According to a recent survey of IT professionals, 87% of organizations have migrated at least some of their infrastructure to the cloud. In short, hybrid IT is our new reality. But while “To the cloud!” may be the mantra of today’s businesses, we network administrators are often still wary of the complexity introduced by a hybrid IT strategy.
To start, hybrid IT is not proportionately more complex. Moving to the cloud requires network administrators to understand and implement a whole new discipline of IT technology to manage and monitor — whether you’re shifting one device or a thousand.
A hybrid environment also introduces new opportunities for failure that weren’t there before and that are also opaque in terms of troubleshooting. For example, let’s say the platform your organization uses to support its sales team is all in-house and suddenly breaks. That platform might not be equipped with the same failover and redundancy that you may get with a cloud app, but at the same time, your ability to manage and inspect all of the elements associated with that platform makes diagnosis and resolution more direct and easier.
In the cloud, on the other hand, if something breaks in a critical way — imagine a backhoe cutting the WAN line connection from your building to your cloud-hosted applications — your business will more than likely grind to a halt until it gets fixed. The amount of network bandwidth that is required to adequately connect hybrid IT environment components can overwhelm backup circuits and does not lend itself well to an easy replacement or solution in the face of a serious failure. Typical standby links that provide reduced capacity failover will not be sufficient in the hybrid IT era, so your backup systems must have nearly the same capacity and bandwidth capabilities as your primary connections. To ensure your business is prepared for a failure, network monitoring must be approached as an even more mission critical activity than ever before.
However, that’s easier said than done. One of the theoretical benefits of moving to the cloud is that the burden of management is removed and you’ll no longer be juggling so many details. However, the tradeoff is that it becomes much more difficult to monitor and ensure performance for certain components of infrastructure once they have been shifted to the cloud. This is because the only way to receive and review that kind of performance information is through the management APIs available from the cloud provider.
Unfortunately, for the most part, these provider management interfaces don’t offer nearly the same amount of network monitoring richness that is available through traditional SNMP solutions. That gap in monitoring capability is largely due to the maturity of the technology: traditional network monitoring for the on-premises data center has been honed and refined for 30 years; whereas, AWS, for example, has only been taking on enterprise business in the last few years and their monitoring tools haven’t had enough time to catch up.
Moreover, the cost of change in the cloud is significantly less than on-premises, and as a result encourages change and re-configuration. The traditional process of thoughtfully assigning IP address ranges, looking at the topology of the network that will attach to those addresses, planning at the port or IP level doesn’t apply to the cloud side. As a result, the future of network monitoring must be much more visual and will require interactive troubleshooting to compare known states of topology, traffic flow, and interconnection at different points in time to determine what happened in the past and what’s likely to be a problem going forward.
All of this is forcing the industry to rethink the approach to networking monitoring solutions. It’s not enough to simply keep doing things the way we always have —significant product innovation is required to meet the challenge presented by hybrid IT and offer network administrators a valuable solution to bridge the hybrid IT visibility gap. At the same time, there are some pure hybrid IT and cloud products that do very little to help assure the performance of the legacy side of the hybrid network, including certain components that will never go away (campus LAN, telepresence, VOIP, etc.). Network monitoring solutions developed specifically for the needs of the hybrid IT era will provide rich and complete monitoring for on-premises, as well as converged views from cloud resources.
In addition to leveraging “one network monitoring tool to rule them all,” here are several best practices you should consider to better — and more confidently — manage hybrid IT environments:
Learn to code. The future of technology is software actuated. You should stop thinking in terms of configuration, which incorrectly implies a certain level of control over the devices and services you’re managing, and start thinking more like a developer. In the future, we network administrators will be managing using policies that are much more dynamic and autonomous. It won’t be possible for you to be a successful net administrator in the era of hybrid IT without first being somewhat comfortable converting operations logic into autonomous code.
Legacy systems are still important. We can’t assume that the cloud will solve all problems. It’s more than likely that you’ll have some systems that will never transition to the cloud, either for financial or technical reasons. You must be prepared to talk to management about a plan to support legacy devices now and in the future.
Redundancy, redundancy, redundancy. Along the same lines, you should not assume cloud reliability is any better than on-premises. For all its benefits and capabilities, a hard drive can still go down in the cloud. Then what? Your backup solution must be redundant at a scale and capacity previously unimagined just to maintain the bandwidth required by internet and network connections in a hybrid environment. It’s no longer enough to have a primary network and two backups that each operate at 25% capacity — your backups will need to be able to sustain the majority of your operations rather than just a reduced capacity failover.
Security matters. While we can’t say on-premises network security is perfect, it’s certainly process-based and well-monitored for potential breaches or attacks. When moving to the cloud, it’s important to remember that hybrid IT introduces novel security vulnerabilities. You must do your due diligence in terms of understanding what is covered in regards to security and compliance for each cloud provider platform. By having a fundamental understanding of the provider’s approach to securing your data, you can create a solid “handshake” between the data stored on-premises and data hosted in the cloud. There’s no such thing as being too safe.
Don’t fear the reaper. Hybrid IT offers an opportunity for many administrators that are bored or stuck in their careers to revitalize and take advantage of new ways to move forward. You should avoid becoming the net administrator who’s too set in their ways or complacent to learn a new technology. At the end of the day, it’s in all of our best interests to cultivate as broad a skillset as possible to not only avoid going the way of traditional network routers and switches, but also to best equip ourselves to successfully manage tomorrow’s networks — every node, every path, every network.