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DIY hybrid cloud: Blending tools and services that work best for you

Whether it’s hybrid cars, the half-vampire, half-Lycan from the Underworld movies, or Matt Damon’s exoskeleton in “Elysium,” popular media tells us that hybrids are better and the enterprise seems to agree. Hybrid cars are a great comparison, and if you look at the cloud as your battery, on-premises is definitely your petrol engine. Now, while it’s great to have an electric-powered motor, it also feels good to have that gasoline engine as backup. Similarly, it’s a great load off your resources to have everything running in the cloud although there are some things that would help you sleep better at night knowing are still on-premises.

This is probably the reason why over 73 percent of the enterprise prefers a hybrid cloud and the main reason why most companies have not made the migration yet. Not being in the cloud in today’s day and age is a major opportunity cost for enterprises as cloud computing isn’t just about scale and elasticity but also about being available at multiple locations in close proximity to the users. This is also the reason a lot of enterprises are still actively looking for good hybrid platforms to build on.

The DIY cloud

Building a hybrid cloud, which according to the ONUG (who we will discuss later) is the “only” type of cloud, involves blending the right tools and services into exactly what works best for you. There isn’t a lot of support for this hybrid architecture, and while enterprises like Microsoft and VMware are working hard at it, they still have a lot to do. The popular choice for hybrid cloud right now is a combination of one or more public clouds with a private cloud in the mix to achieve the optimum in cost, reliability, scalability, and security. As mentioned earlier, while both Microsoft and VMware are working hard to fill this gap by offering platforms that allow you to address public and private clouds together as a single datacenter, the solutions are still proprietary to their own networks. In a day and age where all the top enterprise companies of the world are supporting open source, the last thing an enterprise wants to do is get locked into one vendor platform while making the transition to the cloud.

Anyone reading this is probably going to figure out that the story is leading in one direction and that’s toward containers and their enabling technologies. Yes, containers are a great way to run a hybrid cloud setup, but despite the fact that containers, orchestration engines and hybrid clouds have been around for a while, there's still no out-of-the-box platform or tool that fully abstracts users from the complexity of container configurations and architecture. In other words, today, this is still very much DIY.

A DIY kit from the CNCF

Most IT companies are usually more than in touch with technology and know that there’s enough open source code out there today to do pretty much anything you want as long as you take the trouble to look for it. With the Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), you don’t even need to look for it, and everything you need to build and run containers curated and neatly packaged with labels and ribbons. Though it’s tempting to think these tools are only useful to environments that run completely on containers, success stories attached to containerizing legacy applications to work alongside containers says otherwise. Most legacy apps that do decide to go the Docker way are quick to understand the benefits of cost savings, DevOps culture, and infrastructure portability benefits that come along with it.

The enterprise wants hybrid

The way you have the CNCF as the guardians and curators of open source cloud native tools, there’s a foundation looking out for the interests of the hybrid cloud as well, and it’s called the Open Networking User Group (ONUG). However, they don’t guard or curate code but rather exist to pressurize IT vendors to create solutions that actually solve their problems. This is how big a problem cross-cloud compatibility and the lack of support for hybrid cloud architecture is that there’s an entire foundation in place to show their unhappiness. ONUG was created in early 2012 when public cloud providers persuaded C-level executives to move significant corporate workloads to the cloud but later realized that tools weren't there to make it work. In the words of Nick Lippis, co-founder and co-chairman of ONUG; “there was a ton of custom work that still had to be done”.

ONUG group members collectively decided to pursue a hybrid cloud infrastructure because there’s still a lot missing from public cloud computing in terms of standard APIs, security, monitoring tools, and IT skills. As many businesses have discovered, it’s no easy feat to extend on-premises infrastructure to the cloud for critical workloads, and the ONUG's mission has become to steer the IT industry toward open technologies that meet the real needs of enterprises and help the industry develop them. The ONUG has brought together all the main vendors, cloud providers, and users to work together with the ultimate goal of automating hybrid-cloud infrastructure. Today, the ONUG board has grown to include Bank of America, BNY Mellon, Cigna, Citigroup, Credit Suisse, FedEx, Fidelity, Gap, GE, Intuit, JPMorgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, Pfizer, UBS, Yahoo, and The Lippis Report.

Open source hybrid containers

As far as open source hybrid platforms go, there are a few options out there, though they aren’t exactly plug-and-play and do require some (extensive) messing around with.

Red Hat is one enterprise that continues to work on and add to its open source hybrid platform called OpenShift. The new OpenShift Container Platform 3.4 provides enterprises with the ability to use Docker containers and the Kubernetes orchestration platform to allocate resources across public and private clouds. In addition, Ranga Rangachari, VP and GM of Red Hat storage, was quoted at the Red Hat summit in May saying, “Today’s developers and users want elastic storage capacity to be immediately available in multiple environments, and they can’t afford to be distracted by the operational realities.”

This was while announcing Red Hat Gluster Storage, which is a software-defined storage from Red Hat that works with OpenShift to provide automated storage provisioning across bare-metal, containers, VMs, and public and private clouds. In addition, Red Hat also offers an Ansible Playbook for constructing a Red Hat OpenShift Container Platform cluster on AWS with container-native Red Hat Gluster Storage to help customers become operational more quickly.

Another good open source hybrid platform is called Cloudify, which is an open source TOSCA-based (Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications) cloud management platform, built with orchestration and microservice management in mind. Cloudify makes it possible for IT and developers to work together on a single hybrid platform while managing and automating the entire lifecycle of an application. Cloudify also provides a container orchestration system that allows container-based applications to run alongside traditional applications. This includes both stateful and non-stateful services and is made possible by a single application blueprint or controller that developers model their topology on using YAML and then deploy to the infrastructure of their choice. This is especially useful when you’re extending your on-premises infrastructure to the cloud and have legacy tools running alongside modern cloud applications.

A work in progress

As mentioned earlier, there’s still a lot of work involved in getting a hybrid platform like OpenShift or Cloudify to work for you, and you’re probably going to have to spend a lot of time to integrating the containers, the orchestration engine, and the applications themselves. While solutions, upgrades, and improvements are inevitable, there’s no escaping workload-specific issues that enterprises will have to learn to solve themselves. An example would be reworking networking features that are native to any particular cloud platform.

While there’s no doubt that the hybrid cloud is the unanimous choice of the enterprise, container orchestration and management like Kubernetes is probably at the top of the list of things making the open source hybrid cloud a reality.

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