A discussion on how a massive corporate split led to the re-architecting and modernizing of IT to allow for the right data center choices at the right price over time.
The next BriefingsDirect cloud deployment strategies interview explores how public cloud adoption is not reaching its potential due to outdated behaviors and persistent dissonance between what businesses can do and will do with cloud strengths.
Many of our ongoing hybrid IT and cloud computing discussions focus on infrastructure trends that support the evolving hybrid IT continuum. Today’s focus shifts to behavior -- how individuals and groups, both large and small, benefit from cloud adoption.
It turns out that a dark side to cloud points to a lackluster business outcome trend. A large part of the disappointment has to do with outdated behaviors and persistent dissonance between what line of business (LOB) practitioners can do and will do with their newfound cloud strengths.
We’ll now hear from an observer of worldwide cloud adoption patterns on why making cloud models a meaningful business benefit rests more with adjusting the wetware than any other variable.
Here to help explore why cloud failures and cost overruns are dogging many enterprises is Robert Christiansen, Vice President, Global Delivery, Cloud Professional Services and Innovation at Cloud Technology Partners (CTP), a Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) company. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: What is happening now with the adoption of cloud that makes the issue of how people react such a pressing concern? What’s bringing this to a head now?
Christiansen: Enterprises are on a cloud journey. They have begun their investment, they recognize that agility is a mandate for them, and they want to get those teams rolling. They have already done that to some degree and extent. They may be moving a few applications, or they may be doing wholesale shutdowns of data centers. They are in lots of different phases in adoption situations.
What we are seeing is a lack of progress with regard to the speed and momentum of the adoption of applications into public clouds. It’s going a little slower than they’d like.
Gardner: We have been through many evolutions, generations, and even step-changes in technology. Most of them have been in a progressive direction. Why are we catching our heels now?
Christiansen: Cloud is a completely different modality, Dana. One of the things that we have learned here is that adoption of infrastructure that can be built from the ground-up using software is a whole other way of thinking that has never really been the core bread-and-butter of an infrastructure or a central IT team. So, the thinking and the process -- the ability to change things on the fly from an infrastructure point of view -- is just a brand new way of doing things.
And we have had various fits and starts around technology adoption throughout history, but nothing at this level. The tool kits available today have completely changed and redefined how we go about doing this stuff.
Gardner: We are not just changing a deployment pattern, we are reinventing the concept of an application. Instead of monolithic applications and systems of record that people get trained on and line up around, we are decomposing processes into services that require working across organizational boundaries. The users can also access data and insights in ways they never had before. So that really is something quite different. Even the concept of an application is up for grabs.
Christiansen: Well, think about this. Historically, an application team or a business unit, let’s say in a bank, said, “Hey, I see an opportunity to reinvent how we do funding for auto loans.”
We worked with a company that did this. And historically, they would have had to jump through a bunch of hoops. They would justify the investment of buying new infrastructure, set up the various components necessary, maybe landing new hardware in the organization, and going into the procurement process for all of that. Typically, in the financial world, it takes months to make that happen.
Today, that same team using a very small investment can stand up a highly available redundant data center in less than a day on a public cloud. In less than a day, using a software-defined framework. And now they can go iterate and test and have very low risk to see if the marketplace is willing to accept the kind of solution they want to offer.
And that just blows apart the procedural-based thinking that we have had up to this point; it just blows it apart. And that thinking, that way of looking at stuff is foreign to most central IT people. Because of that emotion, going to the cloud has come in fits and starts. Some people are doing it really well, but a majority of them are struggling because of the people issue.
Gardner: It seems ironic, Robert, because typically when you run into too much of a good thing, you slap on governance and put in central command and control, and you throttle it back. But that approach subverts the benefits, too.
How do you find a happy medium? Or is there such a thing as a happy medium when it comes to moderating and governing cloud adoption?
Christiansen: That’s where the real rub is, Dana. Let’s give it an analogy. At Cloud Technology Partners (CTP), we do cloud adoption workshops where we bring in all the various teams and try to knock down the silos. They get into these conversations to address exactly what you just said. “How do we put governance in place without getting in the way of innovation?”
It’s a huge, huge problem, because the central IT team’s whole job is to protect the brand of the company and keep the client data safe. They provide the infrastructure necessary for the teams to go out and do what they need to do.
When you have a structure like that but supplied by the public clouds like Amazon (AWS), Google, and Microsoft Azure, you still have the ability to put in a lot of those controls in the software. Before it was done either manually or at least semi-manually.
The central IT team's whole job is to protect the brand of the company and keep the client data safe. They provide the infrastructure necessary for the teams to go out and do what they need to do.
The challenge is that the central IT teams are not necessarily set up with the skills to make that happen. They are not by nature software development people. They are hardware people. They are rack and stack people. They are people who understand how to stitch this stuff together -- and they may use some automation. But as a whole it’s never been their core competency. So therein lies the rub: How do you convert these teams over to think in that new way?
At the same time, you have the pressing issue of, “Am I going to automate myself right out of a job?” That’s the other part, right? That’s the big, 800-pound gorilla sitting in the corner that no one wants to talk about. How do you deal with that?
Gardner: Are we talking about private cloud, public cloud, hybrid cloud, hybrid IT -- all the above when it comes to these trends?
Christiansen: It’s mostly public cloud that you see the perceived threats. The public cloud is perceived as a threat to the current way of doing IT today, if you are an internal IT person.
Let’s say that you are a classic compute and management person. You actually split across both storage and compute, and you are able to manage and handle a lot of those infrastructure servers and storage solutions for your organization. You may be part of a team of 50 in a data center or for a couple of data centers. Many of those classic roles literally go away with a public cloud implementation. You just don’t need them. So these folks need to pivot or change into new roles or reinvent themselves.
Let’s say you’re the director of that group and you happen to be five years away from retirement. This actually happened to me, by the way. There is no way these folks want to give up the range right before their retirement. They don’t want to reinvent their roles just before they’re going to go into their last years.
They literally said to me, “I am not changing my career this far into it for the sake of a public cloud reinvention.” They are hunkering down, building up the walls, and slowing the process. This seems to be an undercurrent in a number of areas where people just don’t want to change. They don’t want any differences.
Gardner: Just to play the devil’s advocate, when you hear things around serverless, when we see more operations automation, when we see artificial intelligence (AI)Ops use AI and machine learning (ML) -- it does get sort of scary.
You’re handing over big decisions within an IT environment on whether to use public or private, some combination, or multicloud in some combination. These capabilities are coming into fruition.
Maybe we do need to step back and ask, “Just because you can do something, should you?” Isn’t that more than just protecting my career? Isn’t there a need for careful consideration before we leap into some of these major new trends?
Transform fear into function
Christiansen: Of course, yeah. It’s a hybrid world. There are applications where it may not make sense to be in the public cloud. There are legacy applications. There are what I call centers of gravity that are database-centric; the business runs on them. Moving them and doing a big lift over to a public cloud platform may not make financial sense. There is no real benefit to it to make that happen. We are going to be living between an on-premises and a public cloud environment for quite some time.
The challenge is that people want to create a holistic view of all of that. How do I govern it in one view and under one strategy? And that requires a lot of what you are talking about, being more cautious going forward.
And that’s a big part of what we have done at CTP. We help people establish that governance framework, of how to put automation in place to pull these two worlds together, and to make it more seamless. How do you network between the two environments? How do you create low-latency communications between your sources of data and your sources of truth? Making that happen is what we have been doing for the last five or six years.
We help establish that governance framework, of how to put automation in place to pull these two worlds together, and to make it more seamless.
The challenge we have, Dana, is that once we have established that -- we call that methodology the Minimum Viable Cloud (MVC). And after you put all of that structure, rigor, and security in place -- we still run into the problems of motion and momentum. Those needed governance frameworks are well-established.
Gardner: Before we dig into why the cloud adoption inertia still exists, let’s hear more about CTP. You were acquired by HPE not that long ago. Tell us about your role and how that fits into HPE.
CTP: A cloud pioneer
Christiansen: CTP was established in 2010. Originally, we were doing mostly private cloud, OpenStack stuff, and we did that for about two to three years, up to 2013.
I am one of the first 20 employees. It’s a Boston-based company, and I came over with the intent to bring more public cloud into the practice. We were seeing a lot of uptick at the time. I had just come out of another company called Cloud Nation that I owned. I sold that company; it was an Amazon-based, Citrix-for-rent company. So imagine, if you would, you swipe a credit card and you get NetScaler, XenApp and XenDesktop running on top of AWS way back in 2012 and 2013.
I sold that company, and I joined CTP. We grew the practice of public cloud on Google, Azure, and AWS over those years and we became the leading cloud-enabled professional services organization in the world.
We were purchased by HPE in October 2017, and my role since that time is to educate, evangelize, and press deeply into the methodologies for adopting public cloud in a holistic way so it works well with what people have on-premises. That includes the technologies, economics, strategies, organizational change, people, security, and establishing a DevOps practice in the organization. These are all within our world.
We do consultancy and professional services advisory types of things, but on the same coin, we flip it over, and we have a very large group of engineers and architects who are excellent on keyboards. These are the people who actually write software code to help make a lot of this stuff automated to move people to the public clouds. That’s what we are doing to this day.
Gardner: We recognize that cloud adoption is a step-change, not an iteration in the evolution of computing. This is not going from client/server to web apps and then to N-Tier architectures. We are bringing services and processes into a company in a whole new way and refactoring that company. If you don’t, the competition or a new upstart unicorn company is going to eat your lunch. We certainly have seen plenty of examples of that.
So what prevents organizations from both seeing and realizing the cloud potential? Is this a matter of skills? Is it because everyone is on the cusp of retirement and politically holding back? What can we identify as the obstacles to overcome to break that inertia?
A whole new ball game
Christiansen: From my perspective, we are right in the thick of it. CTP has been involved with many Fortune 500 companies throughthis process.
The technology is ubiquitous, meaning that everybody in the marketplace now can own pretty much the same technology. Dana, this is a really interesting thought. If a team of 10 Stanford graduates can start up a company to disrupt the rental car industry, which somebody has done, by the way, and they have access to technologies that were only once reserved for those with hundreds of millions of dollars in IT budgets, you have all sorts of other issues to deal with, right?
So what’s your competitive advantage? It’s not access to the technologies. The true competitive advantage now for any company is the people and how they consume and use the technology to solve a problem. Before [the IT advantage] was reserved for those who had access to the technology. That’s gone away. We now have a level playing field. Anybody with a credit card can spin up a big data solution today – anybody. And that’s amazing, that’s truly amazing.
For an organization that had always fallen back on their big iron or infrastructure -- those processes they had as their competitive advantage -- that now has become a detriment. That’s now the thing that’s slowing them down. It’s the anchor holding them back, and the processes around it. That rigidity of people and process locks them into doing the same thing over and over again. It is a serious obstacle.
Untangle spaghetti systems
Another major issue came very much as a surprise, Dana. We observed it over the last couple of years of doing application inventory assessments for people considering shutting down data centers. They were looking at their applications, the ones holding the assets of data centers, as not competitive. And they asked, “Hey, can we shut down a data center and move a lot of it to the public cloud?”
We at CTP were hired to do what are called application assessments, economic evaluations. We determine if there is a cost validation for doing a lift-and-shift [to the public cloud]. And the number-one obstacle was inventory. The configuration management data bases (CMDBs), which hold the inventory of where all the servers are and what’s running on them for these organizations, were wholly out of date. Many of the CMDBs just didn’t give us an accurate view of it all.
When it came time to understand what applications were actually running inside the four walls of the data centers -- nobody really knew. As a matter of fact, nobody really knew what applications were talking to what applications, or how much data was being moved back and forth. They were so complex; we would be talking about hundreds, if not thousands, of applications intertwined with themselves, sharing data back and forth. And nobody inside organizations understood which applications were connected to which, how many there were, which ones were important, and how they worked.
When it came time to understand what applications were actually running inside of the four walls of the data centers -- no one really knew. Nobody knew what applications were talking to what applications, or how much data was being moved back and forth.
Years of managing that world has created such a spaghetti mess behind those walls that it’s been exceptionally difficult for organizations to get their hands around what can be moved and what can’t. There is great integration within the systems.
The third part of this trifecta of obstacles to moving to the cloud is, as we mentioned, people not wanting to change their behaviors. They are locked in to the day-to-day motion of maintaining those systems and are not really motivated to go beyond that.
Gardner: I can see why they would find lots of reasons to push off to another day, rather than get into solving that spaghetti maze of existing data centers. That’s hard work, it’s very difficult to synthesize that all into new apps and services.
Christiansen: It was hard enough just virtualizing these systems, never mind trying to pull it all apart.
Gardner: Virtualizing didn’t solve the larger problem, it just paved the cow paths, gained some efficiency, reduced poor server utilization -- but you still have that spaghetti, you still have those processes that can’t be lifted out. And if you can’t do that, then you are stuck.
Christiansen: Exactly right.
Gardner: Companies for many years have faced other issues of entrenchment and incumbency, which can have many downsides. Many of them have said, “Okay, we are going to create a Skunk Works, a new division within the company, and create a seed organization to reinvent ourselves.” And maybe they begin subsuming other elements of the older company along the way.
Is that what the cloud and public cloud utilization within IT is doing? Why wouldn’t that proof of concept (POC) and Skunk Works approach eventually overcome the digital transformation inertia?
Clandestine cloud strategists
Christiansen: That’s a great question, and I immediately thought of a client who we helped. They have a separate team that re-wrote or rebuilt an application using serverless on Amazon. It’s now a fairly significant revenue generator for them, and they did it almost two and-a-half years ago.
It uses a few cloud servers, but mostly they rely on the messaging backbones and non-server-based platform-as-a-service (PaaS) layers of AWS to solve their problem. They are a consumer credit company and have a lot of customer-facing applications that they generate revenue from on this new platform.
The team behind the solution educated themselves. They were forward-thinkers and saw the changes in public cloud. They received permission from the business unit to break away from the central IT team’s standard processes, and they completely redefined the whole thing.
The team really knocked it out of the park. So, high success. They were able to hold it up and tried to extend that success back into the broader IT group. The IT group, on the other hand, felt that they wanted more of a multicloud strategy. They weren’t going to have all their eggs in Amazon. They wanted to give the business units options, of either going to Amazon, Azure, or Google. They wanted to still have a uniform plane of compute for on-premises deployments. So they brought in Red Hat’s OpenShift, and they overlaid that, and built out a [hybrid cloud] platform.
Now, the Red Hat platform, I personally had had no direct experience, but I had heard good things about it. I had heard of people who adopted it and saw benefits. This particular environment though, Dana, the business units themselves rejected it.
The core Amazon team said, “We are not doing that because we’re skilled in Amazon. We understand it, we’re using AWS CloudFormation. We are going to write code to the applications, we are going to use Lambda whenever we can.” They said, “No, we are not doing that [hybrid and multicloud platform approach].”
Other groups then said, “Hey, we’re an Azure shop, and we’re not going to be tied up around Amazon because we don’t like the Amazon brand.” And all that political stuff arose, they just use Azure, and decided to go shooting off on their own and did not use the OpenShift platform because, at the time, the tool stacks were not quite what they needed to solve their problems.
The company ended up getting a fractured view. We recommended that they go on an education path, to bring the people up to speed on what OpenShift could do for them. Unfortunately, they opted not to do that -- and they are still wrestling with this problem.
CTP and I personally believe that this was an issue of education, not technology, and not opportunity. They needed to lean in, sponsor, and train their business units. They needed to teach the app builders and the app owners on why this was good, the advantages of doing it, but they never invested the time. They built it and hoped that the users would come. And now they are dealing with the challenges of the blowback from that.
Gardner: What you’re describing, Robert, sounds an awful lot like basic human nature, particularly with people in different or large groups. So, politics, right? The conundrum is that when you have a small group of people, you can often get them on board. But there is a certain cut-off point where the groups are too large, and you lose control, you lose synergy, and there is no common philosophy. It’s Balkanization; it’s Europe in 1916.
Christiansen: Yeah, that is exactly it.
Gardner:Very difficult hurdles. These are problems that humankind has been dealing with for tens of thousands of years, if not longer. So, tribalism, politics. How does a fleet organization learn from what software development has come up with to combat some of these political issues? I’m thinking of Agile methodologies, scrums, and having short bursts, lots of communication, and horizontal rather than command-and-control structures. Those sorts of things.
Find common ground first
Christiansen: Well, you nailed it. How you get this done is the question. How do you get some kind of agility throughout the organization to make this happen? And there are successes out there, whole organizations, 4,000 or 5,000 or 6,000 people, have been able to move. And we’ve been involved with them. The best practices that we see today, Dana, are around allowing the businesses themselves to select the platforms to go deep on, to get good at.
Let’s say you have a business unit generating $300 million a year with some service. They have money, they are paying the IT bill. But they want more control, they want more the “dev” from the DevOps process.
The best practices that we see today are around allowing the businesses themselves to select the cloud platforms to go deep on, to get good at. ... They want the "dev" from the DevOps process.
They are going to provide much of that on their own, but they still need core common services from central IT team. This is the most important part. They need the core services, such as identity and access management, key management, logging and monitoring, and they need networking. There is a set of core functions that the central team must provide.
And we help those central teams to find and govern those services. Then, the business units [have cloud model choice and freedom as long as they] consume those core services -- the access and identity process, the key management services, they encrypt what they are supposed to, and they use the networking functions. They set up separation of the services appropriately, based on standards. And they use automation to keep them safe. Automation prevents them from doing silly things, like leaving unencrypted AWS S3 buckets open to the public Internet, things like that.
You now have software that does all of that automation. You can turn those tools on and then it’s like a playground, a protected playground. You say, “Hey, you can come out into this playground and do whatever you want, whether it’s on Azure or Google, or on Amazon or on-premises.”
“Here are the services, and if you adopt them in this way, then you, as the team, can go deep, you can use Application programming interface (API) calls, you can use CloudFoundation or Python or whatever happens to be the scripting language you want to build your infrastructure with.”
Then you have the ability to let those teams do what they want. If you notice, what it doesn’t do is overlay a common PaaS layer, which isolates the hyperscale public cloud provider from your work. That’s a whole other food fight, religious battle, Dana, around lock-in and that kind of conversation.
Gardner: Imposing your will on everyone else doesn’t seem to go over very well.
So what you’re describing, Robert, is a right-sizing for agility, and fostering a separate-but-equal approach. As long as you can abstract to the services level, and as long as you conform to a certain level of compliance for security and governance -- let’s see who can do it better. And let the best approach to cloud computing win, as long as your processes end up in the right governance mix.
Development power surges
Christiansen: People have preferences, right? Come on! There’s been a Linux and .NET battle since I have been in business. We all have preferences, right? So, how you go about coding your applications is really about what you like and what you don’t like. Developers are quirky people. I was a C programmer for 14 years, I get it.
The last thing you want to do is completely blow up your routines by taking development back and starting over with a whole bunch of new languages and tools. Then they’re trying to figure out how to release code, test code, and build up a continuous integration/continuous delivery pipeline that is familiar and fast.
These are really powerful personal stories that have to be addressed. You have to understand that. You have to understand that the development community now has the power -- they have the power, not the central IT teams. That shift has occurred. That power shift is monumental across the ecosystem. You have to pay attention to that.
If the people don’t feel like they have a choice, they will go around you, which is where the problems are happening.
Gardner: I think the power has always been there with the developers inside of their organizations. But now it’s blown out of the development organization and has seeped up right into the line of business units.
Christiansen: Oh, that’s a good point.
Gardner: Your business strategy needs to consider all the software development issues, and not just leave them under the covers. We’re probably saying the same thing. I just see the power of development choice expanding, but I think it’s always been there.
But that leads to the question, Robert, of what kind of leadership person can be mindful of a development culture in an organization, and also understand the line of business concerns. They must appreciate the C-suite strategies. If you are a public company, keeping Wall Street happy, and keeping the customer expectations met because those are always going up nowadays.
It seems to me we are asking an awful lot of a person or small team that sits at the middle of all of this. It seems to me that there’s an organizational and a talent management deficit, or at least something that’s unprecedented.
Christiansen: It is. It really is. And this brings us to a key piece to our conversation. And that is the talent enablement. It is now well beyond how we’ve classically looked at it.
Some really good friends of mine run learning and development organizations and they have consulting companies that do talent and organizational change, et cetera. And they are literally baffled right now at the dramatic shift in what it takes to get teams to work together.
In the more flexible-thinking communities of up-and-coming business, a lot of the folks that start businesses today are technology people. They may end up in the coffee industry or in the restaurant industry, but these folks know technology. They are not unaware of what they need to do to use technology.
So, business knowledge and technology knowledge are mixing together. They are good when they get swirled together. You can’t live with one and not have the other.
For example, a developer needs to understand the implications of economics when they write something for cloud deployment. If they build an application that does not economically work inside the constructs of the new world, that’s a bad business decision, but it’s in the hands of the developer.
It’s an interesting thing. We’ve had that need for developer-empowerment before, but then you had a whole other IT group put restrictions on them, right? They’d say, “Hey, there’s only so much hardware you get. That’s it. Make it work.” That’s not the case anymore, right?
We have created a whole new training track category called Talent Enablement that CTP and HPE have put together around the actual consumers of cloud.
At the same time, you now have an operations person involved with figuring out how to architect for the cloud, and they may think that the developers do not understand what has to come together.
As a result, we have created a whole new training track category called Talent Enablement that CTP and HPE have put together around the actual consumers of cloud.
We have found that much of an organization’s delay in rolling this out is because the people who are consuming the cloud are not ready or knowledgeable enough on how to maximize their investment in cloud. This is not for the people building up those core services that I talked about, but for the consumers of the services, the business units.
We are rolling that out later this year, a full Talent Enablement track around those new roles.
Gardner: This targets the people in that line of business, decision-making, planning, and execution role. It brings them up to speed on what cloud really means, how to consume it. They can then be in a position of bringing teams together in ways that hadn’t been possible before. Is that what you are getting at?
Christiansen: That’s exactly right. Let me give you an example. We did this for a telecommunications company about a year ago. They recognized that they were not going to be able to roll out their common core services.
The central team had built out about 12 common core services, and they knew almost immediately that the rest of the organization, the 11 other lines of business, were not ready to consume them.
They had been asking for it, but they weren’t ready to actually drive this new Ferrari that they had asked for. There were more than 5,000 people who needed to be up-skilled on how to consume the services that a team of about 100 people had put together.
Now, these are not classic technical services like AWS architecture, security frameworks, or Access control list (ACL) and Network ACL (NACL) for networking traffic, or how you connect back and backhaul, that kind of stuff. None of that.
I’m talking about how to make sure you don’t get a cloud bill that’s out of whack. How do I make sure that my team is actually developing in the right way, in a safe way? How do I make sure my team understands the services we want them to consume so that we can support it?
It was probably 10 or 12 basic use domains. The teams simply didn’t understand how to consume the services. So we helped this organization build a training program to bring up the skills of these 4,000 to 5,000 people.
Now think about that. That has to happen in every global Fortune 2000 company where you may only have a central team of a 100, and maybe 50 cloud people. But they may need to turn over the services to 1,000 people.
We have a massive, massive, training, up-skilling, and enablement process that has to happen over the next several years.
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The next BriefingsDirect hybrid IT management success story examines how the nonprofit research institute HudsonAlpha improves how it harnesses and leverages a spectrum of IT deployment environments.
Here to help explore the benefits of improved levels of multi-cloud visibility and process automation is Katreena Mullican, Senior Architect and Cloud Whisperer at HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology in Huntsville, Alabama. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: What’s driving the need to solve hybrid IT complexity at HudsonAlpha?
Mullican: The big drivers at HudsonAlpha are the requirements for data locality and ease-of-adoption. We produce about 6 petabytes of new data every year, and that rate is increasing with every project that we do.
We support hundreds of research programs with data and trend analysis. Our infrastructure requires quickly iterating to identify the approaches that are both cost-effective and the best fit for the needs of our users.
Gardner: Do you find that having multiple types of IT platforms, environments, and architectures creates a level of complexity that’s increasingly difficult to manage?
Mullican: Gaining a competitive edge requires adopting new approaches to hybrid IT. Even carefully contained shadow IT is a great way to develop new approaches and attain breakthroughs.
Gardner: You want to give people enough leash where they can go and roam and experiment, but perhaps not so much that you don’t know where they are, what they are doing.
Mullican: Right. “Software-defined everything” is our mantra. That’s what we aim to do at HudsonAlpha for gaining rapid innovation.
Gardner: How do you gain balance from too hard-to-manage complexity, with a potential of chaos, to the point where you can harness and optimize -- yet allow for experimentation, too?
Mullican: IT is ultimately responsible for the security and the up-time of the infrastructure. So it’s important to have a good framework on which the developers and the researchers can compute. It’s about finding a balance between letting them have provisioning access to those resources versus being able to keep an eye on what they are doing. And not only from a usage perspective, but from a cost perspective, too.
Gardner: Tell us about HudsonAlpha and its fairly extreme IT requirements.
Mullican: HudsonAlpha is a nonprofit organization of entrepreneurs, scientists, and educators who apply the benefits of genomics to everyday life. We also provide IT services and support for about 40 affiliate companies on our 150-acre campus in Huntsville, Alabama.
Gardner: What about the IT requirements? How you fulfill that mandate using technology?
Mullican: We produce 6 petabytes of new data every year. We have millions of hours of compute processing time running on our infrastructure. We have hardware acceleration. We have direct connections to clouds. We have collaboration for our researchers that extends throughout the world to external organizations. We use containers, and we use multiple cloud providers.
Gardner: So you have been doing multi-cloud before there was even a word for multi-cloud?
Mullican: We are the hybrid-scale and hybrid IT organization that no one has ever heard of.
Gardner: Let’s unpack some of the hurdles you need to overcome to keep all of your scientists and researchers happy. How do you avoid lock-in? How do you keep it so that you can remain open and competitive?
Agnostic arrangements of clouds
Mullican: It’s important for us to keep our local datacenters agnostic, as well as our private and public clouds. So we strive to communicate with all of our resources through application programming interfaces (APIs), and we use open-source technologies at HudsonAlpha. We are proud of that. Yet there are a lot of possibilities for arranging all of those pieces.
There are a lot [of services] that you can combine with the right toolsets, not only in your local datacenter but also in the clouds. If you put in the effort to write the code with that in mind -- so you don’t lock into any one solution necessarily -- then you can optimize and put everything together.
Gardner: Because you are a nonprofit institute, you often seek grants. But those grants can come with unique requirements, even IT use benefits and cloud choice considerations.
Cloud cost control, granted
Mullican: Right. Researchers are applying for grants throughout the year, and now with the National Institutes of Health (NIH), when grants are awarded, they come with community cloud credits, which is an exciting idea for the researchers. It means they can immediately begin consuming resources in the cloud -- from storage to compute -- and that cost is covered by the grant.
So they are anxious to get started on that, which brings challenges to IT. We certainly don’t want to be the holdup for that innovation. We want the projects to progress as rapidly as possible. At the same time, we need to be aware of what is happening in a cloud and not lose control over usage and cost.
Gardner: Certainly HudsonAlpha is an extreme test bed for multi-cloud management, with lots of different systems, changing requirements, and the need to provide the flexibility to innovate to your clientele. When you wanted a better management capability, to gain an overview into that full hybrid IT environment, how did you come together with HPE and test what they are doing?
Variety is the spice of IT
Mullican: We’ve invested in composable infrastructure and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI) in our datacenter, as well as blade server technology. We have a wide variety of compute, networking, and storage resources available to us.
The key is: How do we rapidly provision those resources in an automated fashion? I think the key there is not only for IT to be aware of those resources, but for developers to be as well. We have groups of developers dealing with bioinformatics at HudsonAlpha. They can benefit from all of the different types of infrastructure in our datacenter. What HPE OneSphere does is enable them to access -- through a common API -- that infrastructure. So it’s very exciting.
Gardner: What did HPE OneSphere bring to the table for you in order to be able to rationalize, visualize, and even prioritize this very large mixture of hybrid IT assets?
Mullican: We have been beta testing HPE OneSphere since October 2017, and we have tied it into our VMware ESX Server environment, as well as our Amazon Web Services (AWS) environment successfully -- and that’s at an IT level. So our next step is to give that to researchers as a single pane of glass where they can go and provision the resources themselves.
Gardner: What this might capability bring to you and your organization?
Cross-training the clouds
Mullican: We want to do more with cross-cloud. Right now we are very adept at provisioning within our datacenters, provisioning within each individual cloud. HudsonAlpha has a presence in all the major public clouds -- AWS, Google, Microsoft Azure. But the next step would be to go cross-cloud, to provision applications across them all.
For example, you might have an application that runs as a series of microservices. So you can have one microservice take advantage of your on-premises datacenter, such as for local storage. And then another piece could take advantage of object storage in the cloud. And even another piece could be in another separate public cloud.
But the key here is that our developer and researchers -- the end users of OneSphere – they don’t need to know all of the specifics of provisioning in each of those environments. That is not a level of expertise in their wheelhouse. In this new OneSphere way, all they know is that they are provisioning the application in the pipeline -- and that’s what the researchers will use. Then it’s up to us in IT to come along and keep an eye on what they are doing through the analytics that HPE OneSphere provides.
Gardner: Because OneSphere gives you the visibility to see what the end users are doing, potentially, for cost optimization and remaining competitive, you may be able to play one cloud off another. You may even be able to automate and orchestrate that.
Mullican: Right, and that will be an ongoing effort to always optimize cost -- but not at the risk of slowing the research. We want the research to happen, and to innovate as quickly as possible. We don’t want to be the holdup for that. But we definitely do need to loop back around and keep an eye on how the different clouds are being used and make decisions going forward based on the analytics.
Gardner: There may be other organizations that are going to be more cost-focused, and they will probably want to dial back to get the best deals. It’s nice that we have the flexibility to choose an algorithmic approach to business, if you will.
Mullican: Right. The research that we do at HudsonAlpha saves lives and the utmost importance is to be able to conduct that research at the fastest speed.
Gardner: HPE OneSphere seems geared toward being cloud-agnostic. They are beginning on AWS, yet they are going to be adding more clouds. And they are supporting more internal private cloud infrastructures, and using an API-driven approach to microservices and containers.
The research that we do at HudsonAlpha saves lives, and the utmost importance is to be able to conduct the research at the fastest speed.
As an early tester, and someone who has been a long-time user of HPE infrastructure, is there anything about the combination of HPE Synergy, HPE SimpliVity HCI, and HPE 3PAR intelligent storage -- in conjunction with OneSphere -- that’s given you a "whole greater than the sum of the parts" effect?
Mullican: HPE Synergy and composable infrastructure is something that is very near and dear to me. I have a lot of hours invested with HPE Synergy Image Streamer and customizing open-source applications on Image Streamer -– open-source operating systems and applications.
The ability to utilize that in the mix that I have architected natively with OneSphere -- in addition to the public clouds -- is very powerful, and I am excited to see where that goes.
Gardner: Any words of wisdom to others who may be have not yet gone down this road? What do you advise others to consider as they are seeking to better compose, automate, and optimize their infrastructure?
Get adept at DevOps
Mullican: It needs to start with IT. IT needs to take on more of a DevOps approach.
As far as putting an emphasis on automation -- and being able to provision infrastructure in the datacenter and the cloud through automated APIs -- a lot of companies probably are still slow to adopt that. They are still provisioning in older methods, and I think it’s important that they do that. But then, once your IT department is adept with DevOps, your developers can begin feeding from that and using what IT has laid down as a foundation. So it needs to start with IT.
It involves a skill set change for some of the traditional system administrators and network administrators. But now, with software-defined networking (SDN) and with automated deployments and provisioning of resources -- that’s a skill set that IT really needs to step up and master. That’s because they are going to need to set the example for the developers who are going to come along and be able to then use those same tools.
That’s the partnership that companies really need to foster -- and it’s between IT and developers. And something like HPE OneSphere is a good fit for that, because it provides a unified API.
On one hand, your IT department can be busy mastering how to communicate with their infrastructure through that tool. And at the same time, they can be refactoring applications as microservices, and that’s up to the developer teams. So both can be working on all of this at the same time.
Then when it all comes together with a service catalog of options, in the end it’s just a simple interface. That’s what we want, to provide a simple interface for the researchers. They don’t have to think about all the work that went into the infrastructure, they are just choosing the proper workflow and pipeline for future projects.
We want to provide a simple interface to the researchers. They don't have to think about all the work that went into the infrastructure.
Gardner: It also sounds, Katreena, like you are able to elevate IT to a solutions-level abstraction, and that OneSphere is an accelerant to elevating IT. At the same time, OneSphere is an accelerant to the adoption of DevOps, which means it’s also elevating the developers. So are we really finally bringing people to that higher plane of business-focus and digital transformation?
HCI advances across the globe
Mullican: Yes. HPE OneSphere is an advantage to both of those departments, which in some companies can be still quite disparate. Now at HudsonAlpha, we are DevOps in IT. It’s not a distinguished department, but in some companies that’s not the case.
And I think we have a lot of advantages because we think in terms of automation, and we think in terms of APIs from the infrastructure standpoint. And the tools that we have invested in, the types of composable and hyperconverged infrastructure, are helping accomplish that.
Gardner: I speak with a number of organizations that are global, and they have some data sovereignty concerns. I’d like to explore, before we close out, how OneSphere also might be powerful in helping to decide where data sets reside in different clouds, private and public, for various regulatory reasons.
Is there something about having that visibility into hybrid IT that extends into hybrid data environments?
Mullican: Data locality is one of our driving factors in IT, and we do have on-premises storage as well as cloud storage. There is a time and a place for both of those, and they do not always mix, but we have requirements for our data to be available worldwide for collaboration.
So, the services that HPE OneSphere makes available are designed to use the appropriate data connections, whether that would be back to your object storage on-premises, or AWS Simple Storage Service (S3), for example, in the cloud.
Gardner: Now we can think of HPE OneSphere as also elevating data scientists -- and even the people in charge of governance, risk management, and compliance (GRC) around adhering to regulations. It seems like it’s a gift that keeps giving.
Hybrid hard work pays off
Mullican: It is a good fit for hybrid IT and what we do at HudsonAlpha. It’s a natural addition to all of the preparation work that we have done in IT around automated provisioning with HPE Synergy and Image Streamer.
HPE OneSphere is a way to showcase to the end user all of the efforts that have been, and are being, done by IT. That’s why it’s a satisfying tool to implement, because, in the end, you want what you have worked on so hard to be available to the researchers and be put to use easily and quickly.
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The next BriefingsDirect digital transformation success story examines how local governments in Norway benefit from a common platform approach for safe and efficient public data distribution.
We’ll now learn how Norway’s 18 counties are gaining a common shared pool for data on young people’s health and other sensitive information thanks to streamlined benefits of hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI), containers, and microservices.
Here to help us discover the benefits of a modern platform for smarter government data sharing is FrodeSjovatsen, Head of Development for FINT Project in Norway. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions.
Here are some excerpts:
Gardner: What is driving interest in having a common platform for public information in your country?
Sjovatsen: We need interactions between the government and the community to be more efficient. Sowe needed to build the infrastructure that supports automatic solutions for citizens. That’s the main driver.
Gardner: What problems do you need to overcome in order to create a more common approach?
Common API at the core
Sjovatsen: One of the biggest issues is [our users] buy business applications such as human resources for school administrators to use and everyone is happy. They have a nice user interface on the data. But when we need to use that data across all the other processes -- that’s where the problem is. And that’s what the FINT project is all about.
[Due to apps heterogeneity] we then need to have developers create application programming interfaces (APIs), and it costs a lot of money, and it is of variable quality. What we’re doing now is creating a common API that’s horizontal -- for all of those business applications. It gives us the ability to use our data much more efficiently.
Gardner: Please describe for us what the FINT project is and why this is so important for public health.
Sjovatsen: It’s all about taking the power back, regarding the information we’ve handed the vendors. There is an initiative in Norway where the government talks about getting control ofallthe information. And the thought behind the FINT project is that we need to get ahold of all the information, describe it, define it, and then make it available via APIs -- both for public use and also for internal use.
Gardner: What sort of information are we dealing with here? Why is it important for the general public health?
Sjovatsen: It’s all kinds of information. For example, it’s school information, such as about how the everyday processes run, the schedules, the grades, and so on. All of that data is necessary to create good services, for the teachers and students. We also want to make that data available so that we can build new innovations from businesses that want to create new and better solutions for us.
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Gardner: When you were tasked with creating this platform, why did you seek an API-driven, microservices-based architecture? What did you look for to maintain simplicity and cost efficiency in the underlying architecture and systems?
Agility, scalability, and speed
Sjovatsen: We needed something that was agile so that we can roll out updates continuously. We also needed a way to roll back quickly, if something fails.
The reason we are running this on one of the county council’s datacenters is we wanted to separate it from their other production environments. We need to be able to scale these services quickly. When we talked to Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), the solution they suggested was using HCI.
Gardner: Where are you in the deployment and what have been some of the benefits of such a hyperconverged approach?
Sjovatsen: We are in the late stage of testing and we’re going into production in early 2018. At the moment, we’re looking into using HPE SimpliVity.
Gardner: Containers are an important part of moving toward automation and simplicity for many people these days. Is that another technology that you are comfortable with and, if so, why?
Sjovatsen: Yes, definitely. We are very comfortable with that. The biggest reason is that when we use containers, we isolate the application; the whole container is the application and we are able to test the code before it goes into production. That’s one of the main drivers.
The second reason is that it’s easy to roll out andit’s easy to roll back. We also have developers in and out of the project, and containers make it easy for them to quickly get in to the environment they are working on. It’s not that much work if they need to install on another computer to get a working environment running.
Gardner: A lot of IT organizations are trying to reduce the amount of money and time they spend on maintaining existing applications, so they can put more emphasis into creating new applications. How do containers, microservices, and API-driven services help you flip from an emphasis on maintenance to an emphasis on innovation?
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Sjovatsen: The container approach is very close to the DevOps environment, so the time from code to production is very small compared to what we did before when we had some operations guys installing the stuff on servers. Now, we have a very rapid way to go from code to production.
Gardner: With the success of the FINT Project, would you consider extending this to other types of data and applications in other public sectoractivities or processes? If your success here continues, is this a model that you think has extensibility into other public sector applications?
Unlocking the potential
Sjovatsen: Yes, definitely. At the moment, there are 18 county councils in this project. We are just beginning to introduce this to all of the 400 municipalities [in Norway]. So that’s the next step. Those are the same data sets that we want to share or extend. But there are also initiatives with central registers in Norway and we will add value to those using our approach in the next year or so.
Gardner: That could have some very beneficial impacts, very good payoffs.
Sjovatsen: Yes, it could. There are other uses. For example, in Oslo we have made an API extend over the locks on many doors. So, we can now have one API to open multiple locking systems. So that’s another way to use this approach.
In Oslo we have made an API extend over the locks on many doors. We can now have one API to open multiple locking systems.
Gardner: It shows the wide applicability of this. Any advice, Frode, for other organizations that are examining more of a container, DevOps, and API-driven architecture approach? What might you tell them as they consider taking this journey?
Sjovatsen: I definitely recommend it -- it’s simple and agile. The main thing with containers is to separate the storage from the applications. That’s probably what we worked on the most to make it scalable. We wrote the application so it’s scalable, and we separated the data from the presentation layer.
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The use of containers by developers -- and now increasingly IT operators -- has grown from infatuation to deep and abiding love. But as with any long-term affair, the honeymoon soon leads to needing to live well together ... and maybe even getting some relationship help along the way.
And so it goes with container orchestration and automation solutions, which are rapidly emerging as the means to maintain the bliss between rapid container adoption and broad container use among multiple cloud hosts.
This BriefingsDirect cloud services maturity discussion focuses on new ways to gain container orchestration, to better use serverless computing models, and employ inclusive management to keep the container love alive.