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Cloud Expo: Article

Critical Enterprise Applications and Cloud Deployments

The 7% solution (so far)

New technologies always generate hype. To cut through the hype and find the value, you have to see how things fit in the real world, both in implementation and in actual realized benefits.

That's one of the reasons BlueStripe Software conducts an annual survey of IT Operations executives. It sheds light on their needs, their aspirations, and "what keeps them up at night." We've uncovered some interesting trends, and this year was no different when we asked about service delivery, performance monitoring tools, and the cloud.

It's conventional wisdom that the cloud is "good for IT" - that it can enable faster time to deployment, savings in capital and operating expense, consolidated infrastructure management, and flexible capacity scaling on demand. With that in mind, one number that stuck out in this year's survey was seven - the percentage of executives who said they have committed to investing in public or hybrid cloud solutions for their critical applications this year.

Seven percent? Didn't we just agree that everybody thinks that the cloud is good? How did this number end up so low?

It's useful to look at the makeup of the survey respondents at this point, because it has a lot to do with the 7%. The 2013 survey interviewed 166 IT Operations executives from large enterprise companies. While these companies are enthusiastic adopters of virtualization and private cloud (75% have deployed more than half their applications on those technologies), they tend to shy away from public cloud for their most critical applications.

A key reason enterprise IT shops have largely avoided public cloud services for critical applications is that those applications tend to include highly sensitive back-end systems and data, performing everything from building insurance policies to executing large volumes of financial transactions. They want to retain complete control and security over these systems - which they can't do if their applications are running in a public cloud service (or so they think).

Let's go back to the question of deployment. While only seven percent had committed, 65% of respondents said they were considering a public or hybrid cloud implementation. The value of cloud is still alluring to operations executives, but there's still work to be done to overcome the insecurity about - well - the insecurity.

The door is open, though. What do those executives need to see to step through that door? That information came out in the other areas of the 2013 survey. Specifically, IT executives were asked about satisfaction with their performance monitoring tools (especially around business services and applications). The numbers aren't pretty. Sixty-three percent were unsatisfied with their Application Performance Management (APM) tools, and 75% of executives were unsatisfied with their Business Service Monitoring (BSM) tools. Considering the cost - and IT Operations criticality - tied to these specific tools, those numbers are bad.

Those numbers pale, though, when compared to the percentage of respondents who said at least 25% of the time their tools couldn't find the cause of high priority application problems - 81%! Let that number soak in. These tools fail to accomplish the thing they're supposed to do one out of every four outages. Let's look at that number a different way. If the tool were an employee, that employee would simply slip out the door at 3 o'clock Thursday and show up for work again on Monday - every single week. I don't think it's a stretch to say that the answer to this question sheds light on the dissatisfaction results.

These bad feelings about management tool capabilities and effectiveness, combined with the fear of the loss of control in the first place, are at the heart of why large enterprise IT teams aren't moving to public cloud in droves. That could all be changing soon, though. The answer is hybrid cloud.

A properly architected application in a hybrid cloud environment puts user access systems into a public cloud service, while keeping the critical transaction systems on premise in the data center. This gives IT teams the best of both worlds: "unlimited" on-demand scalability for user requests on the front end, coupled with the security and control they need for their back-end systems. An application designed and deployed this way will alleviate the security and control concerns enterprise IT executives have with cloud systems.

There is one last piece, though, needed to complete the enterprise IT picture of a properly deployed hybrid cloud application - effective performance and availability management. Remember those dissatisfaction percentage numbers, 63 and 75? If IT executives can't trust their management tools in the data center, how can they rely on them to help in the cloud? The answer lies in transaction monitoring. The type of transaction monitoring needed for hybrid clouds hasn't been available long. The traditional APM and BSM tools aren't really built for it, but there are a set of solutions now that can track transactions across the data center and through the cloud.

With these tools in place, IT operations teams can track transactions across different application components in the cloud, in addition to the data center. Even better, some of them can even tie those two sides together to get a complete end-to-end view of any given transaction from the web request, through the cloud and into the back-end data center systems. This final step in the management evolution means that IT teams can deploy their critical applications in hybrid environments, scale on demand, secure their back-end systems, and manage performance and availability across both.

Who knows? Next year, we might have most of that 65% of "considering the cloud" executives answer that they're deployed in a hybrid environment and that they're actually happy with their performance management tools. Well, at least their transaction management tools.

More Stories By Vic Nyman

Vic Nyman is the co-founder and COO of BlueStripe Software. He has over 20 years of experience in systems management and APM and has held leadership positions at Wily Technology, IBM Tivoli and Relicore/Symantec.

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