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App Modernization on a VMware Multi-Cloud Architecture (Part 1 of 3)

Achieving a multi-cloud that supports high levels of application interoperability has never been easy.  In this series, VMware Chief Technologist Martin Hosken discusses the fastest and simplest way to achieve seamless cross cloud development for both traditional and modern apps.

Welcome to the world of multi-cloud

In the world as we used to know it, when Amazon sold books and Microsoft software came in a box stuffed full of floppy disks, enterprise applications typically ran in a central, on-premises data center. Fast forward 25 years to a time when application growth is unprecedented and enterprise applications run from a wide range of cloud endpoints – some public, some private, some via SaaS delivery, some managed by you, some unmanaged by others and so forth. Welcome to the world of multi-cloud.

Currently, every industry trend report identifies multi-cloud as a key strategy for most large organizations. However, as you already know or will soon come to know, this operating model brings with it a wide range of new challenges that must be addressed by IT leaders if this application delivery model is going to prove sustainable.

So why are businesses adopting this strategy, and, as illustrated in Figure 1 below, why does hybrid cloud represent the most desired end state for so many organizations? To answer these questions, let’s start by taking a look at why organizations are increasingly using multiple private and public clouds in combination to deploy their applications.

Figure 1 Multi-cloud Growth

Multi-cloud drivers

While there is a school of thought that thinks the only true way to deliver next-gen applications is to take advantage of a cloud provider’s higher-level services, for many organizations cloud provider lock-in is a key concern. The desire to avoid becoming locked into a specific public cloud provider’s proprietary services and pricing model often drives organizations to look at how they can diversify their use of cloud environments.

This motivation, avoiding lock-in, is also present when it comes to considerations about where to build cloud native services based on containers, microservices and Kubernetes.  While these technologies are based on open sourced components and designed to be portable, they are also being implemented by public cloud providers in ways that try and make their platform ‘sticky.’ Cloud providers seek to provide cloud services that differentiate their offerings but also tie the customer to their cloud platform, which makes application portability challenging.

Another key driver of multi-cloud use is shadow IT, where technology is being adopted by business units independently of any governance from a central team concerned with the needs of the overall enterprise. Different preferences exist among business units for higher-level cloud services that will integrate with existing applications and accomplish specific tasks in areas such as Machine Learning, Artificial Intelligence or Internet of Things. This in turn results in an organization needing to use multiple cloud providers to meet the combined needs of all business units.

Compliance requirements, such as the European Union’s GDPR, will often require customer data to be held in specific regions. The implementation of this requirement often leads to a multi-cloud use scenario where data is hosted in locations that satisfy GDPR requirements while application code is hosted elsewhere. Finally, application resilience and the protection offered from outages by not having everything running in one location, or even one public cloud, leads to multi-cloud use as well.

Figure 2 Why Are Organizations Adopting This Strategy?

Multi-cloud operations means tackling significant complexity

As I mentioned earlier, a multi-cloud strategy brings with it a range of management headaches and several difficult challenges for organizations. Each public cloud embodies a unique interaction model with different ways for end users to authenticate and to then to consume, request or modify a service or application.  Each cloud also comes with a unique set of API surfaces. For most businesses this becomes a balancing act of weighing up the benefits of adopting multi-cloud technologies versus the burden of supporting them.

These challenges are exacerbated also by a lack of comprehensive multi-cloud tooling, meaning that most of the management tools used by cloud operational teams are provided by the public cloud provider that the is hosting the application. While these tools work well for a single public cloud endpoint, they typically cannot address operational use cases that run across multiple public clouds.

Another key challenge for organizations who consume multiple public clouds is the operational overhead of maintaining common governance, security and compliance models across this complex multi-cloud environment. This is such an important aspect of running a modern business, many organizations are realizing that they would like a single, more unified approach to meet these often legally required controls.

Maintaining skill sets in the fast-changing world of cloud and the ability to train operational teams to operate multiple public clouds puts a lot of pressure on cloud operational teams. In addition to this, simply onboarding a new team member and getting them up to speed with all the diverse sets of skills required takes longer, is harder and adds significant risk to the day-to-day operations with each cloud added to the mix.

Hybrid cloud is motivated by multi-cloud complexity

To simplify multi-cloud complexity, organizations are beginning to adopt a hybrid cloud model. Before we go too far with this topic, it is important to ensure we are aligned on terminology and the differences between multi-cloud and hybrid cloud.

As illustrated in figure 3, multi-cloud is a strategy which aims to describe how organizations use multiple cloud providers to meet diverse technical and business requirements. The term hybrid-cloud is generally used to describe the combination of private and public cloud infrastructure, where private is either on-premises or hosted in a colocation facility and public cloud infrastructure is provided by one or more hyperscaler clouds. In a hybrid cloud scenario, common management and orchestration tools are used to deploy workloads and maintain the balance between the two as well.

Figure 3 Enterprise Customer Multi-Cloud Strategy

Hybrid cloud is attractive because many businesses would really like to modernize at their own pace and would like to be able to find a way to do so starting with their own data center. They would rather do this than be under pressure to move everything to the public cloud as quickly as possible, which can be very risky from multiple perspectives. Also, many organizations are looking for a more granular step-by-step journey towards modernizing applications while gaining many of the benefits of running in the cloud and also maintaining workloads under a single governance of control.

A hybrid cloud delivers on this idea by creating a bridge between your own on-premises environment and one or more public or hosted cloud environments. This model often includes employing public cloud resources for regular or occasional bursts of compute and/or storage capacity, for instance, adding capacity on-demand to provide additional resources for end-of-quarter batch processing or seasonal bursts in website utilization.

Hybrid Cloud – What does it mean to your organization?
There is no doubt that the term hybrid cloud is one of the most widely used phrases related to modern infrastructure technology and can be, and often is, used to describe many different scenarios that  can mean different things to different organizations. What I know is this: there is a common desire amongst organizations of all sizes to run applications in the most appropriate setting for that application type and to have the flexibility to move applications should a good enough business or technical reason come about later.

While flexibility and choice are key for businesses, we now appear to live in an age of overloaded terms and ambiguity when it comes to technology areas such as the cloud. Every vendor in the industry is keen to promise a utopian vision of an easy path towards cloud or digital transformation. So how can businesses separate reality from hype, and how can they maintain a grounded approach that supports smart decision making as it relates to executing strategies around application modernization and multi-cloud use?

The goal for the remainder of this blog series is to help customers navigate and better understand the options available. As illustrated in Figure 4 below, in this seemingly ever evolving world of Hybrid Cloud, the options for customers appear to be endless. So, whether it’s Google Cloud VMware Engine, Azure VMware Solutions or VMware Cloud™ on AWS, we’ll address the differentiating factors of each of the options. Regardless of the service being available directly from VMware or one of its public cloud partners, I am aiming to provide enough information to help organizations find the correct fit for their business and strategic technical goals.

Figure 4 The Choice of Hybrid Cloud Solutions

As illustrated in the figure above, VMware offer a wide range of hybrid cloud options through two different delivery models. VMware Cloud on AWS is sold and operated by VMware while all the others shown are built, sold and operated by VMware cloud partners.  What makes these solutions a hybrid cloud is their ability to blur the lines between applications, infrastructure, hardware resources, support operations and management. The primary aim of any hybrid cloud should be to:

  • Simplify access to resources
  • Provide the business faster time to market
  • Offer more geographic options faster
  • Create a global architecture and treat it like any other physical location

Having a hybrid cloud that is based on a common platform provides a wide range of additional benefits, which can include seamless application mobility, common networking, transparent management and governance. This in turn gives us a far simpler state of consistent operation and automation for both virtual machines and containers and is the desired end state for most organizations.

Benefits of a homogeneous approach

A homogeneous VMware hybrid cloud provides the native form of the model by delivering a service that is a natural extension to customers’ existing data centers. In this architecture we are talking about using the same platform that you use for on-premises being extended for use as a hybrid cloud, through the consumption of resources on public cloud.

Through the use of VMware Cloud Foundation, customers can implement a network integration scheme that allows you to move your workloads from private to public and back with ease. The aim is that the public cloud is simply another deployment target within your “virtual” data center. This has the key advantage that applications don’t need to be modified when moved into the public cloud and new and existing apps can be deployed on the same common platform. In addition, because the entire hybrid cloud is built on vSphere, it can take advantage of the over 90 different guest operating systems supported and the more than 500 applications that it supports, not something seen natively on the hyperscale public clouds.

Figure 5 Homogeneous Cloud Architecture

This hybrid cloud experience might also include the ability to extend networking rules from on-premises to public cloud, and by providing a common management and orchestration platform there is no need to learn a whole new skillset. You can continue to use the same tools with which your operators are already familiar. This can also help to address the gap between the business and IT as IT can remain in control using all the same procedures and management processes they have worked with previously and the line of business can get to the cloud faster without having to re-architect the application.

In summary, this ‘homogeneous’ approach to cloud facilitates far better control of data and simplifies a wide range of operational factors, such as access, performance, availability, security, data protection and governance. This is a good place to stop. In the next couple of blogs, I’ll look at how you extend the concept of a hybrid cloud even further so that you can get the most value out each and every cloud you choose to utilize in your multi-cloud environment.

Learn More

Interested in learning more about how VMware can help you architect a multi-cloud solution for your organization.  Check out these two resources:

  • Looking to better understand VMware’s unique approach to multi-cloud architecture? Get the definitive guide here.
  • VMware Multi-Cloud Podcast: This Podcast series on SoundCloud interviews VMware technical leaders and explores how VMware Cloud offerings can help you architect a multi-cloud environment that accelerates application modernization across a multi-cloud landscape.
  • VMware Cloud on AWS Reference Architectures: This collection of reference architectures details how to deploy various application and hardware stacks in a hybrid cloud model that includes VMware and AWS technologies.