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Meeting the challenges of hybrid cloud computing infrastructures

By David Grimes, chief technology officer, NaviSite, special to Network World
November 16, 2012 12:39 PM ET

Network World - This vendor-written tech primer has been edited by Network World to eliminate product promotion, but readers should note it will likely favor the submitter's approach.

As companies embrace cloud computing, many are finding it advantageous to use external clouds to host non-critical IT services and data while keeping business-critical applications on internal-cloud infrastructure. However, this hybrid approach can create significant management challenges. The clouds must tightly integrate with each other, and legacy systems and data and workflows must be managed across the clouds and systems.

Since hybrid clouds typically involve a mix of technologies and vendors, and there is the constant need for new capabilities, the level of complexity and amount of attention required to properly manage these platforms is increasing at a rapid rate. That means the management platform for hybrid cloud solutions is a critical, if often overlooked, piece of the proverbial puzzle.

READ: Forget public cloud or private cloud, it's all about hyper-hybrid

Managing the hybrid cloud involves much more than tools. After all, vendors for each separate component of cloud infrastructure provide their own "stovepipe" of managerial tools. But since there isn't a true "single-pane-of-glass" tool, you will need a more strategic perspective and framework to succeed with hybrid cloud computing. The following principles and practices can shape this meta-cloud management initiative.

In cloud computing, the vendor pool is growing very rapidly. Today, there may be three to four times as many cloud-services providers as there were just three years ago. And since a hybrid cloud architecture inherently requires multiple vendors, you need to exercise particular care and caution in assembling your portfolio of cloud-computing partners. You'll need to identify and select everything from server-oriented (infrastructure) services to cloud storage to desktop-as-a-service solutions.

Ask some pointed questions. Are the licensing and contract terms suitable for your business? What track record do they bring to the engagement? In particular, what is their performance with respect to security? As you look to leverage the expertise of your vendors, look for opportunities to reduce the number of vendors you use.

Partner accountability

With a traditional IT configuration -- centered around the classic on-premises data center -- the corporation typically establishes and staffs an IT operations and support team over which it can exercise near-total control. It sets the parameters and defines the expectations for all aspects of performance, security, regulatory compliance and more. With a hybrid cloud configuration, you're outsourcing significant portions of that infrastructure to, presumably, capable partners.

What steps can you take to measure and ensure the accountability of your chosen partners? It starts with careful definition of service-level agreements and escalation processes. Does the partner have clear SLAs that are well-suited to your business? What are the reporting processes? How will the partner communicate -- and how frequently?

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