How to Grow Your Business by Helping Customers Build a Hybrid Cloud
It’s a problem scores of managed service providers (MSPs) and cloud service providers (CSPs) in the traditional IT sector face: how can they adapt their services to the new cloud landscape?
Many have long-standing enterprise clients that have hesitated to move to the public cloud. They are held back by legacy on-premises applications and the huge logistical undertaking of migrating them. This has made it difficult for the traditional MSP to embrace the cloud and develop services around the new technology.
But large-scale enterprises are now looking to hybrid cloud as a way to bridge the gap between their outmoded on-premises systems and modern public cloud infrastructure.
As they move through their hybrid cloud journey, many will rely on a trusted partner to support them, which presents new opportunities for MSPs to break into the cloud and grow their businesses.
In this post, we run through some of the reasons your customers are ready for hybrid cloud adoption, the challenges they’ll face, and the client services you can offer to help overcome them. But first let’s turn our attention to what hybrid cloud actually is.
What Is the Hybrid Cloud?
A hybrid cloud is a seamless, unified environment of public cloud, private cloud and other on-premises IT systems. This approach to IT infrastructure gives organizations the flexibility to host workloads in either their on-premises data centers or the public cloud—where the choice will depend on cost, capacity, performance and regulatory requirements.
Personally identifiable information typically resides in-house. Other data may be hosted in the public cloud. However, the applications that process this data are generally the cross-platform element of hybrid clouds and can be deployed to either environment.
Some of the common technical applications of hybrid cloud are:
- Cloud bursting
- Backup and archiving
Cloud bursting: An application deployment method that makes temporary use of compute resources in the cloud whenever your on-premises data center requires additional capacity during peaks in demand. However, to avoid paying for additional infrastructure you no longer need, you bring your workload back in-house as soon as your capacity requirements return to normal.
Failover: Replication of your on-premises environment in the cloud, so you can maintain business continuity in the event of either scheduled or unscheduled downtime.
Backup and archiving: Backup and archiving systems aren’t strictly hybrid cloud, as they don’t necessarily need a fully integrated on-premises and public cloud environment. However, they’re often the first step to building hybrid infrastructure, as they’re generally easier to implement and don’t need the same level of performance as other enterprise applications.
Why MSP and CSP Customers Are Ready for the Cloud
Many enterprise customers want to take advantage of the cloud, but feel shackled by legacy applications that tether them to their on-premises systems.
However, the hybrid model offers them the best of both worlds. They can continue to make use of their in-house data centers while leveraging the modern, agile features of dynamic pay-as-you-go (PAYG) cloud infrastructure.
What’s more, the time has never been better for enterprises to migrate to the cloud.
Hybrid technologies are starting to come of age, finally making the cloud a practical option for large-scale enterprises.
Offerings, such as Azure Stack and Stratoscale, which replicate public cloud environments on on-premises infrastructure, are helping organizations to bridge the gap between the public cloud and their traditional data centers.
Moreover, public cloud vendors are now forging partnerships with leading virtualization software company VMware, to improve portability between public and private VMware-based clouds. This finally offers a viable way for enterprise IT to move legacy applications to the cloud.
What Are the Benefits to Customers?
A Strategic Advantage
A move to the cloud can transform a business, driving innovation and making it more responsive to rapidly changing markets—through fast provisioning times, accelerated development and access to new technologies.
A company no longer needs to overprovision resources by investing in expensive additional hardware purely to cope with occasional peaks in demand. Instead, it can call upon the cloud to provide extra capacity only when needed.
And the cloud can also function as low-cost standby infrastructure that can scale up whenever on-premises systems go down, ensuring business continuity.
The hybrid cloud provides the ideal combination of infrastructure for modernizing large-scale enterprise IT systems.
On one hand, public cloud offers the scalability and global reach that on-premises IT cannot deliver. It also supports a range of fully managed services, which help to reduce the operations overhead of running systems and free up developers to focus on coding their applications.
On the other hand, if sensitive workloads are already secure and meet compliance obligations, it makes sense to maintain them on existing infrastructure. That way, your customers continue to get full value from their in-house hardware.
Hybrid also offers the flexibility to host applications where they perform best. For example, those that share data across different geographical locations are generally suited to the cloud. By contrast, applications that are designed for internal use will enjoy the lowest latency if they remain in-house.
What Are the Challenges of the Hybrid Cloud?
Although hybrid technology is rapidly evolving, your clients still need to address significant technical challenges to build a fully functional enterprise-grade hybrid cloud.
Networking and data transfer costs: To ensure fast and secure communication between their public and private clouds, customers will need a dedicated network connection, such as AWS Direct Connect or Microsoft Azure ExpressRoute.
It’s also important to beware that public cloud providers charge for outbound data transfer. So application design should ensure data flows through the most cost-effective routes.
Application latency: Hosting data and applications in different physical locations increases latency. Private network connections can help by providing dedicated bandwidth. However, the best solution is to keep data and applications as close together wherever possible.
API integration: Customers will need to integrate cloud APIs into existing applications to exchange data between different environments. This may require substantial reprogramming or deployment of third-party tools to ensure systems are properly interconnected.
Application and System Architecture
Dynamic, scalable, on-demand cloud infrastructure is very different from traditional computing environments. This demands a different approach to system architecture, based on distributed networks of smaller application components.
So, in addition to the challenges of security, compliance and latency, customers may need to rearchitect their applications so they’re cost efficient and take full advantage of the elastic features of the cloud.
What’s more, system architecture should make provision for failover—between either on-premises hardware and the cloud or different cloud availability zones. And applications also need to incorporate a seamless method of reading and writing data whatever its location relative to your application.
With PAYG public cloud, you pay for your capacity whether you it use it or not. So it’s essential to monitor clouds, taking action to avoid wasted expenditure on unused and underutilized infrastructure. It’s also important to keep costs down by making full use of on-premises resources and by leveraging discounted alternatives to standard on-demand machines, such as AWS Reserved Instances and Google’s Preemptible VMs.
A move to the cloud also presents new challenges to cybersecurity. While on-premises security focuses on protecting a static environment, the cloud calls for visibility over dynamic infrastructure—where users are continually spinning up, scaling and closing down resources.
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What Services Will Your Customers Need?
In other words, what services can you provide to help customers make a successful cloud transition? The following will be the key selling points to your new MSP hybrid cloud service:
Cloud vendor selection: Public cloud vendors generally offer the same set of core offerings. However, they each have their own pricing structures, approaches to service delivery, compliance certifications and specialist products and features. You can help your customers identify the right cloud provider to suit their individual needs.
Feasibility studies: Your clients will want to know whether their hybrid plans are viable and will support their business goals. You can assist them by modeling their cloud and forecasting costs, running trial applications and drawing up a proof of concept.
Migration: You can help clients to develop a migration strategy and identify applications that are ripe for hybrid cloud. You can also advise on the best method of migration. This will involve either rehosting applications by replicating them in the cloud or rearchitecting them to take advantage of modern cloud features.
System design: Developers will need guidance on how to secure their hybrid applications. You can advise customers on secure system design, such as isolating application components. You can also play a role in cultivating Rugged DevOps and DevSecOps approaches, which integrate security into software development and operational workflows respectively.
Cloud configuration: Clients will need help navigating the complex array of cloud configuration tasks—from load balancing, identity management and DevOps integration to installing a firewall, locking down ports and segregating development, staging and production environments.
Cost and performance monitoring: Cost control will be one of your key responsibilities as a cloud MSP. So, as part of your offering, you should monitor and manage cloud infrastructure on your customers’ behalf, so they get best value from their hybrid cloud.
Expert advice: Customers will need support on many different aspects of hybrid cloud, such as guidance on compliance frameworks, staff training and help choosing the right cloud management tools.
A New and Prosperous Direction
The cloud will present new challenges to your business, but will also put it in a new and prosperous strategic direction.
Many enterprises are waking up to benefits of hybrid cloud and need professional expertise to help them make the transition. By taking action now and embracing the cloud, you’ll be in the perfect position to help them.
That’s because, unlike born-in-the-cloud MSPs, you’ll have the all-important combination of cloud expertise and knowledge of legacy systems, which is essential to delivering a successful hybrid cloud transformation.