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The cloud's future lies in agility-based hybridization tools

Agility-based hybridization tools are key to the cloud's future. By using them, new development can exploit all the cloud's value.

For most enterprises the real meaning of hybrid cloud is a computing architecture that combines both cloud computing...

and legacy IT, something much broader than the traditional vision of a hybrid as a public or private cloud. This alternative vision of hybridization is more relevant to users because they're already committed to conventional application models, and they need different tools to integrate these current models with cloud computing in any form. To pick tools and plan their usage, consider the general issues of hybrid cloud resources for applications, understand the range of hybridization tools and their applications, and be realistic about your own evolution to virtualization and the cloud.

"Hybridization" in a cloud sense means combining resources from a variety of sources to host applications. Hybridization has three important aspects -- deployment, integration and use of the cloud to add application value -- only one of which is typically considered, and perhaps the most important of which is rarely talked about.

Private cloud often has little justification

Deployment is the most commonly discussed hybridization element. When people talk about a hybrid cloud, they often focus on how to deploy application images on either public or private cloud resources, which is largely a matter of the management interface used to deploy applications or components. There are often discussions about how picking a certain private cloud tool will facilitate cloudbursting or failover of applications and components of applications, but for many users there's no justification for a private cloud. Most applications today run either on dedicated data center resources or on virtualized server pools, and private cloud migration just to facilitate hybridization would be a last-resort approach.

The second common focus of hybrid cloud discussions is integration. When an application or component is deployed anywhere, it is necessary that the address of the application or component be registered somewhere so that work can be routed to or from it. This step is required wherever the application or component is deployed, and is required today even within the data center. That means modest enhancements to current application directory or address management functions will serve hybrid integration needs. In fact, it's likely that all application integration tools will accommodate not only public and private cloud deployments but also legacy deployments.

The clear message from both these common hybridization topics is that proper tools for "hybridization" in a deployment and integration sense should evolve (and are evolving) from traditional deployment and integration or addressing tools. BMC, Dell, HP, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle all provide deployment and integration tools that treat public and private clouds, virtualized data centers and bare metal servers as resource options. If the cloud is just another resource option, conventional tool evolution will cover the bases.

Using the cloud to add application value

A few new tools organize cloud deployment specifically around multi-resource options. RightScale, for example, adds an on-demand management plane to cover virtual, private and public cloud resources to allow users to deploy and connect application components across a full range of resource options. Some of these same features are available to VMware users through vCloud's vRealize.

The third hybridization issue is more complex, because it focuses on how the cloud is used to add application value. This value-add comes in two dimensions -- greater agility in composing applications from components and support for line and operating departments' involvement in application creation. The former exploits the inherent agility of the cloud, and the latter the fact that many organizations see cloud computing as a way to shift power from internal IT to a company's line organizations. This third hybrid element is evolving from two directions -- the cloud side and the "tool" side.

On the cloud side, "platform services" or cloud-hosted features exposed through APIs for either legacy or cloud applications to use, are elevating the features of the cloud toward the user. Software as a service, of course, already offers applications and application components as services, and both of these move cloud features closer to users. Both Amazon and Microsoft have been adding higher-level feature capabilities to their cloud platforms, and Microsoft's integration of platform services and cloud deployment and integration tools have likely been a driver behind Amazon's increased interest in hybridization.

Application development tools evolving

The tool side of agility-based hybridization is demonstrated by products like CloudForge, which creates a complete application development layer on top of hybrid deployment and integration features. This is the direction IBM and Microsoft are clearly committed to taking, and one that may also be followed by HP and Oracle and then by others like Dell and Red Hat. What is less clear is how the tool side of agility-driven hybridization will coordinate with the cloud side. All of the application development tools, including CloudForge, can be used to integrate with platform services but none fully exploit the notion. Libraries of platform services, imported from the cloud, would be a strong step forward.

Hybridization, in the end, is driven by user value. In the cloud's early days, the focus was on creating value through efficient use of cloud resources as an adjunct to the data center in hosting applications and components. Today the focus is evolving to the creation of applications in a resource-independent way, and supporting the desire of line departments to play a greater and more direct role in empowering their workers through applications. This shift can threaten users who take too limited a view of hybridization and the associated tools.

What the cloud runs today is in many ways the leavings of traditional IT. The future of the cloud lies with applications designed from the ground up to exploit all its value propositions. This means that agility-based hybridization features and tools are the most important. It's these tools that users should be exploring to create their future applications and realize their cloud goals.

Next Steps

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This was last published in March 2015

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What do you think is the best way to use agility-based hybridization tools?
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Using these tools to automate critical business decisions, such as marketing techniques and creating contracts based on specific criteria (use of uniform commercial code, security agreements).
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We're seeing this functionality built into many tools and frameworks (Puppet, Chef, Vagrant, VagrantSpice, Dell MultiCloud Manager), as well as the native multi-cloud/portability of containers. If "hybridization" is the desired result, then it's probably best to avoid the tools that tie the management framework into the infrastructure. Instead make this an abstraction that will work across multiple clouds and technologies. 
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