Five building blocks of modern managed cloud services

How to ensure your successful cloud journey

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At the early stages of your cloud journey, you often face at least some of these questions:

  • How do we develop our digital services and manage the cloud effectively?
  • Is our data secure at all times?
  • Is it worth all the costs?
  • Do we have the skills to set it up and manage it?
  • If this is a journey, who’s sitting in the driver’s seat?

Today’s business requires fast reactivity and adaptability to changing business environments. Many organisations are struggling with the speed of delivery, outdated processes, and a lack of competences. To overcome those challenges and to meet ever-changing customer needs, they are increasingly relying on digital services.

In a digital business environment, the IT department plays a key role in keeping the organisation competitive, business-oriented, and flexible.

Modern IT capabilities, such as API enabled, data-driven, or machine learning, sit mostly on top of public cloud platforms like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform (GCP). This is because public cloud providers invest a fair amount of money on Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) solutions that ease and accelerate the deployment of applications, and, on the other hand, cut maintenance costs of solutions such as machine learning, IoT, blockchains and container platforms.

Businesswise, the public cloud provides:

  • Elasticity and scalability
  • Cost-effectiveness and predictability
  • World-class security controls
  • Speed of delivery
  • Peace of mind to focus on your core business
  • Tools to make your organisation agile

Key concerns of cloud adaptation

For many, however, adopting the public cloud raises concerns. According to a 1) Gartner survey, customers report the following as key challenges upon a cloud journey:

  • 50 % fear their data could be lost or compromised
  • 38 % have concerns over regulatory compliance
  • 32 % say staff lack skills or training
  • 28 % worry about complexity
  • 24% think the technological “learning curve” may be too steep
  • 17 % say poor governance could be a problem

In this white paper, we will take a look at managed cloud services from five different angles, and learn how to overcome possible pitfalls.

1) 2018 Gartner Cloud Adoption and Usage Survey

1. Proceed step-by-step

Adopting the public cloud doesn’t happen overnight. It is a journey that requires time, commitment, and cooperation within the organisation. On this journey, the key elements are people, processes and technology. Too often, people and processes are forgotten, and the sole focus is on bringing on board new technology. Successful cloud adoption takes all these three elements into account.

  1. People

    The public cloud requires a different set of IT skills and a new mindset towards IT infrastructure. People need to educate themselves and adopt a new way of thinking cloud. Make sure to onboard people gradually and give them opportunities to learn.

  2. Processes

    The public cloud helps achieve business agility by eliminating bottlenecks. It streamlines software development, infrastructure management, and provisioning. Some processes evolve, some become obsolete in the public cloud. Think out of the box and don’t rely on, e.g., ITILv3 processes “we have always had”!

  3. Technology

    The public cloud is not just a low level computing power by virtual machines or servers. Thanks to APIs, it is more like a software platform that runs your applications securely, scalably, and cost effectively all over the world.

If any one of these three fails, the whole cloud journey is at risk of failing. Therefore, articulate clearly and emphasise the following key points when starting the journey:

  • Why are we going to the public cloud?
  • What results do we expect to achieve by moving to the public cloud?
  • How much change will our organisation need?

Adapt and customise managed cloud services to your needs

Your managed cloud services need to be adaptable and customisable to your needs. What kind of adaptability should you then require from your managed services?

At different stages in the cloud journey, you’ll need to address all or some of the following elements:

  • Cloud foundation

    1. Account and subscription automation
    2. Identity and Access Management (IAM)
    3. Platform level security and monitoring
    4. Audit trail logging
    5. Cost monitoring
  • Central infrastructure management

    1. Centrally managed and delivered hardened computing images – virtual machines and containers
    2. Centrally implemented virtual private networks (VPN) for all development teams
    3. Service catalogs for development teams to deploy pre built and audited solution blocks
  • Central tooling

    1. Source control, e.g., Github, AWS CodeCommit, Azure Repos
    2. Application and infrastructure monitoring, e.g., Datadog, SignalFX
  • Service management

    1. Fast incident response
    2. Clear responsibilities between the parties
    3. Fast service request handling and high use of automation
    4. Continuous improvement of service management
  • DevOps enablement

    1. Application and infrastructure architecture
    2. Best practice reference architectures and infrastructure-as-code (IaC)
    3. CI/CD pipelines
    4. 24/7 monitoring and operations

An example:

Start from planning, plan a roadmap to cloud and create a cloud governance

Then setup the foundation: build the basics, such as governance based account/subscription automation, platform logging and predictive cost monitoring, so development teams can start business application development in the cloud platform.

Then: add central tooling for monitoring and source control.

Thirdly: add service management practices to help development teams to start development and go into production as smoothly as possible.

Finally: implement more advanced features, like threat detection powered by machine learning, as well as prebuilt service catalogs to optimise security and use of the public cloud.

2. Make sure software development is in your control

Managing a number of internal and/or third-party dev teams in multiple projects, perhaps over multiple cloud platforms, can be a handful. Who has ownership of them? How do you coordinate projects and ensure they’ll build on the cloud in a cost effective, systematic manner?

In order to ensure smooth, efficient, and waste-free development, you need clear guidelines, ready-made tools, and best practices for development teams. Reinventing the wheel from one project to the next is a waste of resources.

You need to provide consistency across the dev teams, while giving them the freedom to work as autonomously and flexibly as possible.

A few tips:

  1. Give the dev teams design principles and guidelines on how to make applications manageable and maintainable in your cloud environment.
  2. Favour central or shared implementation for VPN networks, computing image hardening (e.g., CIS for virtual machines and containers) and patch management.
  3. Promote central tooling to gain efficiency and consistency for monitoring and source control management (SCM), for example.

This allows efficient management of application development resources in multi-project cloud environments, and you can be sure all implementations meet your security and operational requirements, not to mention the great new features developed on time!

3. Ensure 24/7 reliability and security

Everything needs to be secure and running smoothly 24/7/365 – that goes without saying, right? You don’t want to provide any services to your business units or end customers that do not meet SLA requirements. Also, this needs to be cost-effective.

There was a time when reactive monitoring was the only way to address a system failure, inevitably leading to expensive downtime. And if this happened in the middle of the night on the weekend, and the only guru who could fix it was on holiday, you were out of luck.

Predictive monitoring and preventive actions help forecast issues beforehand – enabling uninterrupted service for end-users with no unnecessary downtime. For example, predictive monitoring can be used to forecast application overloading or downtime beforehand. By combining several sources of data, such as database disk usage and the number of API and http requests, you can anticipate what is going to happen next and act accordingly.

Secondly, preventive actions like PaaS-deployed databases enable background updating while the databases are in use. This, again, eliminates massive maintenance breaks and application downtime.

Automation is another feature that brings reliability to a managed service, e.g., by autoscaling application resources based on usage, or eliminating human error in the process. Automation is also useful in security monitoring and prevention, where machine learning can detect anomalies as well as possible security issues and breaches within the cloud platform.

Security: Being secure at all times is key, and a Managed Services Provider has many ways to ensure security in the public cloud. However, security must not restrict a business from running or development teams from achieving their targets. For example, preventive policies are a good way to make sure developers stay within permitted rules. At the same time, they allow the DevOps development team to create solutions autonomously within the set policies, eliminating needless delays.

Modern security practices support continuous deployment without compromising security.

This can be achieved by running an automatic code analysis before the code reaches production.

4. Keep variable and running costs in check

As a business owner, you want predictability in terms of IT costs. Is the cloud budget properly sized for the business goals? What about the costs of unexpected downtime?

Automation and sustainable long-term solutions help reduce unexpected variable costs. Automation enables scalability, freeing up the cloud experts’ time from routine tasks to more value added work. Long-term and sustainable solutions also help avoid unexpected downtime and all the ensuing hassle.

  • Would you like to pay a monthly fee with minimised time-based costs, ensuring predictively your services will operate without disturbance?
  • Or would you rather pay up every time an issue emerges, and have your services restored reactively?

Encourage your Managed Services Partner to invest in predictability and preventive maintenance.

The formation of cloud computing costs in traditional on-premises, or private, clouds is different than in the public cloud. In the public cloud, costs are mainly usage based – like taking a taxi instead of investing in a car.

Key skills a managed services provider needs in order to optimise public cloud use:

  1. Being able to guide dev teams in creating the best possible architecture designs and using different cloud computing resources, thus minimising cloud computing costs.
  2. Optimising the use of cloud resources by redesigning solutions.
  3. Recommending up-front commitments and saving plans for cloud computing resources to achieve cost savings, as opposed to on-demand cloud computing resources.
  4. Helping you stay on budget with predictive cost monitoring, reacting to cost increases before they hit the fan. This way you can sleep well at night and trust your Managed Services Partner won’t flood you with unpredicted cloud computing bills.

5. Select your cloud partner carefully

There are a load of players in the cloud computing market, all with their strong expertise areas and interesting service portfolios. How do you know how to choose the best partner for your cloud journey?

Traditional Managed Service Providers have mainly focused on low-level infrastructure management, i.e., server or virtual machine environments, networks, firewalls, switches, routers, etc. However, the public cloud has changed the landscape. Traditional infrastructure management is no longer needed – Cloud Service Providers (CSP) will take care of it.

This marks a shift in the role of the Managed Service Provider: it’s about software and application development – and about understanding business.

As expressed by Amazon Web Services, next generation managed service providers need to have:

  1. System integrator capabilities
  2. Design, automation and architecture skills
  3. DevOps, CI/CD, self-healing solutions, infrastructure-as-code (IaC) skills
  4. Dynamic monitoring, anomaly detection, machine learning skills
  5. Training and organisational change management skills

This means next generation managed service providers need a lot more than cloud infrastructure competence. They need to have wide-spread expertise in digital business development, from business design, strategy and integrations to data platforms, API platforms, analytics, machine learning, and more. Make sure your Managed Services Provider has these skills!

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Solita CloudBlox® – the building blox for a successful cloud journey

Having helped dozens of customers on their cloud journey, we at Solita have recognised and dealt with the issues discussed above – and decided to do something about it.

Solita CloudBlox® is a modular managed cloud service for the public cloud, designed from day one by listening carefully to our customers.

It takes a quite unique piece-by-piece approach to the cloud journey, allowing you to proceed at your own pace.

Read more about Solita CloudBlox®

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