Digital transformation — brought to you by open hybrid cloud

Sentiments like “software is eating the world” and “every company is becoming a technology company” have almost become clichés at this point. But that doesn’t make them untrue. The relationship between IT and other groups within an organization is fundamentally changing.

Ad hoc decision making is giving way to data-driven, real-time response and analytics. Customers expect easy self-service from wherever they happen to be. The pace of market changes has accelerated enormously.

It’s definitely not business as usual―not for company strategy and not for the supporting technology. Industry analyst Gartner wrote in late 2016: “With everything in play, digital business will demand a far more complex technology transformation than what took place in the previous decades in areas such as e-business for online transactions.”

Among other changes, making digital transformation possible requires new cloud-native services that allow for new and varied revenue streams and business models. These services will increasingly be written in the form of modular components suitable for reuse and composition into complete applications―an architecture often called “microservices.” An iterative DevOps approach can aid in developing, operating, and updating such apps quickly and securely.

These changes in how apps are designed, developed, and deployed come together through an open hybrid cloud strategy with a platform that bridges software-defined datacenter (SDDC) and cloud-native workload components, incorporates software-defined infrastructure and containers, and encourages and optimizes for appropriate choices about risk, security, and compliance.

Open

Open source is behind today’s technology leaps―all the things that make digital transformation possible. It’s not hyperbole to say that today’s technology world would look vastly different (and be much less rich) without open source. Most, if not all, of today’s internet giants would not exist.

But the “open” in open hybrid cloud is about more than open source code. It’s about engaging with innovative communities. It’s about interoperability, workload portability, and strategic flexibility. And it’s about making open source suitable for critical deployments through quality assurance and integration, getting changes accepted into upstream projects, and having predictable and stable life-cycle support.

Hybrid

Hybrid clouds originally just meant a cloud that consisted of both private and public cloud resources. But, as cloud computing has evolved, users have begun thinking of hybrid in much broader terms.

Hybrid also covers heterogeneous on-premise resources, including private clouds, traditional virtualization, bare-metal servers, and containers. It encompasses the multiple providers and types of public clouds.

In short, IT infrastructures and the services that run on them are hybrid across multiple dimensions. There’s a simultaneous requirement in most organizations to both modernize and optimize their SDDCs and deploy new cloud-native infrastructure. Most organizations use services from several public clouds. And there’s a widespread need to bridge and integrate across these different infrastructures to allow for consistent processes and business rules, as well as for picking the best infrastructure for a given workload.

New cloud platforms

In the prior section, we saw how hybrid many environments are. Now let’s look specifically at the characteristics of a modern cloud platform.

A modern cloud platform emphasizes adaptability and agility. It achieves this through infrastructure that’s software-defined and therefore programmable through APIs.

It’s focused on large distributed-system scale points and composed of integrated core software services. It uses an open container format, runtime, and orchestration. And it’s managed based on policy across hybrid environments. These characteristics are necessary to embrace the new demands placed on the platform by digital transformation.

As I’ve discussed previously, there’s both a developer and an operations aspect to this new platform.

For developers, a modern cloud platform can serve as an integration and aggregation point for all the new tooling associated with DevOps workflows. The continuous integration/delivery pipeline gets a lot of the attention but there are also plenty of testing, source-code control, collaboration, and monitoring tools that need to be integrated into the workflow. Of course, developers still want their self-service provisioning with an overall user experience that’s tailored to how they work.

At the same time―with container formats, runtimes, and orchestration increasingly standardized through the Open Containers Initiative (OCI) and Cloud Native Computing Foundation (where Kubernetes is hosted)―many ops teams are increasingly interested in deploying a tested and integrated bundle of these technologies outside of any specific development environment initiatives within their companies. They want to create a certified and stable environment for developers to work with as little ongoing work by ops as possible. As my colleague (and former sysadmin) Mark Lamourine told me in a recent podcast, sysadmins are pathologically lazy (in the best possible way). They automate everything.

Secure and assure

Finally, a platform for an open hybrid cloud needs to build in security and assurance.

We’ve already covered granular policy-based logging and visible alerting, as well as automation in the context of saving the ops team time and work. But automation also ensures repeatability and cuts down on mistakes leading to unauthorized access.

Another important area starting to get more attention is securing the software supply chain. With the expansion of open source usage and the adoption of software packaged in containers, it’s easier than ever to grab a software component online and reuse it. In many respects, that’s a good thing. But it can also introduce vulnerabilities if code isn’t acquired and validated through an established process. Writing in InfoWorld in August 2016, Amir Jerbi notes: “From a security and governance perspective, trusting the container image is a critical concern throughout the software development lifecycle. Ensuring that images are signed and originate from a trusted registry are solid security best practices.”

Perhaps the biggest change to the landscape is the pressing need to make security part of the ongoing development, deployment, and management workflow rather than a one-time signoff. (Hence the rise of the DevSecOps term: a friendly reminder to bake in security.) Trust is increasingly temporal; it doesn’t last. Today’s code may be verified but new vulnerabilities are discovered daily as are the exploits that take advantage of them. Hence, again, automation to analyze and enforce security practices.

Fundamentally, open hybrid cloud is about supporting digital transformation by helping organizations across all industries:

  • Build new composable integrated cloud-native apps for new revenue streams.
  • Develop apps and respond to the market more quickly with DevOps agility.
  • Deploy on a scalable and flexible cloud infrastructure that quickly adapts to change.
  • Protect the business with management, security, and assurance capabilities.