Cloud Analysis

Is the Cloud ready for Mission Critical Apps?

By Vic Nyman

“Cloud Computing!”  Is it the savior of IT or the bane of our existence?  Cloud computing has extreme potential, especially for achieving operational efficiencies and cost savings.  Unfortunately, with that potential is the potential for business disaster – outages in places you can’t control impacting customer satisfaction or even sales results.  Imagine having to explain to the board of directors that a 20% drop in revenue happened because “We saved money by putting our critical applications on a system that we couldn’t control.”

It’s this risk of critical application failure that has many Enterprise IT executives saying “no thanks” to deploying mission critical apps in the Cloud.  These same companies are using Cloud-based systems as part of their business processes – from CRM software to file sharing.  They are willing to put up with the occasional outage that impacts their business processes, but don’t believe they would be forgiven for the same event if it were their business system that had issues.

So how to decide?  If your business is delivery of business services over the cloud, then “The Cloud” is ready for your apps.  However, if you make widgets, or a piece of software, or provide a service over the net, the decision to move YOUR applications to a Public Cloud solution (i.e., Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, IBM Smart Cloud, etc.) isn’t so cut and dry.

Remember the motivation behind deploying a critical business application in a public Cloud environment.  The most obvious is the cost savings of only paying for the capacity you need.  Since most data centers are over-provisioned and underutilized, this can lead to both immediate CAPEX (Capital Expenditure) savings and longer term OPEX (Operating Expenditure) savings from not having to administer the day-to-day care and feeding of those systems.

An additional benefit of deploying applications in the public cloud is the “infinite” resources available should you need them. That means you don’t have to re-architect and deploy a bevy of new Web Servers to support that new marketing campaign.  Deploying in a Public Cloud environment delivers the promise of ultimate flexibility to scale up “on demand” (again, only paying for what you use).

So why hasn’t your financial institution deployed their online banking in The Cloud?  Two words – ‘Security’ and ‘Control.’  While ROI is important, and scalability is a must, the ability to maintain complete control and security of back-end transaction systems remains tantamount in today’s modern banking IT departments (and, in reality, all Enterprise organizations).  And let’s face it – no matter how much security is actually there, the Public Cloud environment will never be seen as secure as systems in the data center.

This is why Hybrid Cloud environments will make big inroads this year. IT organizations are finding that by specifically delineating and separating their user access systems from their back-end processing systems, they can deploy applications in a new Hybrid architecture that delivers the best of both worlds – massive flexibility and on-demand scaling for user access, paired with the security and control of the data center for back-end systems.  As long as an application can be architected and deployed in this manner, the question of the Cloud being ready for Apps is a definite “Yes.”

Unfortunately, Enterprise IT might not be ready for the pure Public Cloud just yet.  There is that one last hurdle to overcome – the ability to manage application and transaction service levels.  This includes the need to triage and fix problems quickly when (and they will!) they occur. Without proper performance management visibility, we’re still susceptible to the original doomsday scenario we discussed earlier.

The good news is that a new set of management solutions has emerged that can help deliver the necessary visibility into an application deployed in a Hybrid Cloud.  There are 3 key aspects of enterprise application management needed for successful Hybrid Cloud application monitoring:

  1. Measure Transaction performance end-to-end across the systems in the Cloud
  2. Measure Transaction performance end-to-end across the systems in the Data Center
  3. Tie together any specific transaction across both the Cloud and Data Center for quick problem triage and resolution

Whether application and transaction performance data is delivered by the Cloud provider or by the application owners doesn’t matter, as long as transaction performance is the key component of the monitoring solution.  One potential challenge is that many Enterprise IT shops tend to have conventional server monitoring solutions, which are missing that key transaction level visibility. Fortunately, many enterprise teams are adding transaction monitoring into their Data centers, though, with one of a new generation of transaction monitoring tools.

Where does that leave us?  Ultimately, the Cloud IS ready for Enterprise Application Deployment.  It will be up to the Enterprise Operations teams to get themselves ready for the Cloud. Ultimately, IT teams will implement the tools and structure they need to make Hybrid Cloud deployment work, and will begin deploying more and more of their critical business applications.

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