Don’t bet too soon on the hot cloud technologies

We all know what’s cool now in the cloud: microservices, devops, containers, and machine learning. It’s what guys like me are writing and speaking about. However, the overapplication of these technologies could end up hurting you greatly. Here’s why.

On one hand, I want to promote the use of new technology, such as cloud computing and containers. But, on the other hand, I need to have a good understanding of what business problems my clients are looking to solve, to determine the correct application of any technology, new, old, hyped, taken for granted, whatever. 

What typically happens is that the people looking to move into cloud are up on all the hyped technologies. It’s like shopping for a new car: You can have a pretty long list what you think you need: self-parking, heated seats, bending lights, voice assistance, childproof seating, maybe short-range flight.

But unlike the case with a car, you have legacy to deal with when you move to the cloud. Your applications are old, and many are so poorly structured, that they have no hope of running in containers or using a microservices architecture. Moreover, they typically present a huge layer of security and performance issues to solve before you can even think of moving them to the cloud.

This situation is the reality at about half the enterprises out there. So, those companies need to spend the first few years focusing on the fundamentals such as application design, database design, security, and performance—that old-timey boring stuff. But many companies jump right into whatever new technology that they view will be their savior and end up face-planting in just a year or so.

That “prepare first” path to the cloud is easy to understand, but often much harder to accept—and harder to do for three reasons:

  • First, you need to understand your own business and technology requirements, both now and into the future.
  • Second, you need to understand your current state.
  • Third, you need to define you future desired state and the path to get there, including any enabling technology you’ll need (whatever that technology is, and no matter if it’s been featured in the latest tech pubs).

The reality is that most of the technologies hyped today won’t become standard for years. That’s okay—you can start thinking about how you might take advantage of them one day. But in the meantime, you need to move forward with clear purpose. First crawl, then walk, then run, then think about competing in the Olympics.

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Decisions In The Hybrid IT Era

Over the past five years, IT professionals around the world have been deploying at least some of their enterprise services and applications in the cloud at an increasing rate, moving away from traditional on-premises infrastructure to a hybrid IT strategy. In fact, 95% of North American organizations have migrated critical applications and IT infrastructure to the cloud over the past year, according to the SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2017: Portrait of a Hybrid IT Organization.

Teams have been building out and integrating solution stacks that meet the needs of their endusers. Furthermore, leadership teams are realizing the cost benefit and performance improvement of moving these applications to the cloud. To successfully meet the performance needs while obtaining the cost benefits of this approach, they have had to learn how to continuously integrate and deliver their cloud services to find the perfect balance between performance and price, which isn’t always easy, but is extremely important to keep applications and budget in line.

What is Right-Sizing?

In IT, right-sizing refers to the process of optimizing IT infrastructure services, which includes networking, applications, storage, and data center components, towards the best possible performance and at lowest possible price. Rather than focusing solely on cutting costs or expanding service, IT professionals today must look at right-sizing as a way to see the bigger business picture. This involves identifying and then maintaining the proper level of IT services needed to run the business effectively and efficiently.

Before discussing what right-sizing for the cloud is, though, it’s important to recognize what right-sizing in a traditional on-premises environment looks like. Before cloud migration began, IT professionals had to procure, build infrastructure, networking, and application stacks, among other things, that met the needs of their endusers. What this meant for IT professionals was that they needed to determine speeds and feeds for compute, memory, network, and storage. They also needed to consider scaling infrastructure incrementally and manually, and budget for future, projected growth of their on-premises data centers using spreadsheets.

With the cloud, however, speeds and feeds are rendered moot. This is due to the underlying infrastructure layer and services, which are abstracted away from internal IT staff by cloud service providers, giving them the ability to focus on monitoring the performance of their applications.

A great example of a cloud service that has made right-sizing easier is Amazon® Web Services (AWS®) Elastic BeanStalk™. This service allows developers and systems administrators to quickly and easily deploy their applications without having to worry about the underlying infrastructure. Furthermore, auto scaling allows IT professionals to ramp up on compute resources like AWS EC2 or Microsoft® Azure® virtual machines. In the past, it would have taken a significant amount of time for the IT professional to build out these infrastructure services on-premises, but today, these constructs are changing the game for IT professionals. Now, the challenge facing them is the ability to select and integrate the right services that will deliver the requisite Quality-of-Service (QoS) to the organization’s internal and external endusers.

Why is It Important?

At its core, right-sizing is about price and performance, which are two concepts business leaders understand and support because of the metrics. After all, it’s for these very reasons that many organizations are moving to the cloud. Although price and performance are sometimes disparate factors, both relate to a third variable: the influx of new services that are both adjacent and can completely replace a current technology that is integrated into their existing data centers.

Another thing to keep in mind is that right-sizing does not eliminate the need for disaster recovery planning. A recent example of the importance of right-sizing, disaster recovery, and right-architecting is Amazon’s S3 outage, which disrupted many websites and web applications that used that AWS S3 region for storage. In addition to understanding their performance needs and having a remediation plan in place for when downtime occurs, Amazon and Netflix® both architected their applications and websites across multiple data centers in multiple regions outside of the U.S. Northeast region, where the outage took place.

Best Practices

The following steps can help any IT professional begin their right-sizing journey:

Application performance monitoring: IT professionals need to know what their key performance indicators are and monitor them with discipline. A baseline needs to be established so that when issues arise, IT teams can quickly identify them and act to solve them before an application’s QoS begins to decline.

Trust but verify at your scale: Cloud services are an easy button for elasticity and capacity planning purposes, but best practice still needs to be instilled in the services’ architecture. That’s the only way IT teams can ensure availability, scalability, and durability of the applications they support.

Eliminate the blame game: IT professionals should be able to quickly troubleshoot the root cause of performance issues by simply combining and correlating time-series metrics and historical performance metrics from multiple hybrid IT data sources — including applications, compute, network, storage, virtualization, web, and the cloud — into a single dashboard. In doing so, they can visualize the relationship between all suspect elements.

Conclusion

Although right-sizing in on-premises data centers is still an important skill, it’s critical to start adapting that skill to the cloud in order to be successful in today’s hybrid IT reality. Data shows that organizations are likely to see benefits soon after moving infrastructure to the cloud, but first need to strike a balance between price, performance, and service choice. IT professionals need to put monitoring with discipline into practice to realize the right-sizing benefits of costs and resource optimization for their organizations.

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‘Pick that cloud, lose our business’: What to do

Here’s a shocker: Wal-Mart is telling some technology companies that if they want Wal-Mart’s business, they can’t use Amazon Web Services. (Wal-Mart says it simply doesn’t want customers storing Wal-Mart’s sensitive info on AWS.) That’s a tall order for technology companies that may have invested millions in their tech running on AWS.

However, if you see it from Wal-Mart’s point of view, Amazon.com’s retail business is costing it billions a year in lost sales, so why not fight back by reducing Amazon’s AWS income from not just Wal-Mart but Wal-Mart’s customers? After all, Amazon.com refuses to sell products from Apple and Google that compete with its own streaming devices and services. 

The larger lesson here for enterprises is that can politics be part of the price of your choice of public cloud . You’ll find that both existing and potential customers are concerned about the platform you use, including your selection of AWS, Microsoft, or Google as your cloud provider. 

All three major cloud providers have businesses that compete with other companies outside the cloud platform business. Amazon.com, for example, competes with pretty much any retailer. But it’s not just direct competition that open up business conflicts. I’ve seen companies push back on Google due to Google’s extensive data collection practices, and I’ve seen companies push back on Microsoft due to issues with Microsoft’s enterprise software licenses.

The potential political conflicts are particularly acute if you’re a technology-driven company — and who isn’t these days? — and need to pick a cloud as your platform. Or you’ve already picked one, and now its owner is in conflict with a key customer and wants you to end that established, expensive relationship.

You of course want to pick a public cloud provider based on how its capabilities match up with your requirements and budget. Having to worry about losing revenue from a partner or customer because of that choice shouldn’t be a concern — but it increasingly is. In fact, I’m seeing clauses in contracts these days that specify “no-fly clouds,” where enterprises don’t want their data stored. They have nothing to do with the technology; it’s all perception, including risk, and, yes, spite.

Smaller enterprises, such as those doing business with Wal-Mart, are going to feel the brunt of this. They simply have less leverage, so they can more easily be bullied.

One constructive recommendation I can make is to work the multicloud angle. I’ve repeatedly recommended a multicloud strategy to gain redundancy and resiliency, but another benefit is that defuses the politics you haven’t chosen sides) and makes any imposed migrations easier to accomplish.

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