Mark Reynolds, Commercial Business Executive - Sub Saharan Africa at VMware

By Mark Reynolds, Commercial Business Executive - Sub Saharan Africa at VMware

Organisation are in the midst of an application explosion. Irrespective of sector or audience, they are being defined by how fast they can deliver modernised apps and services that differentiate their business and enhance the user experience. As such, it is predicted that the number of applications created in the five years ending 2023 will be greater than the amount built in the previous four decades.  

To handle all of this, enterprise organizations are seeking cloud strategies that support the applications they need to transform their operational capabilities and deliver against strategic objectives. That means multi-cloud; deploying different and multiple cloud environments to meet the needs of all applications – most IT organisations support a mix of legacy applications while also deploying new cloud-native application architectures. The result is a mix of public, private, hybrid and on-premises platforms, as new global research from VMware reveals. Sixty percent of organizations are actively engaged in public cloud migration, with almost half (45%) more than halfway to their migration goal.  On-premises deployment still anchors hybrid cloud, with half (49%) of applications to remain hosted in the data center in three years. And most organisations’ cloud preference will continue to be hybrid, as they don’t want an either-or choice. Keeping up that pace means new ways of building, managing, running and securing the entire application estate. To help cope with this, two thirds (67%) have already containerised applications to drive developer productivity and app availability. 

Accelerating towards speed bumps?

However, while enterprises are accelerating their ability to modernise applications, they are coming up against challenges. The study found that security, a skills gap, production risks and refactoring complexity were the top four obstacles faced when reaching migration goals when it comes to security, applications are no longer static, hidden inside a corporate network behind a firewall. Both applications and their data are constantly moving across clouds, be it private, public, or in a hybrid environment. Being able to protect this properly becomes near impossible with traditional approaches. Even basic cyber hygiene principles, such as applying patches and updates, become a time-consuming minefield, and dramatically increase the potential success of a breach and its devastating consequences. 

Then there’s the skills gap issue, and associated production risks. The proliferation of environments needed to support these applications has meant organizations are faced with either upskilling existing teams or hiring the right employees in. The challenge is that there is a limited talent pool, both for training and hiring. This is leading to a skills gap and also runs the risk of creating silos, in much the same way that traditional IT was hamstrung by the need for separate teams for different systems. Enterprises run the risk of creating a new era of disparate, disconnected functions. Only this time in the cloud.

Building on that are the challenges of deploying unfamiliar operations and infrastructure. Without the skills to service them, there is a very real possibility of not being able to use these new environments effectively, being challenged by inconsistent data center and cloud operations, making it harder to achieve security, control, portability, and collaboration benefits, wasting investment, derailing their drive to deploy critical applications and services and impacting the overall user experience. 

Finally, there’s the need to address refactoring. In their rush to deploy the applications their organizations need, enterprises can potentially invest significant time, money and resources in rebuilding them to work on that specific platform, without any guarantee that it will function as needed. A wholesale lift and shift to the cloud isn’t always required or, more importantly, appropriate.

These are the main speed bumps in the enterprise road to mastering the application explosion. So, how can CIOs navigate these obstacles, and ensure that businesses are on the front foot to build, run, manage, connect and intrinsically protect any app, on any cloud, on any device?

Six ways to build, run, manage and intrinsically protect all applications

There are, in essence, six steps that enterprises should take to create the ideal environment to support their application estate. 

  1. Completely secure – no matter where an application is deployed, whether public, private or on-premises, it has to be secure and protected, intrinsically. In a world where applications and data exist as much outside the corporate network as they do within it, that means a new approach to security, one where it is intrinsically built in and not bolted on. Modern-day security requires an investment shift away from trying to prevent breaches at all costs and towards building intrinsic security into everything – the application, the network, essentially everything that connects and carries data. This is only possible through software. Where actually the focus isn’t on applications – it’s on the policies that govern them. With every part of the application, network and data adhering to the policy, all it takes is one change to ensure everything is compliant and updated – a vast improvement on having to adjust every single application within the estate.
  2. Consistent management of applications, regardless of where they’re deployed. To remove the need for specific skills, IT needs to be able to manage applications across different types of cloud, from data center, to public, to the edge. This needs to be agile, efficient and automated to ensure that IT teams can run applications and their environments in a consistent manner. Having this ability means having the visibility, operations, automation, security and governance to manage and operate their systems and apps, even across multiple cloud environments. It is only in doing so that enterprises can start migrating applications as required to meet business objectives, rather than as capabilities dictate. 
  3. Ensure applications are portable from cloud to cloud without refactoring. 25% of respondents highlighted this a challenge to achieving migration goals. However, there are multiple ways to move applications across developer platforms, without costly refactoring  – from replatforming to adopting a multi-tier approach, which sees the application split (for instance, with a front-end in a public cloud, and the data kept on-premises), to building cloud-native applications from scratch, or deploying a software-as-a-service version. The key to all of these, however, is having consistency across operations and infrastructure. 
  4. One set of tools, for one set of environments – dovetailing with consistent management, having one set of tools, on a common platform, to build and manage the entire application portfolio across all environments removes the need for vendor or cloud specific teams, reduces complexity – and provides the necessary visibility required across multiple environments.  
  5. Promoting collaboration between developers and operations – Developers need access to the tools and environments that are going to help them do their jobs. Operations teams are looking for a straight way to manage – continual changes are the stuff of operations nightmares. The risk is that if operations and developers cannot collaborate, then the latter will acquire their resources outside of the enterprise IT structure, leading to potential security risks. This has always been an issue; however, with applications so critical to business success, getting developers and operations on the same page is now an absolute imperative. Enterprises need to give developers what they need, while still ensuring that operations can manage it all effectively within the confines of corporate governance and regulation. 
  6. Empower developers to build and deploy applications to any public cloud – the days of taking six months to build and test an application are gone. Users want experiences rapidly, and the delivery of the applications and services providing those interactions needs to match that pace. To deliver that, developers need a common platform that means they can build applications anywhere and then deploy them in any environments, with the only consideration being how it meets the end objective. Containers are the future of app development as they both improve IT and developer efficiency, and speed development and deployment to meet business needs.  Kubernetes is clearly the preferred platform, delivering the operation of an elastic web server framework for cloud applications. What’s vital, though, is that it is suitable for developers’ skills – 81% of respondents wanted IT operations to provide developer-ready Kubernetes, including cluster infrastructure and Kubernetes lifecycle management. In short, it’s the democratisation of Kubernetes.

There’s a common theme through those steps – consistency. Consistency of management, consistency of operations, consistency of infrastructure. Have that, and enterprises are free to use the applications they need, in the environments that best meet their requirements. That means a digital cloud foundation that delivers consistent operations, delivering control, portability and collaboration, across a hybrid of private, public and on-premises platforms. One that enables developers to use the latest development methodologies and container technologies for faster time to production. In short, hybrid cloud. By a 2 to 1 margin, IT wants to extend data center tools and processes to the public cloud, rather than bring cloud operations tools to the data center.

As they navigate the application explosion, enterprises are aware they need to overcome major challenges if they are to realize the potential benefits of being able to deploy modern applications and deliver enhanced, valuable user experiences. With multiple environments to contend with, they need to be using hybrid cloud in order to have a single, unifying and consistent way in which to operate and manage applications and infrastructure.

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