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Why every CEO should be a dummy about hybrid cloud

October 28th, 2019

Executive Summary:
Hybrid clouds (IT resources hosted in one or more public clouds and at least one private cloud) will play an increasingly important role in business operations moving forward. CEOs, presidents, and business owners will benefit greatly from understanding the pros and cons of this new model, and how it may affect future business strategy.

One of the first lessons I learned from my sales coach, Dan Stalp with Sandler Sales Training, is that it’s good to be a dummy.

A “dummy” isn’t stupid. A dummy is smart enough to realize he or she doesn’t have all the answers. A dummy is always ready to learn. A dummy knows how to ask the right questions.

This was a valuable insight for me. I started out as a computer and networking expert, and like a lot of IT engineers, I wanted to be the smartest guy in the room. When I began running my own organization, however, I learned the key skill was identifying the smartest “guy” in any room, and learning from him or her.

Perhaps that’s why I have long been a fan of the “Dummies…” series of training materials (originally published by IDG Books, now by John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) Using a well-designed, standardized format, these materials are excellent at boiling down a complex subject and presenting an easy-to-understand overview. They are a great way to become conversant in an important topic, so you can start asking good questions.

Last year, Wiley teamed-up with Red Hat and Intel to release a short .PDF entitled “Hybrid Cloud Strategy for Dummies.” If you are a CEO, president, or business owner who wants to move your organization into the cloud, this document may be a valuable resource.

In part, “Hybrid Cloud Strategy for Dummies” is an advertisement for Cloudforms, Red Hat’s “single-pane-of-glass” cloud management tool. This, however, is very minimal. For the most part, it’s an excellent high-level overview of the challenges and rewards involved in developing a business strategy for hybrid cloud-computing. I encourage any CEO with cloud-computing needs to review it. Below is a brief summary of what it covers:

What is hybrid cloud?
By now, most CEOs are probably familiar with the public clouds (at least Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.) Some may have a good understanding of the private cloud model as well.

If you run a private cloud, you may have already learned that it’s difficult to entirely eliminate dependence on all public cloud resources. Even if you have no private cloud, you still probably have a footprint in two (or more!) public clouds. “Hybrid Cloud Strategy for Dummies” calls this heterogeneous model “hybrid cloud” (or, if no private cloud resources are involved, “multi-cloud”.) Spreading your cloud-computing around like this can have advantages, but it can also result in some nasty billing surprises if it’s not planned and deployed correctly.

Cloud strategy basics
The document does a good job outlining a “measure twice, cut once” approaching to planning and deployment that can help organizations avoid unexpected cost over-runs. It touches on formulating cloud strategy goals, planning for flexibility as the project develops, and assessing outcomes to confirm success. If you do nothing more, conducing an initial strategy session with your executive team focusing on these best practices can save you time, money, and heartache on almost any cloud deployment.

Infrastructure-as-code
Many IT departments — even those experienced in virtualization — have a hard time adopting the concepts governing virtual infrastructure in the cloud. Moving to the cloud without making this shift is worse than staying where you are. A legacy IT operation transported as-is into a cloud environment is a money pit. The key to making the shift is grasping the idea of “infrastructure-as-code.” This section does a good job explaining the infrastructure-as-code concept and why it’s important for a cloud environment. Your IT director and your development director should both read this part of the document. Twice.

Snowflake servers and Phoenix servers
Radical server standardization is central to making infrastructure-as-code work. Learn the important distinction between “snowflake” servers that require continual manual intervention, and “phoenix” servers that you can deploy once and forget. When a change is required, simply deploy updated instances of those same servers and delete the previous instances.

Unified IT Management
Finally, if your IT resources are spread across multiple clouds (both public and private) you’re going to need a central location to manage all of it. This is where Red Hat really wants you to look at Cloudforms, but there are a variety of single-pane-of-glass cloud management systems to choose from. This section explains why you may want to do a proof-of-concept and set aside a budget for this type of management capability.

The topics covered in this document are relevant for any organization thinking of investing in public or private cloud resources. It’s certainly worth a 25–30 minute read to get up-to-speed on the subject and the critical implications for your business strategy going forward. Take time to check it out with your team.

Next Steps:
Share With — 
CTO, IT Director, Development Director

Action Items — 
• Define IT strategic goals
• Conduct gap analysis regarding current IT outcomes
• Assess cloud strategy needs

Brian S. Pauls is the founder and vCTO of Cloudessy. He likes hybrids everywhere but in his garden.

Everything you think you know about AWS is wrong

December 10th, 2016

If you are like most people, you probably thought something like this the first time you encountered Amazon Web Services (AWS):

“Wow. A completely virtualized data center in the Cloud? How cool is that?”

And then, you may have crunched the numbers, compared them to the cost of your on-premise servers or your legacy (physical) data center downtown, and thought:

“Whoa! I’m going to be paying how much to host my virtualized Windows servers at AWS? I can buy a physical server a lot cheaper for a one-time cost, and the data center will lease me a whole rack for a fixed monthly price, where I can host all the servers I will ever need. No thank you!”

I have known a number of intelligent, well-informed, and highly technical people who have thought the same thing. If this was you, then you would be in good company. You would also be wrong.

Please don’t be offended. I thought the same thing. If you try to do a straight apples-to-apples comparison between your legacy servers and AWS, then AWS does appear to be more expensive.

The reason I was wrong (and you are too) is that you can’t do a straight apples-to-apples comparison. AWS is not your legacy server farm, or your legacy data center. It doesn’t function like your physical servers, and you can’t price it the same way. Well you can, but if you do, you will miss the point — and probably cost yourself a lot of money in the long run.

Let me try to provide a helpful analogy. Some of you reading this may be old enough to remember when “spreadsheets” weren’t computer programs — they were rows and columns of numbers literally “spread” across the facing pages of an accounting ledger. There were obvious advantages to taking these bulky, awkward, physical artifacts and virtualizing them as digital representations which could be stored on a portable disk. Anyone who has ever used Microsoft Excel, however, knows that a modern spreadsheet is much more than this. With the advent of computer spreadsheets, users were able to embed into the sheets mathematical formulae they were previously required to solve themselves. Eventually, users were able to cross-link different spreadsheets with one another. These advances automated much of the repetitive calculation that went into an accounting ledger. This made computer spreadsheets an exponential, not a linear, advance over paper. Today, we can use spreadsheets to perform tasks that were impossible — not just impractical — before computers. The spreadsheet didn’t just make accounting operations more efficient — it completely changed the accounting landscape.

This is the scale of the change AWS is bringing to the IT industry. AWS is not a datacenter — or rather, AWS is not just a data center. You can make the argument that EC2, the AWS service for hosting server instances, is a virtual data-center — but that argument still misses the point. EC2 instances are powerful, not because they are in the Cloud, but because (in the words of a friend of mine) these servers are code. They are ephemeral, to be created for a particular purpose and destroyed as needed when that purpose has been fulfilled. This is so far beyond the capabilities of a traditional data center it makes the move from accounting ledgers to computer spreadsheets appear trivial by comparison.

The flexibility and power of EC2, however, is just the tip of the AWS iceberg. EC2 is only one of dozens of AWS services, most of which have nothing to do with hosting server instances, and which cannot be compared in any way to a data center:

  • Relational Database Service: Host your MS SQL, MySQL or Oracle database directly, no server required (of course there is a server, but you never see it — which means you don’t have to install, configure, maintain, or manage it.)
  • RedShift: Data-warehousing service allowing you to store petabytes of information for the purpose of in-depth analytics
  • Quicksight: Carry out the in-depth analytics appropriate to your organization on the data you have stored.
  • Elastic Beanstalk: Build scalable Web applications.
  • CloudFront: Efficiently distribute your scalable Web applications to a global user-base.
  • CloudWatch: Monitor your usage across the wide array of AWS services.

This is just a small sampling of the AWS ecosystem. These services can tie-into one another, leveraging their various capabilities to produce immensely powerful operational environments. Some services eliminate the need for entire classes of server — reducing (or potentially even eliminating) the need for your datacenter, rather than just moving it into the Cloud.

It’s provocative to say “Everything you know about AWS is wrong.” This is obviously an exaggeration. Perhaps, however, the way you are thinking about AWS is wrong. The words “paradigm shift” get thrown around too readily, but they are the simple truth in this case. AWS is positioned to eliminate datacenters, and even servers, at the level of the individual organization. It provides companies of all sizes with capabilities that were formerly available to only the largest enterprises — or in some cases weren’t available at all, because those capabilities didn’t exist.

The sooner we recognize the IT landscape has completely changed, the sooner we can take advantage of what the new IT world has to offer.

Or we could just keep doing our calculations on paper…

Brian S. Pauls has over 20 years of experience navigating the rapid pace of change in computers, networks, and the Internet. He has found that getting it wrong is often the quickest path to getting it right.

This is a companion piece to his article “Amazon is changing the world with a platform you’ve never heard of.”