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Migration to the Cloud: Evolution Without Confusion

There are fundamentally challenging questions that companies will be forced to grapple with as they decide what cloud functionality suits them best. The central issues include security, cost, scalability and integration.

Cloud computing concept photo from Shutterstock.

By Rich Seidner

The rapid rise of cloud computing has been driven by the benefits it delivers: huge cost savings with low initial investment, ease of adoption, operational efficiency, elasticity and scalability, on-demand resources, and the use of equipment that is largely abstracted from the user and enterprise.

Of course, these cloud computing benefits all come with an array of new challenges and decisions. That’s partly because cloud products and services are being introduced in increasingly varied forms as public clouds, private clouds and hybrid clouds. They also deliver software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) solutions, and come with emerging licensing, pricing and delivery models that raise budgeting, security, compliance and governance implications.

Making these decisions is also about balancing the benefits, challenges and risks of those cloud computing options against your company’s technology criteria. Many core criteria matter: agility, availability, capacity, cost, device and location independence, latency, manageability, multi-tenancy, performance, reliability, scalability, security, etc. And the available cloud options all vary widely in terms of each of these criteria -- not to mention, there are significant challenges integrating all of this with your existing infrastructure.

There are fundamentally challenging questions that companies will be forced to grapple with as they decide what cloud functionality suits them best. The central issues include security, cost, scalability and integration.

Public, Private or Hybrid?

There are a few differences among the three:

  • Public cloud services require the least investment to get started,have the lowest costs of operation, and their capacity is eminentlyscalable to many servers and users. But security and compliance concernspersist regarding multi-tenancy of the most sensitive enterprise data andapplications, both while resident in the cloud and during transfer overthe Internet. Some organizations may not accept this loss of control oftheir data center function.
  • Private cloud services offer the ability to host applications orvirtual machines in a company’s own infrastructure, thus providing thecloud benefits of shared hardware costs (thanks to virtualization, thehardware is abstracted), federated resources from external providers, theability to recover from failure, and the ability to scale depending upondemand. There are fewer security concerns because existing data centersecurity stays in place, and IT organizations retain data center control.But because companies must buy, build, and manage their private cloud(s),they don’t benefit from lower up-front capital costs and less hands-onmanagement. Further, their operational processes must be adapted wheneverexisting processes are not suitable for a private cloud environment. Theyare just not as elastic or cost-effective as public clouds.
  • Hybrid clouds are just a mix of at least one public cloud and oneprivate cloud, combined with your existing infrastructure. Hybrid cloudinterest is powered by the desire to take advantage of public and privatecloud benefits in a seamless manner. Hybrid combines the benefits andrisks of public and private: offering security, compliance, and control ofthe enterprise private cloud for sensitive, mission-critical workloads,and scalable elasticity and lower costs for apps and services deployed inthe public cloud.

That combination of operational flexibility and scalability for peak and bursty workloads is the ideal goal, but the reality is that hybrid cloud solutions are just emerging, require additional management capabilities and come with the same kind of security issues for data moved between private and public clouds.

Transformational Change or Legacy Environment? The diversity of cloud offerings means businesses evaluating various cloud computing options must decide how to integrate cloud resources with their legacy equipment, applications, people and processes, and determine whether and how this will transform their business IT or simply extend what they have today and plan for the future.

The reality of cloud environments is that they will need to coexist with the legacy environments. A publicly traded firm with thousands of deployed apps is not going to rewrite them for the public cloud.

One determining factor may be whether the services being deployed to the cloud are “greenfield” (lacking any constraints imposed by prior work), or “brownfield” (development and deployment in the presence of existing systems). In the absence of constraints, greenfield applications are more easily deployed to the cloud.

Ideally, hybrid solutions allow organizations to create or move existing applications between clouds, without having to alter networking, security policies, operational processes or management and monitoring tools. But the reality is that, due to issues of interoperability, mobility, differing APIs, tools, policies and processes, hybrid clouds generally increase complexity.

The Forecast Is Cloudy, Turning Sunny Where this is all headed is that, for the foreseeable future, many organizations will employ a mixed IT environment that includes both public and private clouds as well as non-cloud systems and applications, because the economics are so attractive. But, as they adopt the cloud, enterprise IT shops will need to focus on security, performance, scalability, cost and avoid vendor lock-in, in order to achieve overall efficiencies.

Security concerns will be decisive for many CIOs, but companies are increasingly going to move all but their most sensitive data to the cloud. Companies will weave together cloud and non-cloud environments, and take steps to ensure that security is assured.

Non-mission critical applications -- such as collaboration, communications, customer-service and supply-chain tools -- will be excellent candidates for the public cloud.

There’s a Cloud Solution for That

As hybrid cloud offerings mature, cloud capabilities will be built into a variety of product offerings, including virtualization platforms and system management suites. Vendor and service provider offerings will blur the boundaries between public and private environments, enabling applications to move between clouds based on real-time demand and economics.

In the not-too-distant future, hybrid cloud platforms will provide capabilities to connect and execute complex workflows across multiple types of clouds in a federated ecosystem.

Products from Amazon, HP, IBM, Red Hat, VMware and others offer companies the ability to create hybrid clouds using existing computing resources, including virtual servers, and in-house or hosted physical servers.

There are also hybrid devices that are designed to sit in data centers and connect to public cloud providers, and offer control and security along with cost savings of connecting to the cloud. For example:

  • Red Hat open-source products enable interoperabilityand portability via a flexible cloud stack that includes its operatingsystem, middleware and virtualization. The company recently announced itsown platform as a service called OpenShift (for the public cloud) andinfrastructure-as-a-service offering called CloudForms, which is a privatecloud solution.
  • VMware’s vCenter Operations combines the data centerfunctionality of system configuration, performance management and capacitymanagement. It also supports virtual machines that can be deployed eitherinside the data center or outside beyond the firewall in the cloud.

Are We there yet?

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