How to Solve 4 Common Cloud Management Challenges

Your organization has implemented cloud services like infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) or platform-as-a-service (PaaS) in your environment. You are considering taking a cloud-first approach for new workloads, making cloud the new standard for application delivery.

Due to current economic pressures, you have a mandate to maximize efficiency and bring costs under control. You may also be tasked to deliver on projects that will help the business compete and thrive once recovery begins.

You want to make these things happen, but run into the same challenges facing many cloud adopters:

  • You are exceeding your planned cloud budget but don’t have enough data to pinpoint the source of those unexpected costs. Or you don’t have a consistent way to drive accountability for line of business (LOB) departments that are commissioning cloud resources on their own.
  • Senior management is concerned about security and compliance in the cloud (as they should be), your IT team has limited tools to enforce its policies.
  • The business relies on cloud infrastructure and services to be always-on, but IT hasn’t had the time or resources to establish a formal structure for cloud operations.
  • Many of your IT staff are comfortable in a traditional data center, but public cloud infrastructure skills are hard to hire for and often come at a premium. Perhaps you would like to retrain staff, but your team needs to spend most of its time maintaining current operations.

With the right tools, policies and partnerships, however, you can get a greater impact from your cloud investments and refocus on business priorities.

We’ll examine the cloud management benefits of improving visibility and accountability for cloud costs, establishing effective cloud governance, enhancing the efficiency and resilience of cloud operations and closing gaps in public cloud infrastructure skills.

Improving Visibility and Accountability for Cloud Costs

When you migrated some critical workloads to public cloud IaaS and PaaS, you probably learned fast that the same approaches that apply on-premise infrastructure don’t always work in the cloud.

In the cloud, approaches like over-provisioning resources to meet demand often drive up unnecessary spend. At the same time, public cloud services make it relatively easy to commission new resources, allowing LOB departments to spin up new instances outside the purview of the IT department. If some of these are left idle or underutilized, the result is further wasted spend.

Relying on usage and cost data available from their cloud provider alone, you may not be receiving all the information you need to allocate the costs in your cloud environment. This in turn makes it more difficult to build an accurate picture of ROI for key initiatives.

By introducing tools to automate cost allocation, you get clearer visibility into exactly where cloud costs are coming from.  This allows the IT team to identify and decommission idle and underutilized resources. Meanwhile, you are also better equipped to bill or show back cloud costs to the appropriate LOB departments, driving greater accountability and awareness of cloud value.

By rounding out your team with a cloud managed service partner (MSP), you can also benefit from ongoing advice and mentorship on ways to eliminate unnecessary spending in the cloud and better manage burst and elastic spend.

Looking for more guidance on cost management in the cloud? Watch the webinar on-demand

Establishing Effective Cloud Governance

Early in your cloud journey, you may have learned the substantial difference between security and compliance in the cloud and the data center. While shifting to the cloud offsets some security and regulatory compliance responsibilities to the public cloud provider, the cloud consumer retains some core accountabilities.

From our experience at Softchoice, many new public cloud adopters make decisions quickly and in a decentralized manner, which results in manual efforts that in turn lead to sprawling patchworks of configuration standards.

Here, a formal governance model – a framework with a set of policies and standard practices for cost optimization, resiliency, security, or compliance – is vital for keeping the entire organization on track.

While Forrester indicates that IT teams should dedicate 10% to 15% of cross-functional resources to governance activities, many IT departments are stretched thin and don’t have the time to spare [1].

As Forrester recommends, a formal governance program starts with federated approach to continuous improvement and management guided by a central cloud advisory board. As an extension of this team, a formal cloud management role or group can help define and enforce standards and best practices.

In distributed or siloed cloud environments, it’s important to have a central place for cloud practitioners to share best practices.

For newer cloud adopters or organizations with lower confidence in their cloud capabilities, a cloud MSP will help select and implement the standards and tools necessary to monitor the health, usage, security threats and compliance across multiple cloud environments. They can also lend support in tracking and enforcing governance policies through automated cloud deployments based on built-in standards.

An effective formal governance model is critical to success in the cloud. Download the Forrester Report.

Enhancing the Efficiency and Resilience of Cloud Operations

When it comes to deploying new cloud services, you may have found it difficult to ensure your cloud infrastructure resilient and optimized for performance.  When your cloud infrastructure is serving critical applications and services, however, stabilizing the environment and operations to keep supporting your critical business applications is paramount.

Some of our cloud customers have found that when they need to access support from a public cloud provider, they spend a long time navigating complex phone trees and escalation paths to reach the best person to solve the problem. While these providers deliver the best support possible, the sheer volume of clientele makes it difficult to offer service tailored to a given organization’s environment or needs.

With the help of an MSP, you can adopt a turnkey operational model that addresses the processes, people and skills required to effectively manage their public cloud resources. Many MSPs are also equipped to help you take advantage of public cloud provider programs and incentives to reduce your cloud costs and build the best cloud setup for your needs.

Are you struggling to balance innovation projects with effective cloud governance? Get the guide.

Closing the Gaps in Public Cloud Infrastructure Skills and Experience

When your journey to the cloud began, you likely faced a considerable challenge: limited or no in-house expertise related to cloud management best practices.

In fact, Gartner indicates that by 2022, insufficient cloud IaaS skills will delay half of enterprise cloud migrations by 2 or more years [1].

Without these skills however, understanding cloud cost drivers, deploying cloud resources effectively and monitoring the health and performance in the environment becomes an uphill struggle.

We find that when many Softchoice customers have attempted to build cloud operations team in-house, they quickly hit a proverbial brick wall – demand for cloud-native skills far exceeds the current supply. Those with cloud experience have become rare and expensive to recruit.

Meanwhile, taking the time out to retrain and upskill internal IT staff on cloud skills risks leaving the current environment unmaintained. It also creates the possibility that investment in cloud knowledge or certification could leave the organization when somebody moves on to another opportunity.

With an MSP relationship in place, your IT team has the option to offload the operation and maintenance of their cloud services and infrastructure to a certified team of engineers. Meanwhile, some MSPs will provide ongoing training sessions to build cloud expertise within your team while moving at their own pace.

The results? In many cases, by working with an MSP you can operate your cloud environment at a lower cost than hiring, receive 24/7 support and remain safe in the knowledge that your staff are receiving ongoing education from cloud certified engineers.

What Are Your Next Steps?

If you plan to adopt or have recently adopted public cloud, one or more of these examples may have hit home. With the rapid adoption of public cloud, many organizations are looking to optimize costs and ensure they grow their cloud environments in a way that supports smart, sustainable growth.

But balancing your cloud journey with other IT and business priorities is a common – yet surmountable – challenge. Wherever you find yourself on your cloud transformation journey, Softchoice is positioned to help.

Explore Softchoice Managed Cloud Services.

[1] “4 Trends Impacting Cloud Adoption in 2020,” Smarter with Gartner, January 2020.

Where to Find Savings in Your Cloud or Data Center Environment

Part 1 of our 2-part series on Driving Efficiency through Infrastructure Optimization. Read Part 2, “How to Add to Your IT Environment without Adding Costs.” 

For IT departments, the mandate to do more with less and get the most out of technology investments isn’t new. But today there’s much more pressure to find and seize immediate opportunities to cut costs.

In addition to rationalizing software and restructuring contracts, on-premise data center and public cloud infrastructure are two high impact areas for potential short-term savings.

There are some common challenges, however. In the cloud, lack of visibility and formal governance practices makes it harder to learn where and how to find savings. In the data center, the need to avoid new capital expenditures makes it necessary to free up existing capacity to support new projects.

In fact, cloud consuming organizations waste an average of 30% of their cloud spend due to redundant resources (Source: RightScale). At the same time, inactive data accounts for 50% of total storage capacity, taking up valuable space (Source: NetApp).

The best options for making short-term financial impact in the infrastructure environment are:

  • Reducing cloud costs by improving management and visibility
  • Freeing up data center compute and storage capacity to avoid future costs

Below, we go deeper into each of these cost saving opportunities.

Reducing Cloud Costs through Improved Management and Visibility

Without careful management, public cloud infrastructure costs can get out of control.

Because organizations can procure and consume public cloud resources much easier than their on-premise counterparts, losing track of workloads and associated spend is a common problem.

Redundant resources, the absence of adequate monitoring tools and lack of control over who initiates or decommissions workloads in the cloud all contribute to over-spend.

The Flexera State of the Cloud Report for 2020 found that 79% of those surveyed cited managing costs as a top cloud challenge, second only to security.  The report also found that enterprise companies overspent their cloud budgets by 23% on average in 2019.

To right-size public cloud infrastructure and drive cost efficiency, consider the following actions:

  • Find and remove overprovisioned or idle resources: Identifying and reviewing accounts with low I/O activity helps you determine which resources could be decommissioned with minimal impact to the business.
  • Implement and enforce formal cloud governance: A formal cloud governance policy helps you better understand the structure of cloud costs, establish accountability and control access and decision-making around cloud resources.
  • Adopt a cloud management platform: A cloud management platform helps enhance visibility into your public cloud environment to promote better forecasting for cloud budgets based on real-time usage. Further categorizing cloud instances by assigning metadata tags related to billing, environments, applicable compliance requirements and more allows IT teams to track usage and associated cost across cloud instances, even in a hybrid or multicloud environment. IT can then augment and automate tagging using cloud native tools for policy enforcement. Together, these ensure that utilization meets requirements while reducing financial risk.
  • Optimize cloud storage: As with on-premise infrastructure, automating the categorization and storage of active and inactive data into performance and capacity tiers in the cloud helps drive further efficiency.
  • Implement automated scaling: Putting automated scaling in place allows you to scale up resources when needed and scale down the rest of the time. This replaces the need to accommodate maximum utilization, which is often a needless expense.
  • Use reserved versus on-demand instances: The leading public cloud providers offer discounts to customers for reserving instances for anticipated future needs in advance rather than pay higher rates for on-demand usage.

Looking to learn more about managing in the cloud? Get the guide

Freeing Up Data Center Resources to Avoid Costs

Compared with adding new usage-based public cloud resources, the cost to continue operating an owned data center is often negligible. However, when capacity isn’t optimized for efficiency, the result is additional capital expenditures when the time comes to support new applications or projects.

For instance, many organizations over-provision data center hardware to avoid the problem of running short of capacity within their virtualized infrastructure. Meanwhile, inactive data stored on-premises takes up valuable storage resources that could be tapped for other initiatives.

To free up on-premise infrastructure and avoid unnecessary future spend, we recommend these steps:

  • Optimize virtual machine resources: Optimizing workload placements and right-sizing VM allocations addresses inefficiencies by addressing risk and capacity waste. This increases efficiency by reclaiming resources from over-sized Virtual Machines (VMs). At the same time, increasing VM density by rebalancing VMs helps to safely address workload requirements and avoid resource contention.
  • Optimize on-premise storage: While not a direct cost reduction, optimizing on-premise storage allows you to extend the life of existing storage and defer capital costs. Tiering storage to the cloud automates the categorization of active and inactive data. By moving inactive data to a lower-cost cloud storage provider, you can free up on-premise capacity for new projects and pay for additional storage at a lower monthly rate.

Next Steps to Finding Cost Savings in Your Environment

Finding short-term opportunities and immediate steps to reduce infrastructure spending may require the help of an experienced and specialized solutions provider like Softchoice.

We offer the following solutions to assist organizations like yours to find and take advantage of these savings opportunities.

  • Cloud Cost Assessment: Analyze your existing public cloud workloads to uncover immediate cost-savings opportunities and improve visibility into cloud cost drivers.
  • Data Center Technology Review: Pinpoint opportunities to optimize infrastructure with the goal of freeing up existing capacity to offset future capital expenses. The review targets server, storage, virtualization, hybrid cloud, backup and file systems.
  • Cloud Data Tiering Accelerator: Identify inactive data stored on-premise that could be moved to lower-cost public cloud storage to free up on-premises capacity.

Our team of licensing and technology vendor experts are ready to help you find efficiencies wherever you are in your journey from response to recovery.

Looking for help to find and address cost savings opportunities in your IT environment?

Connect with an Expert.

The Role of DevOps in Building Cloud Applications

Why do so many software projects overrun their budgets and timelines, or even fail altogether? While there are many possible causes, from the technical to the cultural, the most common include inadequate communication, lack of collaboration and difficulty adapting to the specific skills and demands of cloud computing.

For example, imagine a system administrator who has been overseeing an on-prem application, which is now in the process of being moved into Microsoft Azure. At each stage of the app lifecycle, from initial lift-and-shift through modernization, new skills will be needed to navigate the transition and meet all the project requirements. 

Some traditional competencies, applying patches for instance, are no longer as relevant as cloud service providers handle them. But  without a solid DevOps practice in place, a lot can go wrong, including:

  • Departmental silos that result in miscommunications and time-consuming rework or duplication of effort.
  • Software releases that fall behind schedule or suffer from lower quality even when completed.
  • In fact, the 2019 Accelerated State of DevOps Report found that DevOps made a major difference in an organization’s ability to deploy code fast, minimize lead times, avoid change failures and recover services.

DevOps helps solve some of the central problems with cloud application development and management. But what is DevOps, exactly, and how can teams get the most value from it?

Defining DevOps: A movement for better coordination and collaboration

DevOps can seem like a Rorschach Test. Every person who examines it will provide a different definition of what it is. Despite varying perceptions, there are some generally accepted principles of DevOps, as shown in definitions of the term from cloud service providers like Microsoft Azure.

DevOps encompasses:

  • An overarching cultural commitment to unifying development (Dev) and IT operations (Ops) for superior collaboration between these teams and the elimination of silos. This component requires effective leadership to bring once-siloed departments together.
  • The widespread implementation of automation, as well as of practices such as continuous integration and continuous delivery (along with native security measures), infrastructure-as-code and Agile methodology.
  • Specific tools that support the more collaborative and continuous workflows in DevOps, including CI/CD platforms and Azure templates for automated deployment, provisioning and configuration of infrastructure.
  • Ongoing measurement of everything (for instance, the KPIs identified in the Accelerate State of DevOps Report, such as deployment frequency and average lead time) to ensure visibility into and refinement of processes. 

Through these principles, DevOps offers substantial value to any organization working its way through the cloud application lifecycle. The main benefits range from more consistent software quality and fewer defects to lower costs and faster time to market.

Greater consistency

Automation is a key tenet of DevOps, and for good reason: It helps remove many of the manual workflows that create bottlenecks during development, deployment and operations. Instead of relying on siloed workflows that are prone to human error, teams can instead automate activities like testing and deployment. Moreover, these workflows can be scaled and managed much more efficiently than before. 

The same infrastructure can be automatically deployed across multiple environments for development, quality assurance and more, plus governance is simplified by DevOps tools for tracking versions and changes. DevOps companies enjoy greater reliability of their IT operations even as they take on ambitious new projects.

Lower costs

DevOps boost agility, enabling teams to respond more quickly to changes in their markets and seize opportunities as they arise. Under a traditional ops model, shepherding just one app through its lifecycle from start to finish can take so long that it’s no longer relevant by the time it’s completed. 

The numerous delays and duplicated work associated with app development. For example, not having a clear picture of  requirements and specifications creates the need to navigate disparate documents. The cost of these inefficiencies adds up as the pace and quality of the project erode. DevOps offers a better blueprint for success.

Superior customer experience

Now that public cloud is an integral part of so much consumer and B2B software, customers have higher expectations for application and user experience. After all, public clouds can deliver many more resources on-demand faster than on-prem infrastructure. This supports use cases like audio/video streaming and conferencing, online backup and more sophisticated web apps.

In this context, it’s crucial for DevOps teams to evaluate KPIs related to customer experience on a regular basis. With the right implementation and tools, DevOps can help greatly with hitting metrics for website load times, conversation rates, dwell time and others relevant to a wide range of industries. Internally, DevOps can also provide a much improved experience for teams that once had to rely on disparate data sources and error-prone manual work to get almost anything done.

Getting more from DevOps in Azure 

Although DevOps can in theory be implemented to support any type of software project, it provides the most ROI in the cloud. Azure provides the infrastructure and tools to maximize the value of DevOps automation.

More specifically, Azure offers (among many other features):

Templates

Azure Resource Manager (ARM) templates that can be pulled from the Azure Marketplace or from GitHub repositories. These resources allow for more efficient application provisioning, as well as the deployment of numerous services along with their dependencies. 

For example, virtual machines, databases, and various connections can all be configured with specific input/output parameters within ARM templates. Overall, Azure templates simplify deployment and rollback while providing convenient support for cross-configurations and updates.

ASR/DRaaS

Azure Site Recovery helps ensure that even complex applications in DevOps environments can have their critical workloads recovered with just one click. It’s simple to deploy from the Azure portal, receives automatic updates, eases regulatory compliance and reduces infrastructure costs compared to an on-prem DR solution.

Getting started with ASR can be as simple as replicating a VM(s) to a different Azure region. By using ASR, it’s possible to support high availability via secondary instances of key applications and also make accurate backups of critical data, in addition to having reliable DRaaS during a failure.

Serverless computing

Azure’s serverless offerings come with availability and fault tolerance built in and nothing that needs to be provisioned or managed in a traditional way. As a result, DevOps teams can move more quickly, taking advantage of Azure APIs and using a fully managed platform to build applications for edge, hybrid and cloud environments. 

Where to go next with Azure and DevOps

Microsoft has recognized Softchoice as an Azure Expert Managed Service Provider (MSP) for the delivery of high-fidelity managed services. We offer our Public Cloud Technology Review, which is a planning assessment that answers questions about which workloads to move into Azure, the costs and configurations necessary for running these targets on Azure and the specifics of Azure migrations.

Softchoice Managed Cloud services will also help with Azure cost management, operations, mentorship and support. Set up a conversation with an expert today to get started with our Azure offerings in your DevOps organization.