Somewhere, someday, a CEO is going to get a sales pitch on managed cloud services and turn around to the CIO and ask, “Why did we put our data in a cloud that’s not managed?”
In some ways, “cloud managed services” seems like a misnomer. Cloud, by definition, is a managed entity. But there’s a vast difference between what you may get from a generic public cloud versus public cloud services provided by a managed cloud provider.
Generic public cloud has fundamentally revolutionized computing. It has provided enterprises with the means to speedily deploy IT resources without having to invest in infrastructure, and to pay-as-you-go for only the server resources you use — with the added benefit of being able to scale up or down virtually on-demand.
Lowest common denominator
Public cloud vendors can bring vast resources to market because they can spread the costs of infrastructure across many, many customers. For numerous enterprises, that is a much more cost-effective approach than using a private cloud designed for one specific company. The flip side is that public cloud services are essentially shared spaces – the vendor is managing to a lowest common denominator to ensure the broadest customer satisfaction.
Rackspace CEO Taylor Rhodes offered an illuminating metaphor of generic public cloud a few years ago: “Buying unmanaged cloud computing is like renting an apartment from a landlord who requires that you repair the air conditioner and plumbing whenever they break. Major vendors like Amazon and Google are essentially renting out access to raw infrastructure. It’s up to you to manage not only that hardware and software but also the many complex tools and applications that run on top of it, and are essential to tapping the power of the cloud.”
If your needs are relatively simple, that approach may be fine. But if more complex, and if you’re strapped for fiscal resources or skilled staff, the go-it-alone approach is likely to lead to frustration, missed goals, and even outright failure. While public cloud providers do a great job managing their cloud-based resources, they largely leave it up to you to figure out how to align those with your actual needs.
Beyond simple options
What is indisputable about cloud is that there are options available to suit any needs. As Owen Rogers of 451Reseach points out, “Private, public, managed, commercial, and open source clouds can all be winners depending on circumstance, showing the economic benefit of adopting a hybrid or multi-cloud strategy.”
Now, if like most enterprises, you’re running a multi-cloud environment with cloud services from multiple vendors, you’ll need skillsets and tools geared to each solution in your portfolio. That can add to costs pretty quickly.
Enterprises have in recent years increased their reliance on managed service providers CIO pointed out in 2015. “Companies have become more familiar with managed services and are turning to them for management of certain IT functions, particularly email hosting, customer relationship management (CRM) applications, storage, backup and recovery, and network monitoring,” writes CIO senior writer Thor Olavsrud.
Managed cloud is the logical next step. Even Amazon Web Services (AWS) has decided to get in on the game, partnering with managed cloud providers such as Rackspace. “The product is comprised of a series of tools that will help primarily Fortune 100 customers create automated processes for migrating applications to the cloud and managing them once they’re there,” Network World reports.
The allure of AWS and competitors such as Microsoft Azure is too much to pass up for IT chiefs who are under the gun to empower an agile enterprise at the least cost possible. But managing those services represents a whole new ballgame for IT teams.
“AWS takes lots of responsibility off of the hands of the data center staff, and instead provides APIs that allow assets to be created, configured, and connected together,” writes Forbes contributor Dan Woods. “But unlike a data center where you can know so much about every component, in the cloud you can only know what Amazon lets you know.”
With a managed cloud offering, says Rackspace, “engineers manage not only the customers’ computing, storage, networks, and operating systems, but also the complex tools and application stacks that run on top of that infrastructure.”
Competing for talent
Many enterprises will find it difficult to compete with cloud vendors for the talent necessary to manage their cloud assets independently. “Finding the talent that understands how the customer behaves and what they need differently is difficult,” new Rackspace President Jeff Cotton says in an interview with Talkin’ Cloud, not to mention having the necessary credentials and certifications. “Finding the people that are either already certified or capable of obtaining the certification of some of these cloud platforms is a very big challenge.”
As enterprises migrate applications and data over to public clouds, the questions IT chiefs should be asking: Do they truly understand the requirements of managing this new environment? Or would their lives be easier using a managed cloud offering? At some point you just know the CEO is going to want to know.