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Cloud services: Don’t ‘set it and forget it’

While a hybrid cloud IT environment creates many business benefits, it requires more care and watering, so to speak, than you might assume. Here’s how to deal with the extra technical complexities and develop specific skills to manage those complexities.

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I’m a sucker for infomercials.

As a frequent insomniac, I’ve discovered that few things give me a better chance of actually getting some sleep at night than finding one of those half-hour commercials on TV.

One of my all-time favourites is the one for the Showtime Rotisserie and BBQ. As everyone remembers, pitchman Ron Popeil’s constant tag line is “set it and forget it.” The trouble is, you can’t really just set the timer on the thing and completely forget about it.

As one buyer recounted on, “I was cooking a roast and the next thing I knew, it started on fire.” After discovering “the whole machine was engulfed in flames,” another customer commented on the same site, “I’m now afraid to use the machine and ‘set it and forget it.’”

Silly consumers! As with any product, you’ve got to read the fine print. Right there in the operation manual for Ronco’s rotating bird baker is this warning: “PLEASE DON’T TAKE ‘SET IT AND FORGET IT’ LITERALLY. Always use caution and check on your rotisserie from time to time.”

To be fair, most users are extremely happy with their Ronco rotisserie. Based on more than 800 reviews, it has an average customer rating of 4.6 starts out of five on Amazon. Although the appliance works well, like any product, you have to properly monitor and maintain it.

You can’t just ‘set it and forget it’ when it comes to cloud services, either. In a recent survey of 868 IT professionals in eight countries (including the U.S. and Canada), SolarWinds found that while a hybrid cloud IT environment creates many business benefits, it requires more care and watering, so to speak, than you might assume.

Overall, cloud has been a positive addition to most organizations. Nearly 60 per cent of those surveyed have reaped the expected benefits of cloud, such as cost efficiency, availability and scalability. Yet having one foot in the cloud and the other on-premise creates challenges.

For one thing, moving stuff to the cloud doesn’t always simplify things. One of the top concerns cited in the survey is “increased infrastructure complexity.” No wonder, given that 70 per cent of those polled said they use up to three cloud providers — and 10 per cent use 10 or more cloud vendors. As a result, the report suggests hybrid IT is “introducing challenges such as a lack of visibility between on-premises and cloud infrastructure.”

Ultimately, more than one-third (35 per cent) of respondents ended up bringing assets they’d moved to the cloud back to on-premise, mainly due to “security/compliance issues and poor performance.”

This type of statistic “shouldn’t be a surprise but it is, because organizations tend to go into (cloud) seeing it as an Easy Button. It’s easy to take out a credit card and provision services,” says Kong Yang, whose official title at SolarWinds is head geek of virtualization management.

“Most (organizations) say cloud, cloud, cloud, that’s somebody else’s service, let someone else worry about that,” he says over the phone from his office in Austin. “But you still have to design the architecture to deal with that.”

As Ron Popeil says in the infomercial, “but wait, there’s more!” When hybrid IT creates these new layers of technical complexity, it obviously places new demands on the skills and staffing levels of IT teams as well.

In the survey:

  • 46 per cent of IT pros said hybrid cloud has increased their workload and responsibility levels
  • 36 per cent have had to hire someone new or reassign existing staff specifically to manage cloud-related technologies
  • 63 per cent said the biggest challenge of hybrid IT is a skills gap among their tech teams

Yang has some tips to a) deal with the extra technical complexities of a hybrid IT environment, and b) develop specific skills required to manage them.

Centralize the view: Many hybrid IT organizations need a management toolset providing “a single point of truth across these (various cloud) platforms” for monitoring and troubleshooting.

Hone IT skills: Skills needed in a hybrid environment involve monitoring/management tools and metrics, application migration, automation, data analytics, software-defined constructs, containers, microservices and serverless architecture. Treat monitoring as a “foundational IT function” versus just another small task.

Spread it out: Architect multi-region or multi-cloud strategies to avoid catastrophic downtime due to a single point of failure if one provider or region is down; use distributed systems to spread the workload across various regions.

Consuming cloud services is “much easier than if IT was to provide it themselves,” says Yang. “But you’re going to be responsible for it, regardless of whether it’s somebody else’s infrastructure or yours.”

Even with hybrid IT, you still have to monitor and manage the cloud. If not, you could get burned.

Image: iStock

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