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Bob Violino
Contributing writer

Digital platform conductors help manage hybrid networks

Feb 24, 202311 mins
Cloud ManagementData CenterData Center Management

DPC orchestration aggregates multicloud monitoring data and recommends ways to speed business processes.

metal tools
Credit: Matt Artz / Unsplash

One of the biggest technology challenges organizations face is managing an increasingly complex environment that might include multiple cloud services and providers, on-site data centers, edge systems and other components.

An emerging solution is an orchestration tool that taps into cloud management data, edge systems and on-premises infrastructure to provide a full picture of the environment and come up with recommendations to improve the flow of business workloads, cut costs, and streamline processes.

Digital platform conductor (DPC) is the term Gartner has coined to describe these tools.

What is Digital Platform Conductor?

“Digital platform conductor tools coordinate hybrid digital infrastructure management tools used to plan, implement, operate and monitor underpinning technology and services for applications and digital products,” says Roger Williams, vice president of research at Gartner.

DCP enables infrastructure and operations leaders “to get an overarching view of infrastructure and its contribution to business value, regardless of the environments used or their owner,” Williams says. “This provides input into strategic decision making to get better value from infrastructure.”

DPC tools collect information from many sources, including monitoring systems, IT service management (ITSM), cloud management and security tools to create a coherent view of the enterprise infrastructure, Williams says.

“This data, along with information about enterprise goals and constraints, enables the DPC tool to identify promising areas for improved workload placement,” Williams says. The DPC tool then helps implement improvements by “cascading a unified set of inputs to other management tools required to realize the intended benefits,” he adds.

The DPC market is still in its infancy, with many enterprises just now getting introduced to the concept, Williams says. As such, it’s difficult to forecast growth in demand for the products.

“What is growing is the recognition that just having a lot of management tools is not enough to meet the needs of digital business,” Williams says. “Cloud migrations do not solve this issue.”

Digital technology drives interest in DPC.

Gartner surveys indicate that when cloud migrations are complete, an average of 30 percent of the digital infrastructure remains on-premises. “That means that there is more complexity to manage, not less,” Williams says. “Management tools focused on just one environment or function cannot cope with that on their own.”

Growing demand for digital technology is expected to fuel demand for DPC. In Gartner’s 2023 Board of Directors Survey on Business Strategy in an Uncertain World, a majority of leaders cited digital technology initiatives as their top strategic priority for 2023 and 2024.

“These initiatives do not just use on-premises systems, cloud services, or co-location facilities in isolation,” Williams says. “They are all involved, and all must work together to deliver the results the board expects.”

Gartner anticipates some initial compelling use cases will emerge for DPC tools to reduce costs, manage risks, and improve business coordination. “This will drive both further end-user interest in the concept and more vendors to create DPC tool offerings,” Williams says.

How to select a DPC vendor

Organizations looking to use DPC tools to improve their ability to manage infrastructure should select tools by identifying current business problems, such as cloud migration, that require a cohesive view across on-premises, cloud and edge infrastructure, Gartner says.

Companies should also position DPC tool investments for success by requiring that complementary IT management functionality is in place or can be acquired from the DPC tool vendor.

And they should maintain flexibility in DPC tool implementations by limiting the length of contracts; using application programming interfaces (APIs) instead of custom integrations with other IT management tooling; and monitoring for new capabilities that can address key hybrid digital infrastructure management pain points.

The lack of maturity in the market poses several challenges for enterprises, Gartner says. For one thing, vendors often don’t label their DPC tool offerings as such, given the newness of the term. In addition, they might require the purchase of multiple tools or bundles to acquire the full range of DPC functionality, which might include undesired functionality that can’t be avoided.

Furthermore, vendors might market DPC tools that do not address the full range of capabilities needed to deliver the value buyers expect. And organizations looking to buy these products could find it difficult to compare potential DPC tool offerings between vendors due to differing capabilities and areas of emphasis.

Some DPC vendors and what they provide

Gartner says there are about 10 vendors offering some form of DPC products. Here are some examples:

  • Flexera: The Flexera One platform finds, identifies and catalogs assets and resources within an organization’s IT environment, across on-premises and cloud services, including SaaS and containers. It monitors, manages and optimizes usage and costs, according to Steve Schmidt, vice president of product management at Flexera.

For instance, the platform reconciles and optimizes the use of software and SaaS licenses, evaluates workloads and recommends placement options for that workload within the IT environment, and allows end users to request IT resources via a self-serve mechanism.

Flexera One integrates with other IT management systems to share information and make them better, including providing higher quality asset data to IT service management configuration management databases, and providing licensing data to application performance management tools to further optimize workload placement, Schmidt says.

  • Oomnitza: Offers a DPC platform that provides business process automation for IT, integrating with more than 150 hybrid digital infrastructure tools and coordinating workflows across an organization’s existing endpoint, application, security, network and cloud infrastructure systems.

The platform is delivered as SaaS, offering agentless integrations, low-code workflows and automation, says Ramin Ettehad, cofounder of Oomnitza. Companies use Oomnitza’s DPC to automate IT processes such as employee onboarding, offboarding, SaaS management, refresh forecasting, cloud optimization, audit readiness, security gap mitigation and other functions, he says.

  • Virtana: The company’s Multi-Cloud Insight Platform creates a consolidated real-time health and performance view of an organization’s hybrid infrastructure topology.

“Within this view, customers can reactively and proactively diagnose issues while maintaining high availability,” says Jon Cyr, head of product for the company. Virtana accomplishes this via real-time collection from many sources, including its probe technology, integrations, and open APIs.

The platform uses artificial intelligence (AI) to turn volumes of signals into meaningful insights and actions. The openness of the platform allows Virtana to integrate with other tools an enterprise might have in place, avoiding the need to “rip and replace,” Cyr says.

A managed service provider that uses DPC to help enterprises

Deployment of DPC can have a significant impact on how companies operate their businesses.

IT managed-services provider (MSP) Pinnacle Technology Partners (PTP), which helps enterprises move workloads to the cloud, designs and implements IT architectures, and manages customer IT environments, uses a DPC platform from OpsRamp to improve its ability to manage multiple environments.

“Many organizations move to a DPC model to address challenges with application silos, infrastructure visibility, and operational maturity,” says Rick Pitcairn, vice president of managed services at PTP. “As an MSP, PTP’s challenges were very similar but multiplied across many customers with diverse infrastructures.”

The company was using legacy tools to monitor, manage and maintain customer environments from an operational perspective and had little visibility into application workflows and end-to-end performance.

“Multiple systems and tools were feeding many events into our operations center, leading to alert/event sprawl,” Pitcairn says. “Alert/event correlation was performed manually across multiple tools, and triage and remediation was taxing. At the time, we had limited ability to integrate these tools and pull data into a single platform.”

Specifically, customers were moving more workloads into the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud and PTP was unable to integrate its legacy tools with AWS, “which left us vulnerable on [the] cloud operations side as we could not capture critical data to enable our teams  to respond to cloud events, optimize cloud performance and cost, and maintain a holistic view across all cloud assets and customers,” Pitcairn says.

PTP implemented the OpsRamp platform for IT operations management to provide a single view of IT assets and their performance, including service maps for the availability of applications and critical services the company manages for its customers. It also uses the platform for event management and correlation, operational reporting and system health checks. But implementing it took a lot of work.

“It was a big undertaking; we essentially had to re-onboard each of our customers,” Pitcairn says. “This deployment took quite a bit of time as we installed new gateways for each of our clients, reconfigured devices to connect to the new platform and installed agents, as well as [provided] training for our team.”

It was worth the effort. “We now have a single pane of glass in place for [operations] management, which has led to a reduction in alert/noise by over 85%, allowing our teams to identify root cause faster, and remediate

failures across infrastructures and applications based on service maps and correlations,” Pitcairn says.

PTP has also reduced the time it takes to deliver operational reports and health checks to customers, while identifying trends and performance baselines to help its customers drive IT decisions.

“Implementing DPC and integrating with our cloud-optimization and security platform provides us additional views across all customers, their AWS/[Microsoft] Azure resource spend, and identifies gaps in their security posture,” Pitcairn  says. “We review this critical data and meet with customers monthly to optimize their costs and implement security best practices.”

Economic conditions are making DPC attractive.

Vendors say they are seeing an uptick in interest. “More and more customers are talking DCP, but they are not thinking about this as the single tool that replaces all tools,” Cyr says. “A DCP tool is an ‘and’ to what they already have today, layering on top and orchestrating –potentially leveraging a lot of what is already in place in their operational model. We hear most customers thinking about how this brings together their disjointed teams with a common picture from which they can work more efficiently.”

Schmidt adds, “We’re seeing mostly visionary C-level executives look holistically at DPC, but many companies look at the components separately. Because the enterprises who know the most about their usage across technology vendors are the ones who waste the least on IT, we are seeing increased interest.”

“Technology inventory and classification is foundational to all parts of DPC, and cost management is a critical way to fund strategic initiatives and do more with less,” Schmidt says. “Challenging economic times will likely drive demand further. We agree with Gartner, as companies get better at understanding things holistically, they’ll be more successful.”

A key dimension of growth for the market will be the aggregation of data across hybrid IT environments, from cloud to on-premises, rather than silos of data, Schmidt says. “We expect that data will then be repurposed to power a wide range of IT management solutions, including IT service management, IT operations management, security, procurement, IT financial management, and enterprise architecture, among others,” he says.

Oomnitza has seen a definite jump in demand for DPC as well as the number of use cases. “It helps enterprises to streamline complex IT workflows, increase efficiency and reduce manual tasks/tickets,” Ettehad says. “With tighter IT budgets and fewer skilled resources, companies across industries are embracing automation and looking to implement DPC solutions to improve their IT operations.”

The current macro-economic conditions are putting increasing pressure on IT leaders to coordinate and automate workflows such as employee IT offboarding across multiple systems and teams to improve security, compliance and IT finance efficiency, Ettehad says.

“With mounting layoffs, an overwhelming percentage of existing customers and prospects are implementing our DPC solution to orchestrate their [offboarding] process,” he says.

Automation is seen as a core solution to improving efficiency in every aspect of business, Ettehadsays. “Enterprises will expect DPC technology to progress automation in modern IT departments,” he says. “As such, we expect to see more out-of-the-box automation templates for key business processes delivered by DPC tools for executives and practitioners. With fewer skilled resources, DPC tools will have to provide no/low-code engines to enable IT teams and business units to accelerate the deployment of automated workflows and get faster time to value.”