by Stephanie Overby

How to manage a multi-vendor cloud environment

Nov 16, 2015
Cloud ComputingHybrid CloudIT Strategy

For many IT organizations, a hybrid IT environment made up of multiple cloud and on-premises applications is inevitable. But it requires new people, processes and systems to manage effectively. HotLink CEO Lynn LeBlanc shares experiences from her customers' early efforts.

cloud thinkstock

As companies become increasingly comfortable adopting cloud-based options, multi-vendor cloud environments could become the norm in many enterprises. In fact, 2016 may be the year of the blended cloud environment, according to Lynn LeBlanc, CEO and founder of HotLink. The blended environment—which could include both cloud and on-premises technology—presents challenges for those organizations who take the traditional siloed approach to IT service management, however.

We talked to LeBlanc (the former founder of VMware-acquired FastScale Technology) about how IT shops can maintain flexibility and agility when managing multiple cloud deployments. What’s driving the push toward the blended cloud environment in corporate IT?

Lynn LeBlanc: In the next 12 months, IT teams will continue to move more of their workloads into the cloud, and a single cloud option may not make sense for every application. In fact, the more workloads in the cloud, the higher the likelihood of a multi-vendor cloud environment.

As a result, many businesses will build out hybrid IT portfolios that include a combination of on-premises computing and multiple cloud providers with a range of price points, service levels, and support agreements. As organizations’ needs change, they’ll also want the ability to shift cloud providers.

This dynamic mix means it will be essential for data center teams to be able to administer and manage several clouds plus on-premises resources easily with a single point of integration, management, and automation. What are the biggest risks when deploying a range of cloud solutions? And are most IT organizations considering them fully before taking this best-of-breed approach?

LeBlanc:The simplicity of a homogeneous IT environment can certainly be appealing.  In fact, for small organizations, a single-provider approach may be the best idea. However, lock-in was a valid concern in mid to large-sized IT shops long before the cloud, and the same issues should be considered as workloads are moved off premise. Moreover, given the rapidly changing nature of the cloud-computing market, extra caution is in order. 

Enterprises need to plan ahead by assuming hybrid IT will be the future and take steps accordingly. Hybrid management systems, integration, workload portability, automation and skills using various public cloud platforms are all important investments to make early in the cloud deployment process. Why is the traditional approach to IT management not well suited for this hybrid environment?

LeBlanc: In the past, IT teams developed finely tuned processes around homogeneous resources to harden the environments and lower the risk of failure. That silo methodology is expensive—with redundant skill requirements, dashboards, toolsets, APIs and scripts to deploy, manage and automate solution stacks. Repeating this legacy approach with hybrid cloud resources will erode the very benefits organizations are trying to reap: agility, flexibility and cost reduction.

In order to capture the economic and agility benefits of the hybrid cloud, enterprises need to determine from the start how they will streamline management on- and off-premises and avoid the complexity of the siloed past. What new IT skills are required to administer and manage several cloud platforms and on-premises resources in an integrated fashion?

LeBlanc: When IT teams are deploying and managing primarily on-premises infrastructure, they need to know how to install the hardware, wire the networking, manage storage and underpin other physical equipment. On the software side, building and testing golden images, monitoring performance, ensuring security and automating processes are key.

When adding cloud platforms to on-premises environments, IT also needs expertise in hybrid integration and management, as well as workload migration and portability. They also need to be able to examine the resources they have in place vs. what they’ll need to deploy in the future so they can evaluate the best placement options based on cost, performance, compliance and security. What are the biggest mistakes you see companies make when trying to manage a hybrid, best-of-breed environment?

LeBlanc: The top mistake organizations make in deploying hybrid cloud environments is introducing too much complexity into the management stack. Overlaying numerous software tools and automation on multiple native management toolsets is a very complex and costly proposition. Hybrid cloud environments need unified administration and management; it’s the most critical factor in retaining the cost and agility advantages of blended cloud and on-premise resources. How can IT organizations maintain agility and flexibility when dealing with a combination of deployments?

LeBlanc: IT organizations should start by taking advantage of the management infrastructure they already have in place. For most enterprise data centers, that means [for example] VMware, which can serve as the single pane of glass through which teams manage their off-premise resources, as well. When IT teams leverage the tools they already know well, they can bring in the benefits of the cloud without having to invest in staff retraining, hiring for new skill sets or scrambling to manage multiple resources in a disparate manner. What advice do you have for those in the beginning or middle of multiple cloud deployments?

LeBlanc: This market is changing quickly. Making the best of what’s available has two important dimensions. First, research the options for extending existing management infrastructure to your new cloud providers; this way you can keep the costs and risks low while leveraging all your existing investments. Second, be sure you are continuously evaluating the cloud provider options and are prepared to make changes when new service options and more attractive pricing become available.