1

Integrated systems and the
wandering workload


Workloads are all different – whether they’re virtualized, containerized, traditional or an ultra-modern serverless design, they all have different properties, usage patterns and resource needs. That’s why most organizations of any size or maturity will have a variety of IT systems and services, whether by design or – as is more likely – by historical accident.

Even if you go cloud-native it’s unlikely to save you from this complexity. Sure, it’s a viable option for start-ups and smaller organizations to use only Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) applications and the public cloud. But even there, cloud providers offer a range of different ‘virtual machines’, plus most organizations will also still have or want some local PCs, servers, storage, and so on.

So you need to think carefully about why and where you place each workload, based on a wide range of factors and opportunities. These include its complexity and business value, its need for connectivity, performance and availability, and of course the requirements of regulatory compliance and data privacy, such as physically keeping certain data in a specific country or region.

This is why we see some organizations adding hybrid (public/private) cloud services alongside their traditional on-prem IT, while others who went all-public cloud are now pulling some workloads back on-prem, after realizing the public cloud’s implications for control, cost, compliance, connectivity, performance, etc.

2

Introducing integrated systems

The risk is that this can result in an even more complex and confusing jumble of services. What we need instead is to add these new services and then operate the resulting infrastructure as a single coherent and adaptive whole – as genuinely ‘hybrid IT’.

We specify ‘IT’ here because it’s important to remember that this is not just about cloud. Public cloud is not “better” than the traditional data center, nor is the reverse true – both have roles to play. Some workloads will not suit the cloud model at all, while others might fit that model well but require private or hybrid cloud, not public cloud.

Each platforming decision may involve a range of relevant factors, such as complexity, business value, security, latency, and so on.

For example, you might consume services of a more generic nature from public clouds, but have others hosted in some form of private cloud, whether operated from your own data center or a co-location facility, or run for you by a service provider.

In addition, some applications are becoming ever more dynamic as developers adapt to a world of continuous change. That means a workload’s requirements may well change significantly many times during its life, with each change prompting a reassessment of its location. For example, new usage patterns could make the public cloud a more cost-effective location, or a new compliance regime could encourage a move back on-prem.

Hybrid IT

Hybrid IT might appear complex to implement, but it doesn’t have to be. That is especially true if you’re establishing an on-prem cloud, either to pull workloads back from a public cloud or to support your evolution from on-prem IT to a hybrid cloud model. This is because many of the technologies and concepts that enable cloud computing also align clearly with integrated systems.

The integrated system is a combination of server, storage and networking that’s bought, installed and operated as a unified solution. The best-known example of this approach is probably HCI (hyper-converged infrastructure), but the same parallels can be seen in converged infrastructure (CI), which is the other main integrated system model.

Serverkasten

These two models differ in their physical configuration, but the differences are largely irrelevant in the hybrid IT world, where the expectation is that the key resources of compute, storage and networking will be abstracted, and quite possibly software-defined too. Seen through this lens, integrated systems become a way of reducing complexity by shifting the focus to where it ideally belongs – the software layer.

With integrated systems, the major decisions and caveats also become software-based. For instance, which hybrid software stack or stacks will you standardize on, such as Microsoft, Nutanix, VMware or an open-source option? If you rely on specific management tools, which hybrid infrastructures and integrated systems can they connect to and support?

Remember here that you are building hybrid IT for your needs. Of course it needs a degree of future-proofing – including support for upcoming cloud-native architectures, for instance, if you are not already using them. But the important thing is to focus on building the standardized and smoothly-interoperable environment that your organization needs, and not trying to enable or support everything under the sun.

3

Hybrid opportunities and challenges

This technology is still evolving, but the ultimate vision is improved service delivery. So if your on-prem resources become over-stretched, for example, management software could automatically and seamlessly move tier 2 workloads onto the public cloud or a hosted platform, allowing on-site integrated systems to be focused on tier 1 applications.

Self-service
Self-service catalogs

Another way hybrid IT could help you improve service delivery is by making it easier to implement user self-service technologies via an enterprise service catalog. The unified view that the hybrid approach provides into a set of normally disparate applications can form the foundation for the catalog, giving users a simple and easily understood way to subscribe to the software and services they need (read our paper ‘Simplifying Multi-Cloud Service Delivery’ here).

charging-models
Charging models and licensing

Today’s users and customers are often familiar with pay-as-you-use charging models, and hybrid IT’s abstracted and commonized view of services and applications brings the opportunity to make that type of charging model available across the hybrid infrastructure too. Again, a self-service catalog could form part of such a project.

Be warned though that software licensing must be handled carefully when moving to a hybrid IT model, to avoid adding significant extra licensing complexity and cost. It is likely that the organization will already have a mixture of software suppliers and contracts that must be brought together.

Which of the licenses can be re-used in a hybrid environment? Which can be traded-in or exchanged? How can services be moved towards a pay-as-you-use model, where appropriate? Access to specific expertise in software licensing and contract negotiations, perhaps via your IT supplier, could be highly beneficial here.

Bidirectional disaster recovery
Bidirectional disaster recovery

Just as you can move workloads around a hybrid infrastructure, you can also replicate them if required. That means hybrid IT can be used to create a virtual second data center or disaster recovery (DR) infrastructure on-demand, most commonly in a public cloud or hosted location. Setting this up can be a complex job, but this can be made easier if your IT services supplier has the skills to assist.

Hybrid IT is also about interoperability between platforms, though. For example, just as cloud is increasingly popular as a backup destination for some on-prem applications, you may also want to make a local backup of your data from a SaaS or public cloud application, or backup from one data center to another.

By bringing location-independence and enabling anything to run (almost!) anywhere, hybrid IT enables you to build and implement hybrid backup strategies without major expenditures of resources and time.

Data goverance
Data goverance

A move to hybrid IT in general will require you to reassess your data governance and regulatory compliance framework. This is especially true if that move also involves the addition of cloud DR. Again, this reassessment is a task that requires specific expertise that you and your organization might not possess, but which your IT supplier may well be able to provide.

4

Summary

We often hear that “everything is going to the cloud,” but it’s not true. First, people who say that kind of thing tend to assume that ‘cloud’ and ‘public cloud’ are synonymous, but they aren’t – both are delivery models, but the latter is a specific variation of the former. And second, you may well have a need for other IT delivery models, because not every application is suitable for or requires cloud-type deployments.

What is true is that organizations have a mixture of workloads and a choice of where to place them. Some will be cloud-native, virtualized or containerized, and others may be monolithic and traditional. You may need to keep some on-site for reasons of security, privacy, latency and so on, while others can be hosted remotely, perhaps to cut costs or improve external access.

Building the ideal hybrid IT infrastructure capable of accommodating all that, while also providing flexibility, scalability and reliability, is a tough job. Not everyone will have all the relevant infrastructure skills. For example, public cloud users who want to move some workloads back on-site will need additional skills, as will users of traditional IT plus some public cloud services who now want to bridge the two. For these users, integrated systems can remove much of the infrastructure challenge by providing the missing parts of the jigsaw in packaged form.

However, if you’re looking at taking the integrated systems route to hybrid IT, you also need to choose your IT supplier carefully.

Integrated systems can provide a drop-in answer to many of the hardware and software questions, but that does not instantly build hybrid IT.

As we have highlighted above, there are many other questions to be answered, some of them requiring very specific expertise.

It is therefore worth seeking out a partner who can work with you to co-create the ideal hybrid infrastructure for your needs starting from where you are today. That’s an adaptive infrastructure, where you can position and reposition a workload on-prem or in a cloud as its requirements shift or your desires change. If that partner can also supply all the various placement options and expertise, so much the better, because it should mean they will have no reason to prioritize one direction over another.