May 10, 2016

A simpler framework for hybrid cloud

Hybrid cloud is one of top mind projects for most IT managers, and there's little content that one can add to be original   ;-)

The hype and the attempt of many vendors (including... Cisco) to provide relevant solutions have populated the space of an incredible number of offers that make it hard to distinguish what works, what's manageable and cost effective, from what is only marketecture.

Recently Cisco decided to invest even more on cloud and, with the advent of a new CTO and some acquisitions, a revision of our approach to hybrid cloud made it easier and more effective. This post is not from official marketing and is not echoing company's direction: it's my attempt to rationalize my understanding of the new framework and to solicit your comments and feedback, so that I can leverage it when I discuss with my customers and partners.
The following picture represents the area where Cisco plays a role, offering hardware and software solutions.
When it comes to the software stack to manage the infrastructure and provide services to the users, we have a mix of Cisco products, open source solutions and integration with 3rd parties. The objective is to offer a set of pre-validated stacks that can match the different needs, granting a deterministic result.

I shared some thoughts with a group of colleagues because we're planning educational activities for our field people: instead of just providing a reference architecture (that would end being a list of products to be forced in every deal) we tried to represent the functions in the system as components of a framework, from which we'll pull the specific architecture for a given project. This, used cum grano salis, should help to be pragmatic and realize quick wins (for both the customers - think of Fast IT initiatives - and of course for Cisco).

As a result, next picture is separating the different functional layers so that they can be explained to sales guys and to customers.
It could also help to manage the possible overlap with alternative solutions that customers may choose – or already have – because every element is replaceable in the picture, based on the open API they expose/consume (as well as any well designed 3rd party product).

It is important to note that the top two layers in the picture are optional, since not all customers need those functions in their system. Based on the level of Governance that they want to have, the existing processes and the way they develop business applications (or use commercial software that only need a resource pool to be deployed), the entry point could be directly at the third layer (Multi-Cloud Management) and ITSM and PaaS would be removed.

So, while we explain all the possibilities as said above, we need to make them feel confident that it’s doable and not overly complex.
In that regard, my motto is that “cloud is not a product (or a set of), it’s a project and it’s complex in nature… regardless the products set you choose”. Generally the cost of hardware and software products is lower than development and consulting services, and customers know it.
If we can claim that a pre-built integration makes the project easier (and we can), I would stress the value of reducing the project risk and delivering outcomes faster rather than a cheaper implementation.

Selling licenses can be (almost) easy, but driving adoption with business outcomes for customers is different. Finally Cisco has built a practice that can deliver IT projects effectively and recruited partners that do the same: customers have different options to choose from.

Now, in the context of a end to end strategy defined with the customer, we can deliver projects based on agile methodologies (e.g. Scrum) and implement the architecture layers with a bottom up approach: from a strong capability to automate the Data Center (and the hybrid cloud) you can create services that are surfaced up to the consumption layers, including a self service catalog.

Software Defined What?

The bottom up approach stresses the value of the API exposed by UCS and ACI (with the further evolution from basic programmability to policy-based management, that I'm not mentioning yet - look out for next post). With the power and the granularity of those API, you can really realize a fully Software Defined Data Center (SDDC): servers and networks can be shaped via software interfaces.
By the way, I take the opportunity here to clarify that Software Defined Data Center does not mean Software Implemented Data Center: you don't necessarily need a software overlay that mimics the behavior of the hardware (living as a separate entity), you need software controllers that drive the shape and the behavior of both physical and virtual resources in the DC as a single system.
Better if they do that based on policies... like the Cisco architecture does  :-)
You will see a post dedicated to policies and application intent soon on this blog.


We also recognize that many customers have already an ITSM solution in place, or any other form of governance. So we don't engage in competitive fights, like imposing Cisco Prime Service Catalog vs Service Now, but we rather integrate our solution with the existing components: this is a sort of compromise with a competitor that hurts my pride, but since it's for our customers' benefit... it's a good solution.

Cisco Cloud Center as a broker: the recent acquisition of Cliqr brings a great solution to Cisco to address the multi-cloud management use cases, the most important ones for the majority of customers. In the logical schema above you can see that the hybrid cloud scenario has been qualified better as Multi-Cloud management.
This reflects the fact that having a application deployed partly in your Data Center and partly in the public cloud is still a relevant use case, but many companies are more attracted by other scenarios... like moving from one project stage to next (e.g. Dev-Test-QA-Prod) using different resource pools (on premise or in cloud), or moving their assets from one cloud provider to a different one.

Cloud Brokering and Multi Cloud Management

In the first one (promotion to next stage) it could be useful to leverage resources that are allocated based on business convenience (e.g. cost or flexibility) or compliance (e.g. data sovereignty), so the application and all the needed infrastructure are moved back and forth to the public cloud.
In the second the driver could be a dual provider strategy, or maybe a change in the market conditions that makes one provider more appealing than the current one, or a strategic switch from private cloud to public (or vice versa).

In all these cases, we offer a solution to deploy a software stack (a complete custom application, a development platform, or a commercial software product) as a self service option, where the target can be selected dynamically from a list of available clouds.
You can deploy to your local private cloud, based on vmware or any other virtualization solution, or to a Openstack based cloud, or to any of the public cloud providers if you have an account there.
Any resource pool is a possible destination for the deployment (and the life cycle management, including autoscale or retirement of the application).
The model of the deployment of the application is completely de-coupled from the selection of the target, thanks to the capabilities of the orchestrator that can configure the needed resources in almost any cloud transparently.
It uses the API exposed by the element managers of a multi vendor infrastructure on premise (e.g. vcenter, UCS Manager, the ACI controller, etc.) and those exposed by public clouds like AWS, Azure, etc.

From a logical schema to a real deployment

So we can offer users a different entry point, based on their business needs (they might need a ticketing system, or a self service catalog, a PaaS solution or directly the web portal of the multi cloud manager to model deployments and deliver them).
The customer can have one or more resource pools, allocated wherever he likes (local or in cloud), and let the broker direct the selection of the target based on predefined policies.

The schema in next picture presents different products at every layer: a solution can be based on one of them, or a combination. We have the flexibility to match the specific needs with products from Cisco, from 3rd party vendors or open source.
As an example, MANTL is a new open source project that makes the development of microservices easier if you build cloud native applications.

I will expand the detail of the single products and the open source solutions shown in this picture in my next post.
Stay tuned...