The rise of hybrid cloud management

The future of HCM is strong and will help us fulfill the true and disruptive potential of the cloud: to fundamentally transform our ability to deliver innovation and value to our customers through best of breed products and services.

hybrid clouds
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Over the last few years, hybrid cloud has gone mainstream across most enterprises. The change has been driven by two noticeable market shifts:

  1. The increasing heterogeneity of clouds, products, tools and technologies used by enterprises to support their business needs; and
  2. An increasing willingness by enterprise IT to embrace this pervasive and growing heterogeneity.

This transformation has given rise to the emergence of a new product category: Hybrid Cloud Management (HCM). As HCM evolves as a product category, it faces several threats and opportunities. In the early days of HCM (2010 - 2016), the product category was often overlooked, given the lack of hybrid cloud adoption within the enterprise. However, in the last several years, HCM has evolved into its own category, delivering on the promise of driving operational efficiency and effectiveness through unification of cross-cloud management. That said, let’s take a deeper look at HCM, what is driving it, and how it is evolving in the market today.

The evolution of hybrid cloud

The first mainstream discussion around hybrid cloud occurred in 2011 as a result of press surrounding the gaming company, Zynga. The company had a unique challenge: the "hit" oriented nature of its market meant that some of its products would take off (e.g. Farmville), while others had only modest success.

Unfortunately, predicting game popularity before launch was impossible, resulting in unique challenges related to management of capacity, performance and cost. Zynga's solution was to launch new games in the public cloud (AWS)—allowing the company to take advantage of its elasticity to support the unpredictable demand—but then move the games to a private cloud after gaining capacity insight.

As the public cloud became an increasingly critical component of enterprise cloud strategies, more organizations started confronting the complexity that came with their own variation of the Zynga model. Each cloud platform, product and/or service added to an enterprise IT portfolio increased the corresponding complexity of management. Then with each new target cloud came a need to standardize (as much as possible) the lifecycle of management—from deployment all the way through to retirement. This standardization included critical management functions such as procurement, deployment, security, compliance, governance and business service optimization.

Why hybrid cloud now?

Cloud adoption in enterprise IT has gone through three distinct phases over the last several years:

Phase 1: Reluctance in the cloud

In the first phase (2008-2013), most enterprise IT organizations were reluctant to embrace the cloud due to some combination of issues related to security, compliance, performance and/or costs. I remember watching a CIO of a large European enterprise pound his fist on the table in 2011 at a cloud event in Paris in pronouncing, "My SAP workloads could never run in the public cloud." Unfortunately, while enterprise CIOs were identifying all the reasons the public cloud was not a viable platform for their workloads, their lines of business were actively and stealthily embracing the cloud to solve real business problems.

Phase 2: Irrational exuberance for cloud

In the second phase of cloud adoption (2014-2016), enterprises embraced the cloud with an almost irrational exuberance. The enterprise euphoria was driven by the belief that the cloud could transform businesses through its agility, innovation and cost savings. During this phase, many enterprises aggressively committed to moving all their data center applications into the public cloud. As the most frequently adopted cloud, Amazon Web Services (AWS) rapidly adapted to be fully enterprise-enabled, allowing it to substantially grow its top line revenue and market share. Enterprise IT changed directions during this phase, increasingly embracing the public cloud and actively seeking to deliver value back to their business partners.

Phase 3: Hybrid cloud emerges

The latest phase of the cloud (2017-now) is defined by the rise of the hybrid cloud. The rapid adoption of the public cloud resulted in enterprise IT embracing a pervasively heterogeneous portfolio of clouds, products, tools and technologies. For example, if a line-of-business partner needed to use the Google machine learning services, enterprise IT needed to fully embrace and support the Google cloud. If they needed to use Alibaba for its global reach, IT needed to accept AliCloud as a member of the portfolio—and so on.

While hybrid cloud as an industry buzzword has plagued us since at least 2010, I argue that it’s only in 2017 that the concept began to take off in reality. This new reality has resulted in IT increasingly managing a diverse portfolio of products, and with this, confronting the challenges of efficiently managing this diversity across multiple disparate target environments.

What is Hybrid Cloud Management (HCM)?

Like the term "hybrid cloud," the term "hybrid cloud management" creates no end of confusion with respect to a standard industry definition. The vendors and products that position their solutions as HCM are quite different from one to the next. At the highest level, they all share the common goal to unify the cross-cloud management of one or more aspects of cloud services, applications and/or infrastructure. Some focus on unifying cost management, while others focus on self-service provisioning, and yet others optimize VM or workload placement. Each target cloud brings new approaches to managing the full lifecycle of a service or application. As the enterprise IT portfolio becomes more diverse, management complexity increases exponentially, thus giving rise for a need to standardize on a "single pane of glass" experience for one or more management features and functions.

Forrester recently published their Hybrid Cloud Management Wave for 2018, which included the 12 most significant vendors who offer “a multipurpose suite that provides a variety of cloud management capabilities across monitoring, brokerage, provisioning, template creation, orchestration, etc.”

The report outlines the criteria for evaluating vendors in this space. Looking back at the 2016 iteration of the report compared to the 2018 version, it’s clear how fast this market is changing and evolving. The landscape of vendors who offer HCM solutions is broad, so to understand it better, I group hybrid cloud platforms in one of three categories (see below diagram):

  • Cloud & Service Fabric (e.g. Nutanix) - unifying the provisioning, deployment, configuration, and management of cloud infrastructure and resources.
  • Application & Infrastructure Management (e.g. Cisco) - unifying provisioning, deployment, monitoring and management of applications and cloud resources.
  • Service Management (e.g. CloudHealth) - unifying the orchestration and optimization of business and cloud services.

The future of HCM

The future of HCM is exciting and ripe with opportunity as enterprises look to unify their cross-cloud management. With that said, the category is still maturing—and quite rapidly—meaning the path forward will not be without hurdles. Some of the challenges HCM will need to confront in the next year include:

  • Lack of standardization: Each of the various HCM offerings available today delivers value at a different level in the management stack and provides a different set of features and functions. This lack of standardization makes vendor selection, rollout and support of HCMs more complex than required today. It will be important for the industry to collectively work together to develop new guidelines.
  • Cloud vendor encroachment: Cloud vendors are increasingly realizing that their customers no longer believe in a single provider solution. As a result, they are adding features to make cross-cloud management slightly easier. In most cases, these are of limited enterprise value, but do increase market confusion. The onus will be on cloud vendors to ensure they are not adding features for the sake of doing so. The goal should always be to add value and not just more capabilities.
  • Developer DIY: Some businesses have found themselves investing increasingly in internal solutions to solve for hybrid cloud management challenges. While I do not believe this will be a long-term trend, it has the potential to slow the standardization and adoption of HCMs. Again, the cloud industry and its constituents must continue to partner to find solutions that are standardized, simplified and support the needs of diverse organizations.

The future of HCM is strong and will help us fulfill the true and disruptive potential of the cloud: to fundamentally transform our ability to deliver innovation and value to our customers through best of breed products and services. The road to HCM success will not be without challenges, but then again, nothing worth having ever is!

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