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Today's great cloud challenge: The hybrid IT puzzle

For 89% of companies, one cloud is not good enough.

That’s according to a 2017 Forrester report on cloud adoption. Forty-eight percent use five cloud providers or more, and 41% have two-to-four providers, leaving 11% with just one. Fifty-nine percent say their cloud strategy is hybrid, typically used to describe a combination of public and private cloud use.

Companies are relying on multiple cloud services and systems to lower storage costs by switching from on-premises to cloud, increase “resilience,” or availability in case of a disaster or outage, and give users the specific services and tools they need.

Presiding over a jumble of cloud and on-premises systems and trying to manage them all as one computing environment is a cloud challenge CIOs are now coming to terms with, as I’ve showed in reporting over the past year. The Forrester report also illustrates a parallel reality:

“Increasingly, companies realize that the cost and agility benefits they enjoy from using multiple clouds can outweigh the additional management complexity that multiple clouds create.”

But managing the complex environments that organizations have today — multiple public cloud services, private cloud systems and on-premises servers — is a significant cloud challenge, said Bobby Cameron, a Forrester analyst. I spoke to him for a story published earlier this month that explored the effect that cloud computing is having on the role of the CIO in organizations today.

Seeking common APIs

Most companies are just monitoring their multi-cloud and hybrid environments — sometimes referred to as hybrid IT — “trying to understand when it’s not working and get some handle on it.” So they’re using a cloud management tool to check on things like how much computing power is being used, what the storage capacity is, whether the network connectivity to the cloud is sufficient and whether public cloud subscription costs are spinning out of control.

Bobby Cameron, analyst, Forrester Research

Bobby Cameron

All that is good and necessary, but the “second stage” of hybrid IT management is simplifying it, Cameron said — making it easy to mix and match the pieces of heterogeneous environments and move applications written for the private cloud to the public one.

“Some of that has got to wait on the vendors — a common set of APIs to get after similar facilities in each of the different stacks isn’t there yet,” Cameron said.

Hybrid to the rescue?

Microsoft made progress in facing the cloud challenge last summer, with its rollout of Azure Stack. The service lets customers use Microsoft’s Azure cloud technology on its own servers, bridging the gap between its public and private clouds.

Some cloud vendors have formed alliances with others on hybrid cloud management — for example, virtualization software company VMware linked with Amazon Web Services, enabling operations on VMware to move to the AWS public cloud. And there’s a partnership between VMware and IBM Cloud. That might work for customers juggling VMware, AWS and IBM, “but you’re leaving out Google and Azure,” Cameron said, referring to Google’s cloud offering, Google Cloud Platform.

He likened today’s hybrid IT cloud challenge to the early days of the data center, when handling multiple vendors of equipment was “hard as hell.”

“The simplification is really the next step. That’s got to happen both from the tool standpoint as well as CIOs being able to take advantage of it,” Cameron said. “And then will come the optimization, which is really where we want to get to.”

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