Gerardo Dada is Vice President of Product Marketing for SolarWinds.
As revealed by the results of a recent survey of IT pros, moving some parts of an organization’s infrastructure to the cloud is a priority, but one that presents a challenging management scenario. But server and application management in the cloud doesn’t have to be a daunting prospect. IT professionals can better equip themselves to manage—or prepare to manage—servers and applications in a hybrid IT environment by addressing several key considerations as well as leveraging certain best practices for an optimized data center.
To start, one of the most important things to remember in the hybrid IT era is that the cloud is not for everything. Too many companies begin implementing hybrid IT environments without first considering which workloads make most sense for which environments. While it’s tempting to look at the growing popularity and benefits of cloud computing and say, “Let’s move some of our applications to AWS and see how it works,” without a fundamental understanding of all your workloads and what they require for optimal performance, you will more than likely hinder your organization’s efforts to generate cost savings, greater performance and agility, or any other anticipated benefit of cloud computing.
For example, it’s easy to assume that the cloud is inexpensive and will save your business a lot of money. That’s certainly true if you think strategically about what to put there—maybe it’s an infrequently accessed web server or an application that is scaling so quickly that it’s more efficient to grow in the cloud. All too often, however, organizations underestimate service fees and the architecture required to meet SLAs and discover down the road that operating that workload in the cloud is actually more expensive. Even born-in-the-cloud startups may eventually grow to a size where it makes more sense to move portions of their infrastructure back to a cheaper, physical location.
And without the proper research, an unsuspecting administrator might move a mission critical workload to a cloud environment that is not designed to provide the level of uptime or security required, leading to a myriad of performance and data compliance issues.
Another challenge inherent to managing servers and applications in a hybrid IT environment is that with at least some portion of your infrastructure in the cloud, you’re left with not only less visibility, but less control. Imagine one of the recent widespread cloud outages where an entire geographical region of service goes down. Instead of being able to run down the hall and physically diagnose and troubleshoot the problem as you could with an all on-premises infrastructure, your time-to-resolution instead hinges on how quickly the provider can identify and solve the issue.
So, how do you best manage servers or applications that are hosted in the cloud while simultaneously maintaining your on-premises infrastructure? What is the best way to look at the data from both locations in the same way, and in a way that allows you to optimize your environment and end-user experience? Here are a few best practices you can leverage to help align the management of on-premises and cloud-based infrastructure and applications in the hybrid IT era.
- Monitor from the ground to the cloud – Similar to establishing a unified view across on-premises hardware, where your infrastructure might be comprised of any number of disparate vendor solutions, IT professionals must implement a tool that provides a view across the entire hybrid IT environment. The data generated by these tools will allow you to make informed decisions about what workloads belong on-premises or in the cloud. For example, with an effective monitoring tool, you might see that some components in the cloud are running slower or are more expensive, so you can bring them back on-premises. The opposite could also be true, where monitoring data reveals you’re running out of space and need to move some items to cloud for quick and easy scalability.
Beyond its importance in identifying workload requirements, disciplined monitoring in a hybrid environment also ensures the data center is operating as efficiently as possible. You should be able to see, through a single pane of glass and at any moment in time, when application performance in the cloud is slowing down or one of your physical servers is over capacity and in need of reprovisioning. This allows you to proactively identify problem areas and speed time-to-resolution before end-users are impacted and 100 help desk tickets show up in your team’s inbox.
- Identify your workload metrics – For anything you consider moving to the cloud, it’s critical to consider what kind of response time you want and expect, and how you’ll measure it. How mission critical is the application you’re considering shifting to the cloud? What are the SLAs? How stable is the load and how will the workload grow or evolve over time? How will you port the cost back to the business? Start with these types of questions and work backwards to identify the most appropriate technology for the workload. As IT professionals, we love to start with the technology and identify workloads later, but the reverse will help you create a chargeback/showback history that demonstrates to the business how a hybrid IT environment is beneficial and effective.
- Have a plan B – Some IT professionals expect cloud providers to ensure that things like security and network performance will “just work.” But at the end of the day, you and the rest of your IT department are ultimately responsible for infrastructure and application performance and everything that is done as-a-service needs to have a plan B. How will you know when there’s a problem? How will you know whether the problem is yours or the provider’s and what is your mitigation plan? What are the provider’s SLA details? What is their recommended architecture? You should think through and plan for the worst-case scenarios that could happen in a hybrid IT environment in the early stages to prevent such problems before they arise, and be prepared should they actually happen.
A unified monitoring strategy is the best way to stay ahead of potential performance, security and capacity problems, identify the root cause—is it a problem on your end or the cloud provider’s—and know when it’s time to turn to plan B.
- Remember that the cloud is not for everything – And that’s okay. The cloud is here to stay, and for many businesses it represents the future of IT. But that doesn’t spell the demise of on-premises IT infrastructure anytime soon, and the point of a hybrid IT strategy is to optimize your workloads based on their specific components and their requirements. If your database requires extremely high performance and is already perfectly functional on-premises, leave it on-premises. On the other hand, there is often plenty that can be moved to the cloud. For example, most web applications should be storing graphics, large files and videos in the cloud where they can enjoy the benefits of a CDN and take the load off web servers.
Ultimately, despite the race to the cloud, there is no “right” way to adopt elements of cloud computing and introduce hybrid IT into your organization—it’s different for every organization, and is more than likely a multi-year journey. Your business should develop a roadmap that helps chart future cloud integration based on a workload by workload evaluation that considers requirements, potential upside, costs and urgency.
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