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VMblog's Expert Interviews: Andrew Hillier Talks about Analytics, Management and Hybrid Clouds


When the phrase "hybrid cloud" is mentioned, you might get different reactions from people or variations on the definition.  But as we enter 2016, I believe the hybrid cloud is real and that it is going to continue to shape cloud computing.  And if you trust the industry research, this multi-billion dollar industry is growing quickly as organizations continue to expand their data center and cloud strategies.

To dig in deeper, I recently spoke with an industry expert in the field of hybrid cloud technology, Andrew Hillier, who also happens to be the CTO and co-founder of Cirba, one of the leading providers of software-defined infrastructure control solutions.  I wanted to find out, is Hybrid Cloud right for everyone?  If a company goes down that path, what's needed?  What are the benefits?  And what happens next?    

VMblog:  We are hearing more and more about hybrid clouds these days.  Wanted to get your expert opinion on the subject and ask, is hybrid cloud right for all businesses?

Andrew Hillier: I think every business can benefit from the use of public cloud in some form, even if just for a handful of temporary workloads.  That may not be considered true hybrid cloud, but it still requires many of the same management and governance structures to be in place.  In my view true hybrid cloud is when an organization has apps that straddle on and off prem, or apps whose components can run either on or off based on loads and business cycles. In other words, apps that can systematically leverage public resources in order to optimize cost and fit for purpose.  I believe that most large enterprises with complex IT environments will begin to incorporate public cloud resources into their portfolio of hosting assets, but the challenge lies in doing so wisely.

VMblog:  And what are the main challenges in adopting a hybrid cloud strategy?  

Hillier:  I have heard the conversation evolve at our customers from "we'll never do that" to "we need to figure out the smart way to do it", so the attitude from internal IT that used to be a huge barrier to hybrid cloud adoption are changing.  But there are still very real concerns about security, cost, and just simply trying to figure out what should go into the public cloud. Unfortunately, organizations are currently unable to figure this out and rely on a lot of manual effort to make the decision, which leads to uncertainty and subjectivity in the process.  They don't have a way to objectively analyze workloads and automatically determine what can and should be placed internally and externally.

VMblog:  How can organizations automatically determine the best execution venue for applications in hybrid cloud?

Hillier:  I love the notion of the "best execution venue" because it puts the emphasis on the individual application requirements. Having a means to capture the detailed app requirements, everything from utilization requirements to technical resource requirements, applicable compliance, security, regularity requirements is the first step. You also then need to model of capabilities of available hosting environments, both internal and external, and in a similar level of detail.  Only then can you really determine where the workloads should go, where there is space, and how to place workloads to make the best possible use of infrastructure.  This requires analytics that use policies to govern those decisions, automatically determining what goes where in order to balance demand and optimize the cost / benefit impact.

VMblog:  Explain if you would, what are the main benefits of having analytics-driven decisions of where applications should be hosted?

Hillier:  Some people ask us for opinions of whether an app can go into public cloud.  It isn't a matter of opinion, it's a matter of whether or not the environment is "fit for purpose", whether it has the required resources, and whether it is the most cost-effective option.  There are lots of things that can go wrong by placing certain types of workloads out into public cloud - security risks, compliance risks, performance, etc..  Having analytics to govern those placement decisions prevent those situations from occurring, while at the same time optimizing cost.  And cost is a whole topic on its own - there is a notion that public cloud is always cheaper than on-premise hosting and that just isn't the case. We have done analyses of production environments and found that, depending on the nature of the workloads, there are significant variations in the costs of public vendors, bare metal options and even on-premise hosting.  Analytics gives you the opportunity to scientifically factor cost into the decision to ensure that you make the best use of internal and external resources, and this isn't just a simple calculation that can be done manually.  Analytics also enable automation of these decisions, and can seamlessly integrate to cloud management platforms and orchestration tools to make it happen.

VMblog:  Don't OpenStack or products like VMware vRealize Automation automate these kinds of decisions?

Hillier:  The short answer is no. OpenStack offers some very basic filtering logic and VMware provides placements based on round robin decisions and some manual checks.  The strength of those solutions is in the automation mechanisms they provide, and they are very good at provisioning VMs, but not necessarily at determining where they should go.  This is why we complement them very well, and Cirba integrates with both these tools to plug in new decision logic, enabling an intelligent, automated process for real time routing and placements.  Some of our customers run multiple stacks, and have both OpenStack and VMware as hosting options.  In these cases Cirba sits on top of the cloud management layer, providing a higher level decision of which technology platform a workload should go into, then which environment within the chosen platform and finally which server level placement. These are some advanced use cases, but if you think about it this scenario is really the same decision making that is required for hybrid cloud adoption.

VMblog:  Once you put them there, how important is it to actively manage the workloads operating in public cloud environments?

Hillier:  It's extremely important to properly manage all your workloads, whether on or off-premise.  When running on internal infrastructure, its critical to have systems in place that can ensure workloads get the resources they need to perform as required, while at the same time keeping unit costs as low as possible.  This means managing VM density and placing workloads strategically in order to minimize overall cost, including software licensing requirements.  For public cloud, the emphasis becomes allocations, which must be watched like a hawk, or you'll overpay for capacity that you're not using. It's also important to be able to know whether it makes sense to repatriate apps and bring them back in house, such as after a peak business cycle has passed. And if you are leveraging public bare metal, you have to manage those environments in exactly the same way you would for on-premise environments.

VMblog:  Is moving to hybrid cloud primarily a technology problem?

Hillier:  I think people underestimate the governance and financial aspects of the transition.  There is a lot of focus on the plumbing, automation and the "how" of hybrid cloud, but the "why" is extremely important.  Policies that govern why apps can and should go to certain hosting environments are key, and the whole decision making process must be codified and automated. So fundamentally it's a business decision problem that requires analytics to solve, and it must be done fast enough to allow IT groups to meet the dynamic needs of the business. If IT can't make smart decisions about workload placements that the business trusts, and do so quickly, then the business will take matters into their own hands, which usually isn't in anyone's best interests. We have seen organizations face this challenge just trying to get internal clouds adopted, and if they don't resolve that fundamental issue before they move to hybrid, they will have an even bigger mess on their hands.

VMblog:  Finally, tell us what Cirba does to help organizations adopt hybrid.

Hillier:  Cirba is analytics software that provides workload routing and granular control over hybrid cloud environments that include Microsoft® AzureTM, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and IBM® SoftLayer®, VMware®, IBM® AIX on PowerVM, KVM, Red Hat® Enterprise Virtualization and Microsoft® Hyper-V®.

Cirba provides the necessary decision control and governance for automating the decision of where applications can safely run, across both internal and external hosting technologies.  Once there, Cirba provides centralized management for enterprise applications across these hybrid cloud environments by giving customers visibility into where applications are hosted, whether they are appropriately resourced, whether they are running efficiently, and whether they are better off moving somewhere else. To do this, Cirba's analytics capture the detailed application requirements such as compute, storage and network requirements, security considerations, compliance requirements, software licensing requirements and other operational policies and matches these to the capabilities of available infrastructures. Coming this year, we are adding hybrid routing support to our routing capabilities currently available for private cloud.


I'd like to thank Andrew Hillier, CTO and Co-Founder of Cirba, for taking time out to speak with VMblog and answer a few questions about the company and Hybrid Cloud.

Published Thursday, February 11, 2016 6:58 AM by David Marshall
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