence and visibility needed to proactively ensure service levels, operational efficiency, and continuous compliance in dynamic hybrid cloud environments.

IT operations analytics solutions for hybrid cloud enable:

  • Intelligent automation: Automate performance, capacity, and configuration management with a management that maximizes operational efficiency. This comes to eliminate the finger-pointing, improving team collaboration and reducing manual problem-solving efforts with automated root cause analysis and validating transitions between various regions of the hybrid cloud.
  • Proactive management: Get proactive warning of potential performance and availability issues and capacity shortfalls before problems affect end-users. Manage drift from applications layer to cloud platform, extending the platform to proactively ensure service-level agreements and continuous compliance with IT policies and regulatory requirements. Optimize your infrastructure for efficiency and minimize risk across your entire infrastructure, virtual and physical, and in dynamic cloud environments.
  • Comprehensive visibility: Enjoy a holistic view with deep insights into the health, risk, and efficiency of infrastructure and applications to ensure early detection of performance, capacity, and configuration issues. Validate changes ensuring their accuracy and consistency. Manage planned and unplanned configuration changes and remediate unwanted changes. Accelerate incident investigation, providing risk analysis of the entire spectrum of changes across the hybrid cloud environment

By extending analysis into the hybrid cloud, IT operations analytics solutions deliver the deepest insight into the performance, availability, and security of business systems, regardless of where they reside. This streamlines hybrid cloud adoption, and in the process, accelerates the transition to the hybrid cloud by providing visibility into legacy environments and validating application transitions to the new environments.

About the author

CMCrossroads is a TechWell community.

Through conferences, training, consulting, and online resources, TechWell helps you develop and deliver great software every day.