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Meeting the challenges of hybrid cloud computing infrastructures

This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

As companies embrace cloud computing, many are finding it advantageous to use external clouds to host non-critical IT services and data while keeping business-critical applications on internal-cloud infrastructure. However, this hybrid approach can create significant management challenges. The clouds must tightly integrate with each other, and legacy systems and data and workflows must be managed across the clouds and systems.

Since hybrid clouds typically involve a mix of technologies and vendors, and there is the constant need for new capabilities, the level of complexity and amount of attention required to properly manage these platforms is increasing at a rapid rate. That means the management platform for hybrid cloud solutions is a critical, if often overlooked, piece of the proverbial puzzle.

READ: Forget public cloud or private cloud, it's all about hyper-hybrid

Managing the hybrid cloud involves much more than tools. After all, vendors for each separate component of cloud infrastructure provide their own "stovepipe" of managerial tools. But since there isn't a true "single-pane-of-glass" tool, you will need a more strategic perspective and framework to succeed with hybrid cloud computing. The following principles and practices can shape this meta-cloud management initiative.

In cloud computing, the vendor pool is growing very rapidly. Today, there may be three to four times as many cloud-services providers as there were just three years ago. And since a hybrid cloud architecture inherently requires multiple vendors, you need to exercise particular care and caution in assembling your portfolio of cloud-computing partners. You'll need to identify and select everything from server-oriented (infrastructure) services to cloud storage to desktop-as-a-service solutions.

Ask some pointed questions. Are the licensing and contract terms suitable for your business? What track record do they bring to the engagement? In particular, what is their performance with respect to security? As you look to leverage the expertise of your vendors, look for opportunities to reduce the number of vendors you use.

Partner accountability

With a traditional IT configuration -- centered around the classic on-premises data center -- the corporation typically establishes and staffs an IT operations and support team over which it can exercise near-total control. It sets the parameters and defines the expectations for all aspects of performance, security, regulatory compliance and more. With a hybrid cloud configuration, you're outsourcing significant portions of that infrastructure to, presumably, capable partners.

What steps can you take to measure and ensure the accountability of your chosen partners? It starts with careful definition of service-level agreements and escalation processes. Does the partner have clear SLAs that are well-suited to your business? What are the reporting processes? How will the partner communicate -- and how frequently?

IT transformation

To minimize risk exposure, many companies find that the best course of action is to start by moving lower-risk applications and data to the external cloud, so that any breach will not involve sensitive processes and information. Once confidence is established, the vendor can assume greater responsibility for other systems and databases.

Naturally, your internal IT staff -- which has typically worked in an on-premises data center -- can view cloud computing as an outsourcing career threat. It's an understandable concern. The managerial challenge here is to transform that mindset and change existing practices to help them recognize the added value they can bring to the organization in these reconfigured roles.

Our job as IT managers is to ensure we provide ample appropriate opportunities for our teams to learn new skills, assume new, higher-value positions and pursue more fulfilling long-term careers. For instance, internal cloud/external cloud integration has much greater significance. Understanding how new technologies can play a role or provide new functions and value is an important opportunity for IT professionals. In short, the job is to emphasize that a hybrid cloud infrastructure is an opportunity to reinvigorate and elevate IT careers.

The rapid pace of innovation in the cloud space is unlikely to slow in the foreseeable future. Infrastructure technologies such as virtualization are continually changing and improving -- and each presents key differences that must be understood. It's essential to be sure that both you and your team are vigilant in understanding the differences and changes to keep your hybrid cloud operating optimally. Life cycles are shorter and technologies are sunsetted faster than ever. When you have a technology decision to make or a business process to build, you want to be sure you can adapt as technology changes.

By embracing the cloud computing model, enterprises are embracing the opportunity to move beyond the four walls. However, they are also rejecting the binary "either/or" choice of all-internal or all-external and seek to get to get "the best of both worlds." Since we certainly cannot expect enterprises to achieve 100% external cloud adoption in the short term, our industry needs effective strategies to control and oversee the heightened management challenges that hybrid cloud implementations can present as the transition unfolds.

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