Herding Clouds: IT Faces Its Hybrid Future

Wrangling hybrid, multivendor cloud infrastructures is confounding, costly and increasingly critical.

Kurt Marko, Contributing Editor

October 23, 2013

4 Min Read

InformationWeek Green -  October 24, 2013

InformationWeek Green - October 24, 2013

InformationWeek Green

InformationWeek Green

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Cloud is quintessential disruptive technology, making up one-third of what CNBC's Jim Cramer calls today's "Holy Trinity of Tech": mobile, social, cloud. And finally, years of enterprise IT resistance -- fueled by fears tied to security, performance, system management and job security -- are crumbling.

The latest InformationWeek State of Cloud Computing Survey found that 40% of respondents use cloud services, up seven points since 2011, with an additional 13% planning to do so by early next year. Only 20% have no plans to incorporate public cloud into their IT portfolios, down seven points from 2011. Similarly, the Uptime Institute's annual survey of 1,000 data center facilities operators found that 28% use public cloud services, with large companies twice as likely as smaller ones to be adopters. Gartner estimates the global public cloud services market will grow more than 18% this year, to $131 billion, with infrastructure-as-a-service notching the fastest growth rate, at more than 42%. This growth is fueled by use of cloud for production systems and critical applications, not only test and development environments where IaaS got its foothold.

Now comes a new problem: how to knit disparate cloud services, each with its own management APIs, service catalogs and technology stacks, into an existing IT infrastructure and to one another. Our survey finds 16% of tech pros believe half or more of their IT services will be delivered from the cloud in the next two years. Most cloud users, 79%, employ multiple cloud providers, with an intrepid 13% using six or more. While that includes SaaS, used by half of cloud users in our survey, as well as IaaS, it's clear that many organizations already have several IaaS and platform-as-a-service providers in their IT portfolios.

Integrating cloud services isn't an easy task, which explains why one-third of respondents to our Cloud Computing Survey don't even try. Another 41% take the laborious, costly and error-prone path of custom-coding scripts or application stubs around each vendor's API to bridge internal and external systems. Manual coding is an obvious nightmare for application developers, but don't underestimate the challenge it creates for IT operations teams trying to manage a hybrid infrastructure and deploy applications across multiple clouds while guaranteeing service levels.

It's probably cold comfort, but your peers face the same problem. Looking at our cloud survey, it's clear that the notion of comprehensive cloud service management of heterogeneous environments is in its infancy. Only 14% of those using IaaS or PaaS use any cloud management software, while a still-anemic 22% predict they'll have it in place by 2015. Fully 37% don't automate or orchestrate cloud workloads, while 23% hand code automation scripts using vendor APIs.

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Complexity Lies Ahead

Today, most companies manage their complex, highly virtualized internal data center environments (a.k.a. private clouds) using management software developed by the virtualization vendor: VMware vCenter, Microsoft System Center or Citrix XenServer. The exception is large companies with large fleets of legacy systems that tend to standardize on a big data center management suite from the likes of BMC, CA, Hewlett-Packard or IBM Tivoli. Although there's a rich ecosystem of virtual machine management point products, they've primarily targeted capacity planning, workload optimization and asset tracking (read: VM sprawl). Only 3% of respondents to the InformationWeek Virtualization Management Survey use VM-specific software from vendors like CiRBA, Dynamic Ops, Embotics or Insystek, compared with 50% choosing bundled tools like vCenter, Microsoft VMM or XenCenter. Another 11% augment traditional management software, presumably things like Dell OpenManage, HP Insight Control, IBM Systems Director or Microsoft SCCM, with VM-specific modules.

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download the InformationWeek November special issue on cloud integration.

About the Author(s)

Kurt Marko

Contributing Editor

Kurt Marko is an InformationWeek and Network Computing contributor and IT industry veteran, pursuing his passion for communications after a varied career that has spanned virtually the entire high-tech food chain from chips to systems. Upon graduating from Stanford University with a BS and MS in Electrical Engineering, Kurt spent several years as a semiconductor device physicist, doing process design, modeling and testing. He then joined AT&T Bell Laboratories as a memory chip designer and CAD and simulation developer.Moving to Hewlett-Packard, Kurt started in the laser printer R&D lab doing electrophotography development, for which he earned a patent, but his love of computers eventually led him to join HP’s nascent technical IT group. He spent 15 years as an IT engineer and was a lead architect for several enterprisewide infrastructure projects at HP, including the Windows domain infrastructure, remote access service, Exchange e-mail infrastructure and managed Web services.

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