In recent conversations I’ve had with chief information officers (CIOs) and cloud engineers, they keep discussing the benefits of hybrid cloud and the need for choice. They often imply that when it comes to choosing a cloud provider, it’s important to avoid various forms of vendor lock-in. It’s also essential to weigh considerations involving cost, speed and flexibility.
The traditional definition of hybrid cloud is the use of on-premises (i.e., non-cloud server rooms or data centers), private cloud and public cloud services. Sometimes, it’s useful to house certain applications in a data center, because those applications contain complex workloads. Other applications, like simple web or email services, can move to the cloud.
It seems more organization leaders today like to source solutions from multiple cloud providers. In some ways, that choice can bring about a certain type of freedom. But a useful approach involves making sure you understand at least two fundamental cloud principles.
The Need for Hybrid Solutions: Gravity and Vendor Lock-in
Organizations of all types need to do more than simply choose the best cloud platform based on characteristics like feature set, ease of platform or the provider’s history. Usually there’s a need to focus on bottom line issues, including cost, choice and flexibility. They also think in terms of the ability to escape a particular cloud provider if necessary.
About a decade ago, a software engineer named Dave McCrory used an analogy that data, effectively, develops something like its own gravity. His point was rather technical, but simply put: As data accrues in a particular area – a database or a data center – it generates its own influence, or gravity, on any application that uses that data. Therefore, it’s best to have your business services close to the data source.
Let’s extend McCrory’s idea based on some of the conversations I’ve had about the cloud. Many organizations wish to adopt a multi-cloud approach, because they fear the provider’s pull, on their business processes. They don’t want to put all of their eggs in one basket.
If they choose only one cloud provider, they worry that the single provider may end up eventually charging too much. Moving their “stuff,” as one CIO pithily put it, out of that provider isn’t easy.
This idea is a big deal. If you lock in with one provider, it’s possible that provider can exert so much influence over your business that your business won’t be able to overcome it. This could make you less flexible as an IT solutions provider, and might make your organization less flexible in its IT choices. These days, this isn’t a good thing.
I’ve extended McCrory’s gravity analogy quite a bit. But while talking with CIOs from the U.S. Department of Defense, major retailers worldwide and financial institutions about their worries concerning the cloud, The main concern is that once they put their data – or operations – into a particular provider, they may not be able to get out. In my mind, that’s a gravitational kind of concern.
At this point, it’s easy to simply say: Choose the cloud provider that suits you best. But it’s not quite that easy. Each cloud provider has its own strengths and weaknesses; why choose between providers, when you can source solutions from various providers?
The 3 Major Cloud Providers: Inherent Strengths
We all know the three major cloud providers: Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud. Each provider seems to have its own particular strengths and weaknesses. Let’s take a look.
Amazon Web Services (AWS)
Some see AWS as being in a class of its own, in terms of its sheer number of offerings. AWS has a very strong reputation in scalability, rapid deployment and agility – meaning the ability to provide a flexible environment that allows you to integrate multiple technologies and solutions, and create custom solutions.
- Excellent scalability
- Rapid deployment and agility
- Easy use of customization
- The ability to automate solutions
It can be hard to remember that Amazon got its start by selling books. But these strengths were born out of the need to supply a fast-moving, high-demand retail environment.
Microsoft Azure – seen by some as the clear leader in providing business-ready services – has its own strengths. Small- to medium-sized businesses love Azure’s ability to migrate installed services to the cloud. Organizations of all sizes worldwide appreciate Microsoft’s embrace of Linux, its ability to work with vendors and its ready-made solutions.
Microsoft Azure offers:
- Business-ready services
- The ability to migrate installed services to the cloud
- Linux support
- The ability to work with vendors
It’s natural for Azure to demonstrate these strengths, because Microsoft has focused on the small- to medium-sized business market for decades. It has a strong ability to anticipate business needs and excel at addressing them.
Google Cloud has its own adherents, who see advantages in its relative newcomer status. Those advantages include slick migration offerings, outstanding automation and orchestration abilities, focus on security and uniquely useful search and data analytics offerings.
Google Cloud offers:
- Slick migration offerings
- Outstanding automation and orchestration abilities
- A focus on security
- Useful search and data analytics
Google’s data and search capabilities shouldn’t be much of a surprise as Google has been innovative in that space for quite some time. It’s only natural for Google to offer versions of the platforms that made it strong. Search is obviously in Google’s DNA.
When it comes to automation and orchestration, Google realized many years ago that it needed the ability to automatically launch and coordinate sophisticated solutions. That’s why it created Kubernetes, a tool that allows organizations to manage, launch and use containers and virtualized services.
2 Cloud Fundamentals: Monitoring and Right Sizing
It’s possible that these gravity-based concerns are less important than some might think. I think it’s best to focus on tried-and-true cloud computing principles, regardless of whether you’re going with a single cloud or multi-cloud scenario.
These two cloud computing principles are:
- Monitoring: Monitoring means taking a minute-by-minute view of costs as they accrue. If you don’t properly metricize your costs, then you will be surprised by the resulting bills. In fact, monitoring becomes increasingly important in a multi-vendor, multi-cloud environment.
- Right-sizing: It’s never a good idea to have a “set it and forget it” mentality when it comes to the cloud. The activity of monitoring is just one side of a two-sided coin. The second side of the coin is to then carefully adjust your cloud computing capacity to improve performance, reduce cost and enable scalable solutions.
Adopting any hybrid cloud solution – no matter how you define it – requires a new layer of diligence and knowledge from IT pros. This is why continual cloud computing training and certification has increasingly become a trend. The most successful way to support the hybrid cloud (or any cloud implementation) involves using more than the best cloud management software. Success involves training good IT minds to use that software appropriately. We need IT pros who can evaluate that information, and then make informed, intelligent choices.
The CompTIA Cloud+ (CV0-003) certification covers topics including hybrid cloud, multi-cloud, monitoring and right-sizing. It will be available this summer, but you can download the exam objectives now for free to start studying.