Four strategies for mastering the hybrid cloud

Representational image depicting the ease of use of cloud computing
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Hybrid cloud is finding favor with organizations of all sizes across multiple different sectors, and for a wide variety of reasons. Customer experience is often the driving factor for financial services companies who are looking for a stepping stone to take them from their huge on-premise infrastructure without compromising on compliance with strict security and privacy regulations. 

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Chris Buijs, Field CTO, NS1.

At the same time, big enterprises that moved into the cloud some time ago, are opting to shift a portion of their workloads back into colocation facilities or owned data centers by adopting a hybrid cloud strategy. This not only helps them to cut costs but gives them a greater degree of control.

The growing rate of adoption for hybrid cloud is in direct proportion to changes in dynamic service conditions and ever-increasing business requirements. It is widely regarded as a cost-effective way to manage applications and data and ensure high performance.

However, despite this, companies often face challenges when it comes to managing hybrid network infrastructure. It is complex and can create barriers to realizing full network functionality, which has a knock-on effect on the performance of apps, and on network security. While, to an extent, complexity comes with the territory, this does not mean that hybrid cloud deployments cannot be made easier to manage. There are four approaches that can be taken to help manage complexity more effectively: infrastructure resource modelling; traffic management; network automation; and finally network observability.

Infrastructure resource modelling

All too often companies struggle because they are trying to make changes to their infrastructure without knowing its full extent. Part of this is the legacy use of manual inventory tools, which fail to keep pace with the intricacies of cloud infrastructure. Instead of making decisions based on an accurate knowledge of what they own, teams are forced to make assumptions, and this leads to inaccuracies when it comes to the impact of new implementations on network capacity and performance. 

Infrastructure resource modelling, conversely, can shine a light on every detail of the company’s architecture, making the process of planning operations more straightforward and cost implications more accurate. Some companies use "cost" as an indicator to assess "what they have", or "when to take action", which most of the time means wasting money first and is not very effective. That said, if user-experience/appreciation went up, and business/revenue as well, no one seems to care.

It is essential that operations teams with responsibility for both on-premise and cloud infrastructure, have a clear understanding not only of the services, infrastructure resources, and devices they have, but in addition, where they are located, the coverage of each one, and the way they are connected. It is only with a full overview — a single source of truth — that teams will be able to predict the full impact when there are infrastructure changes. 

This, in turn, will enable improved optimization, better detection of potential problems, and more confident decision-making. Teams will be better positioned to know the costs involved in spinning cloud infrastructure up or down, as well as the risks involved, and will be able to determine a strategy that balances performance with finance and reliability requirements.

Traffic management

It’s important to understand why hybrid cloud infrastructure is complex. It usually involves a mix of widely distributed private data centers, public clouds, and edge networks and these support user interactions with a company’s products and services across multiple devices, such as desktop computers, IoT devices, and smartphones. The challenge occurs when it comes to linking all these devices and access points seamlessly and ensuring costs are taken into account. 

The best way forward is for organizations to integrate their increasing array of systems and services with a modern traffic management and automation strategy. This will help to direct application traffic across different clouds and data centers, and to steer users efficiently to the best performing endpoints. The great advantage is that users can enjoy a seamless experience accessing products and services, regardless of the device they’re using or where they’re located.

The other benefit of application traffic management is that it can reduce costs. Operations teams can implement intelligent traffic steering strategies that dynamically direct cloud and on-premise workloads to the most cost-efficient resources for additional savings. It is also a valuable tool in guarding against over-provisioning, which can drive up expenses, or under-provisioning, which will impact performance and potentially the customer experience. 

Amongst this plethora of benefits, traffic management can help with the deployment of new infrastructure, allowing traffic to be gradually introduced as new systems come online allowing teams to identify and eliminate bugs and issues before traffic reaches full capacity.

Network automation

The advantages outlined in traffic management are largely due to automation, but the same principle applies when it comes to network operations. Companies can use network automation, not just to streamline tasks, but to improve planning, particularly when changes are being made to accommodate a hybrid cloud approach.

Network automation enables plans to be assessed through accurate, risk-based insight. Tasks in relation to configuration changes can be outlined in advance for review, incorporating policies and regulations that need to be considered, and calculating for risk or any other potential issues that might arise and which could impact the company.

Automated provisioning of networks also has a part to play in enabling infrastructure resource modelling, allowing the inventory to be updated as network changes are validated and accepted.

Network observability

Hybrid cloud infrastructure necessitates companies to analyze, learn from, and respond to the sheer wealth of data that is crossing their networks and application services so they can make better decisions. This is essential for operations, capacity planning, and security, as well as for long-term growth. One trend that is emerging is distributed network observability — pushing analysis as close to the data source as possible. Tapping into network data streams and analyzing them in real-time can provide immediate business insight, reduce Mean-Time-To-Repair, help debug problems, and identify security weaknesses.

The strategies for hybrid cloud success

The many advantages of hybrid cloud can be realized more efficiently if companies implement selected strategies to manage complexity. Resource modelling gives companies a better sense of their infrastructure on-premise and in the cloud, letting them assess risk pre-emptively to reduce problems and improve quality, through improved decision making. Traffic management and network automation improve performance, reduce risk, and facilitate cost reductions. Finally, observability tools help companies assess their network operations and set goals for the future. The key to a successful hybrid cloud deployment is to have control over the infrastructure, and these four strategies are steps down the path to achieving it.

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Chris Buijs, Field CTO, NS1.