I moderated a panel at the Open Networking User Group meeting held at UCSF Mission Bay San Francisco on April 26th, 2017, where the topic was Enterprise Workload Onboarding Challenges in Hybrid Cloud Environments. The panelists were Nivesh Gopathi of The Gap, Inc, Carlos Matos of Bank of America, Bruce Pinsky of Intuit, and Shafeeq Shaikh of GE Digital and Harmen Van der Linde of Citi.
The purpose of the panel was to distill the findings of a Hybrid Cloud Working Group, which discussed the various barriers to adopting a hybrid cloud, which is comprised of traditional on-premises resources along with one or more public cloud service providers. This group includes the members who work at the panelists’ firms as well as those from other industries such as finance, health care, industrial goods, logistics and delivery, pharmaceuticals, and retail.
The findings were separated into two areas:
- First time users who are still establishing a strategy.
- Mature enterprises that are focused on strategy and execution.
I found this separation interesting, since the we typically see cloud considerations separated between:
- Those that are responsible for legacy workloads with emphasis on predictability.
- New cloud native workloads that are open to exploratory methods for solving new problems.
But it’s fair enough to look at a time dimension as well as the workload dimension. These large enterprises have resources to look at new technologies but are burdened with a range of legacy infrastructure and applications, so while they can adopt cloud in specific areas, they also can’t adopt it wholesale like some cloud-native companies.
The list of barriers is short:
- First time adopters who are establishing a strategy: Education/training, security, compliance, TCO model, architectural design, and connectivity model.
- Mature, executing on strategy: Data portability, app architecture, app portability, data protection, identity, connectivity, and visibility.
Notice that the first-time users are concerned with the basics that any IT project needs to examine prior to adoption. The connectivity model is there since the core assumption of an on-premises data center needs to be revisited when using a cloud.
The mature enterprises have elements that are the most interesting to me. Two items that stuck out are:
- Connectivity is an issue in both first-time and mature adopters. This is an issue related to not only the location but also how each cloud provider has a different model for connections, addressing, VPNs, and other items.
- Portability is theme that occurs twice. This stems from a desire to run workloads in multiple locations, and they also recognize the issue of data gravity, where workloads tend to get attached to where the data resides.
The other items are all related to mission-critical workloads such as data protection, visibility, identity, and security.
This is not to say that once the enterprise is mature, the considerations related to first-time adopters go away. Issues related to training are just as relevant in production as they are for first-time adopters.
Simply speaking, these enterprises wanted to have their cake and eat it too. They want to adopt a rapidly evolving cloud ecosystem while still achieving vendor independence and avoiding lock-in. Lock-in can be avoided in mature, standards driven environments such as TCP/IP networking, but are inherently difficult to achieve when the solutions are still rapidly evolving. But it’s OK for them to ask for them, and see what the vendors say.
The sessions were followed by presentations by cloud vendors such as AWS, Equinix, IBM, and Microsoft Azure that were meant to address the obstacles. The presentations were not structured enough so they did not address the barriers point by point.
The enterprises wanted vendor independence, so almost by definition, many of the vendor offerings and features are at odds. There are some key items that do offer independence, such as support for a variety of guest operating systems or cloud application frameworks. Equinix, being a colocation provider, had a unique proposition of being neutral.
My take away from this session? The barriers are all valid and will inhibit rapid cloud adoption if not addressed. However, we must recognize that the dream of complete vendor independence and parity of features with traditional on-premises data centers is difficult to achieve during the early days of cloud computing. We need to keep the dialogue open, and look for not only the cloud providers but also the third-party solution providers to fill in the gaps.