With 2015 being heralded as the year of the hybrid cloud, it has become the model of choice for many organisations, enabling them to get the best of both worlds by combining the agility and low cost of public cloud with the performance, control and security of on-premise.
But although hybrid cloud is rapidly becoming a ‘must have’, it’s not as neat and tidy a set-up as some might assume. Many IT departments are still wrestling with migrating and integrating their on-premise data with public/private cloud stores and applications, and the process can be a daunting one for the uninitiated.
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Making sure network capabilities line up between on-premise and cloud, balancing workloads, and dealing with formatting issues are just a few of the accompanying technical challenges, but aside from this, wider issues such as data security, compliance policies and educating staff are the biggest challenges that CIOs need to address before, and after, adopting hybrid cloud.
Every hybrid cloud integration will have its own unique recipe for ensuring a smooth integration, but the first step on any cloud integration journey should be to identify the key challenges and risks to a company’s existing environment, applications and data.
‘With the migration of data you could look at parallel processing of your data or you may want to go for a more complex migration using key cross referencing,’ advises David Barker, technical director of data centre and connectivity specialists 4D-DC. ‘But the method you choose will be highly dependent on the type of data and your own organisation’s requirements.’
‘Within a hybrid cloud migration becomes more complicated and depends on the environment you’re moving to; if it is a pure infrastructure as a service environment then you may be able to add any new servers into your existing domains, allowing any users and permissions to be maintained.’
However, if you are moving to a software as a service environment then Barker advises: ‘companies may want to look at adding all SaaS users first and then mapping their users between the environments.’
Running the risk
As Brian Levy, CTO EMEA at Brocade, explains, moving data into a public cloud often throws up many internal concerns as, by definition, this information is no longer being looked after privately – something which will always carry an element of risk.
‘Any employee who is likely to use hybrid cloud must be trained on exactly what cloud computing is, where the information is stored and what potential risks are associated with it,’ he says. ‘This is something that can often be undervalued but is vital for keeping information safe in the long run.’
Similarly, with 96% of UK CIOs saying that business units have bought cloud services without the IT department’s involvement, despite only 20% of organisations permitting this, understanding the full extent of cloud services already being used is vital.
‘Companies need to gain as much control as they can with cloud solutions being used by so-called ‘shadow IT’ departments,’ says Levy. ‘The more unaccounted for services that are being used, the higher risk this poses to company data.’
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CIOs are increasingly shifting more of their business critical applications and infrastructure into the cloud as hybrid IT becomes the norm. This move has fundamentally fragmented the data and applications businesses use to run their operations across corporate firewall boundaries, bringing about changes which challenge the status quo of organisations and their responsibilities.
In the past, the burden was on suite vendors to ensure data consistency across front-office and back-office processes.
‘Now, in a hybrid IT world, this becomes the task of the customer,’ says Levy. ‘Another problem is that as line of business continues to drive procurement and implementation of cloud applications it leads to further data fragmentation. These challenges are then amplified by an additional concern.’
The ubiquitous computing model enabled by SaaS, PaaS and IaaS offerings reduces the effectiveness of traditional perimeter based IT security systems, explains Levy, so managing the security barrier between the ‘traditional environment and new ‘public’ infrastructure is a big challenge.
‘As a result, organisations now need to design a strategy and tools to secure their data and applications beyond their enterprise firewalls,’ he says.
Security might also be adversely affected by challenges associated with data identity and ownership, as David Barker, technical director of data centre company 4D-DC explains.
‘If you’re coming from a traditional on-premises environment,’ says Barker, ‘then you usually just add another user as part of your migration so that you can always have the correct data associated to the right user and security requirements on each side.’
As data and applications become fragmented, organisations are experiencing exponential growth in data usage and storage at the same time, which can create new logistical challenges tomorrow that don’t necessarily exist today.
‘For example, an organisation’s data environment may increase just at the time it is considering a hybrid cloud infrastructure,’ says Anne Marie Murray, global product marketing manager, Tangoe. ‘So, right now it may not be a concern, but in a year the organisation might need to plan for a migration of multiple large data sources to cloud components; this could require complex instances of parallel processing to save time.’
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This demands more involved and detailed planning if organisations want to break up large scale data migrations into separate processes.
‘CIOs need to assess their strategies for the next 12 – 18 months, and even as far as the next three to five years,’ urges Murray. ‘However, CIOs also need to embrace cloud opportunities as the risk lessens every day.’
The first step in overcoming challenges and design considerations in creating an effective hybrid cloud environment is to understand the existing IT asset from the application level in line with government and corporate regulations. Once this is understood, technology and service requirements can be aligned. It may be that one application fits perfectly to a public cloud, but the second is suited to a mix of private cloud and dedicated servers.
As Jonathan Freegard, senior sales engineer at Digital Reality explains, this is where selecting the correct partner who has an ecosystem of solutions that fit different use cases will come into their own.
‘Once a company understands its technical requirements and gaps, this information can be used to evaluate various tools and providers to understand their capabilities,’ says Freegard. ‘During this study it is critical to define the requirements with a score of necessity so that the core requirements are covered, whereas the ‘nice to haves’ can be dropped.’
Secondly, he advises, an evaluation of the partner should also take place to understand their stability, depth of knowledge in the industry and the application that is to be severed.
‘Finally the cultural fit and timelines can be added to the evaluation,’ concludes Freegard, ‘Once all of these areas have been looked at then an informed decision can be made for the right tool or provider that best fits the needs of the application and the company for the longer term.’
From a data centre point of view, the cloud has had a paradoxical effect – within many smaller, enterprise-owned facilities, the cloud has spurred consolidation as organisations look to virtualise more of their infrastructure and software and/or shift it to a third-party provider. For larger colocation sites, though, growth is driven by businesses realising that they can get a higher rate of energy efficiency and utilisation from these facilities than they could achieve on their own.
‘With these trends in mind, it makes sense for you to think about ‘hybrid colocation,’ in which you consider a blend of cloud and colocated solutions,’ says Freegard. ‘Naturally, choosing the right hybrid cloud solution is critical. Your cloud service provider must be housed in state-of-the-art data centres designed to provide the levels of service and reliability demanded by the finance sector. Having ‘five nines’ of reliability is mandatory.’
This arrangement, says Freegard, is able to provide organisations with the optimal mix of control and capacity, presenting a path to effectively and efficiently scale your operations.