Interview: Managing resources in a hybrid environment

As the IT world is changing it's not uncommon for companies to be using a mix of cloud and on-premise solutions. These hybrid environments offer a best of both worlds option but do present problems when it comes to managing resources.

To find out how managers can address these challenges and what tools they can use to help, we spoke to Dana Epp, CTO of IT management specialist Kaseya.

The cloud is meant to make things easier, but do hybrid environments inevitably lead to greater complexity?

A lot of the complexity comes from the fact that when people start adopting the cloud IT isn't always involved. CRM systems like Salesforce can make life easier for the sales team but it becomes complex for IT if they're not part of the decisions. Over the last five years or so there are so many new tools available in the cloud and they're easy to buy with just a credit card so you don't have to be in IT to get hold of cloud services.

This growth of 'shadow IT' means that you end up needing to implement tools and strategies to watch for these behaviors and take back control. The most important part of this is not so much the systems as the data they hold which is a corporate asset and needs to be protected. The complexity comes from understanding how you can get visibility and control, whatever tools you’re using. You also need to ensure that you have the ability to recover when things go wrong.

What do businesses need to be aware of when selecting cloud partners?

The most important thing is to realise that not all cloud partners are the same. It's vital to look at a potential partner's data center management to ensure they're providing redundancy, security, backup, and that they have the right staffing to handle the management of the systems. But having the ability to run a data centre doesn't necessarily make you a good cloud partner. Things like being able to maintain the data and have access to it are vital to companies looking at cloud services.

You need to look for providers that have geographical redundancy, but you also need to be aware of any compliance restrictions on where data can be stored. If you’re in Europe for example you may not want your data stored in the US. Some cloud providers will have multiple data centres around the world, but it’s important to understand what happens when the system fails over, does geographical redundancy mean your data may end up somewhere it shouldn't be?

You also need to look at what due diligence providers carry out on their systems and infrastructure. The big three, Google, Microsoft and Amazon, spend a lot of time and have dedicated staff to make sure they meet compliance obligations of different standards. One of the values of going to the cloud is that you can leverage that expertise.

How much of the move to hybrid environments is about changing the management mindset?

It's difficult for some organisations, especially at board level, to be willing to give up control. What they don't always understand is that you're not abdicating responsibility, you're delegating it to a service that can provide you with a better, more flexible and more efficient service than you could run in-house.

You can also spin up more resources quickly when needed, so it becomes an operational expense rather than a capital one. That mind shift needs to happen and it allows you to get the job done better and faster. For example mining companies are able to use public cloud for a short period of time to do an intense amount of work, but if those servers were on-premise they would sit idle for nine or ten months of the year. In many ways cloud is just an extension of your infrastructure management. The key is to make sure the right people have access when they need it regardless of where the data is located.

Is it possible to get a 'single pane' solution that allows enterprises an overview of all their systems?

To accomplish that your technology selection and infrastructure have to be well aligned. If you're picking solutions that don't integrate and don't allow information to be shared you'll never get that single pane. At Kaseya we make sure we follow the standards that are there so that we can communicate with the devices, the data and the people so that we have that visibility.

But of course the world is always shifting, you have IoT devices all of which have IP addresses and which need to be managed so that there's no risk to the organisation. Managing everything from a single pane, therefore, is a constant challenge.

Can we expect to see more focus being placed on analytics and automation in systems management?

The more data that's available the more we can make informed decisions about what's going on. We can create a holistic report that can show business owners what type of applications they're running. The next stage is to automate that so that if, for example 13 per cent of employees are using Dropbox, management can decide if that's an activity they want to permit and, if it's not, disable and uninstall the software automatically. You can also automate the ability to sign in to applications like Salesforce and manage the users.

It helps when employees leave the organisation too because you can automate the provisioning of cloud applications, reassign licenses and so on. Similarly with new starters, if the HR system is talking to other systems then an employee can automatically be added to the right groups and given access to the apps and cloud services needed to do their job, so IT doesn't have to be involved in manual prsaovisioning.

Does that also mean companies can save on licensing costs?

Yes, if you have that visibility into applications you can de-provision licenses and reassign them. That's a potentially huge cost saving in larger organisations, by managing software and cloud use effectively they could be saving thousands of dollars every month.

Whilst it's possible to do everything in the cloud, in reality most enterprises will have a hybrid approach. Companies should be able to use the same governance and policies to deal with all of their systems. That can save them money and deliver a better experience for the user.

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