By Simon Michie, CTO, Pulsant
Hybrid cloud has become the architectural choice for the great majority of small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) businesses, but the increasing complexity of its management and optimisation could stand in the way of the next major advance in IT: edge computing.
The Flexera 2022 State of the Cloud Report estimates that 80% of organisations now have a hybrid cloud architecture and 89% use multi-clouds. Flexibility, security, and control are what attract so many organisations to the hybrid cloud. Yet all too often, hybrid architectures suffer from a lack of visibility and the difficulty of optimising workloads. This in turn generates significantly excessive costs and undermines any idea of agility. And it certainly reduces the likelihood of any organisation successfully implementing or delivering the low latency applications of edge computing.
Edge computing is already taking shape. Together with the roll-out of high bandwidth 5G connectivity, it will bring advanced software as a service (SaaS) and artificial intelligence (AI) applications within reach of almost every business. 5G alone cannot enable this – edge computing depends on a network of highly connected edge data centres at strategic locations which process data close to where businesses generate it.
It also demands an effective, fully functioning edge infrastructure platform so organisations can implement the Internet of Things (IoT), or machine learning (ML), automation, analytics, content delivery and streaming applications. Processing data close to where organisations or end-users generate it opens everything from specialised manufacturing to automated logistics, highly personalised, super-fast fund management and sophisticated accountancy applications.
Get the hybrid house in order first
To avail themselves of these advances, organisations first need to iron out the difficulties they face managing unwieldy and increasingly costly hybrid architectures. According to the Flexera 2022 report, cloud spending by SMEs increased significantly in 2021 with 53% now spending more than $1.2 million – up from 38% in the previous year’s report.
This extra cloud investment is, unfortunately, not leading to greater efficiency, especially in SMEs where IT teams are small. Efficiency-sapping complexity of management and ever-higher costs are consistently causing problems. As organisations spread their data and workloads across different clouds and their own data centres, management difficulties mount. In the Thales 2021 Data Threat Report, only 24% of responding organisations said they fully knew where their data is stored. Flexera’s research suggests organisations waste as much as 32% of cloud expenditure. Such cost-inefficiency is perhaps inevitable when so many businesses expand cloud workloads on an ad-hoc basis rather than as part of a digital transformation strategy.
This is not how it should be. Hybrid architectures should give organisations of any size the agility to thrive in a data-driven world, mixing on-premises data centres, colocation and cloud. IT departments should be fully able to right-size workloads quickly and simply, deploying policy-based and coordinated service provisioning and management. These are capabilities organisations are going to need if they are serious about edge computing. They must get their hybrid architecture in order – but the question is how to do it when time and expertise are short.
Refurbishing hybrid architecture for the edge
Companies should start by re-examining what they want from the cloud, and whether their cloud and on-premise environments meet their business objectives. They must understand their current patterns of resource consumption across their entire architecture. It is common, for example, for lack of visibility to hamper IT departments so they cannot calculate the difference between on-premise and cloud costs for the same size of virtual machine (VM).
And in many businesses, there is often poor understanding of where to locate workloads for optimal cost and performance. Workloads with stable performance requirements can be more cost-effective in a private cloud on a longer-term contract. Architecture also needs to be flexible to cope with peaks and troughs and have a built-in capacity to scale automatically within parameters.
Next-generation cloud management tools
What SMEs in particular need are more effective management tools for hybrid architectures. The time has come for organisations to adopt a next-generation cloud platform that optimises cost and performance regardless of environment, providing control and a transparent view of data. This will unify management across all clouds and on-premise data centres.
These more sophisticated toolboxes address all the security and management difficulties of hybrid architectures across multiple cloud environments. Organisations regain visibility and control and are thereby able to choose providers and services for the best value.
They can deploy, allocate and migrate resources using a plan developed in collaboration with the platform provider. Just as importantly, these next-generation tools have been devised to take hybrid architectures into the era of edge computing, unlike the cloud management platforms provided by the big names in public cloud infrastructure. The new tools enable IT departments to obtain all the innovations of edge computing while maintaining, controlling and optimising access to the most sensitive data and workloads wherever they are – including secure locations.
Preparing the ground
To stand the best chance of successfully extending hybrid architectures into the cloud, organisations should prepare with a workload assessment. Employing best-in-class software, an SME will be fully capable of identifying usage of every server. This will examine different cloud environments and recommend where workloads should go in line with the business objectives of each deployment. Inputs into this process should include how the business expects to use AI and machine learning, requirements for data orchestration, along with specific security and compliance requirements.
IT can then accomplish configuration in line with aims specific to the business, making the different hardware and software elements fully interoperable. Once they have a detailed overview of all their environments and requirements, organisations should also ensure they have maximum flexibility and resilience via cloud on-ramps such as Megaport, which provides high availability of cloud services and the ability to add or change cloud connections. Fast fibre connections to the main public cloud providers’ hubs are also important since organisations, including SMEs, are still likely to use the resources of the hyperscalers. It makes sense to store certain types of data with AWS, Google, or Azure, and of course, to continue using proprietary applications.
A genuine edge infrastructure platform
Businesses must then ensure the edge infrastructure platform they adopt has all the capabilities it promises – most importantly, a network of strategically-sited regional data centres and fast connectivity with the major cloud providers’ hubs. Low latency and full route diversity to provide maximum resilience, are essentials. An evolved edge platform will also have an ecosystem of partners and specialist providers, which is a great advantage for any organisation, but especially SMEs, accelerating implementation and bringing access to a wider range of expertise and capabilities.
Moving from an edge strategy to digital transformation
Equipped with the right partners and detailed knowledge of their own hybrid environments, a business can then draft an edge strategy that leaves little to chance, enabling its decision-makers to understand which use cases will deliver the greatest gains and what is their best starting point. In this way, they will achieve the right balance between the use of their edge data centre and hyperscalers.
An edge infrastructure platform will give a business the strategic freedom to decide where data should be located and how it wants to access it, whether for compliance, latency or cost reasons. Edge computing is the most significant advance in IT for almost all businesses. The range of edge computing use cases is immensely broad and will profoundly change how businesses operate. For regional or highly dispersed organisations, it will significantly change how they view their own potential, opening up new business models.
But they must first address the current challenges of managing hybrid architecture and prepare the ground for the edge using a next-generation cloud management platform. Once they are in control of their hybrid environments, they can adopt new edge capabilities, enjoying a potent combination of agility and innovation. It will be through next-generation hybrid cloud toolsets and edge infrastructure platforms that they follow the most direct route to digital transformation.