Five Simple Rules for a Successful Hybrid Cloud Architecture on AWS

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The information in this blog was pulled from the AWS Vancouver Meetup Group Presentation.

When discussing cloud strategies, hybrid cloud often comes up as a possible solution. In all honesty, it’s not a solution Onica promotes. Sometimes, however, it’s absolutely necessary for clients who are facing certain limitations in their workloads. If that’s your situation, we want to make sure you’re enacting your hybrid cloud architecture correctly.

What is a Hybrid Cloud Architecture?

Hybrid cloud is a cloud computing environment that uses a mix of on-premise and off-premise cloud services and IT resources with some type of orchestration between the platforms. The goal of the hybrid model is to combine services and data from these platforms to create a automated, unified computing environment.

Although there are many interpretations of what it means to enact a hybrid cloud architecture, nailing down a definition of what it means to use hybrid cloud is hard. In reality, hybrid cloud can be thought of as any sort of interaction where you have resources deployed in multiple places. This may include using any combination of on-premise deployment, public cloud provider, or even multiple public cloud providers. While there are some reasons a business might pursue hybrid cloud over other cloud options, as with any other cloud strategy, the key to hybrid cloud success lies in the ability to create a strong architecture. If hybrid cloud is your only option, here are some tips for ensuring that your architecture finds success, and that you’re using the right tools for the job.

Avoid Lowest Common Denominator Solutions

When it comes time to enact deployment in hybrid cloud people often mistake “the cloud” as an equivalent of servers and therefore think of their problems in relation to how they would treat those problems when using on-premise solutions. In reality though, the comparison isn’t apples to apples, and thinking of it as such can limit the future of your solutions by keeping you away from the big picture.

The reality is that cloud solutions like AWS can offer so much more than just things like the scaling of servers. Minimizing the use of AWS to “just servers” eliminates the use of other great solutions like serverless technology and other AWS native tools that offer durability and innovation in your architecture. Doing so also restricts what you can accomplish with your architecture. When operating in a cloud paradigm, your approach becomes different. Using lowest common denominator tools in these situations means you’re often not using the right tools for the job, and can create unhealthy dependencies on the tool vendors, when in reality approaching the problem from a cloud paradigm may offer a more natural solution suited to both the cloud and the issue at hand.

Think Apps, Not Infrastructure

Similar to the troubles with lowest common denominator solutions, looking at infrastructure over your application stack can lead to promoting solutions that might operate differently or inefficiently on the cloud. Returning to the idea of using the right tool for the job, it’s important to assess how your app stack runs, what it runs on, and whether this approach would still be the right one if you move to AWS.

By shifting to the mindset of “How would this work on the cloud?” you can consider how the app operates and what it needs to run, then decide what tools would help make this application function in the cloud.

As an example, we once had a client who had an application they used for file movement. It was important to help migrate this application as it was considered a dependency of about 300 other applications in their environment. The question initially was “How do we migrate this application we’re dependent on? All these other applications are going to break so we have to do this very carefully.” But stepping back, we then began to ask “Why are we dependent on this one application to move files back and forth when it’s probably one of the easiest things to do in a network architecture? Why can’t it be a solution we solve for each application?” The odds were that each application probably needed to move files in a different way anyway. So we ended up breaking things up to use the right tool for each job rather than moving everything into that single app that was a dependency for the environment.

Align Concepts, Not Tools

Returning to the idea of “the right tool for the job”, sometimes the right tool is “tools.” Rather than try to create solutions that get run through a single tool, it’s important to assess how your solutions align conceptually. This means standardizing things around a concept rather than a single tool. This is an important portion of hybrid architecture because as previously noted, different infrastructures may operate in different ways to accomplish the same goal. Say, for example, you have an immutable infrastructure where you have virtual machine images where all information lives. You may build those machine images in a different way on-premise versus in AWS. But by maintaining the concept of immutable infrastructure, you can make parallel design decisions in each environment, using different tools to make each effective, but ultimately united by a common thread. This idea not only helps you pick the best tool for each environment, but also helps you play to each platform’s strength.

Empower Application Teams

Giving development teams power over development environments enables your team and allows for greater success. This may be a challenging concept to get behind, especially since organizations typically have strictly delineated teams and processes around development, security, networking, etc. However, this approach can really spur quicker change and innovation while creating less of a bottleneck through processes.

What this requires for success is the use of Infrastructure as Code. In AWS, this is simple to accomplish through tools like CloudFormation, which offers a safe duplicate area of production. So say, for example, there are firewall changes that need to be made when deploying a new application. Process may say that a developer should fill out a spreadsheet that includes things like source IP, destination, IP protocol, and all the other changes for this firewall to change in Dev. But if we give developers a bit of access to the Dev version of the firewall and allow them to play with the API calls they need to make changes automatically roll out for the firewall configuration, then they can create a script that only works in Dev allowing them to run tests to see if the changes work as they expect. This then gets passed on to network and security teams for checks. Those teams can confirm if the changes make sense or reject changes that compromise security rules and protocols. By doing things this way in a safe environment, network and security teams save time in the process, allowing them to work on other things while development teams are able operate more quickly.

Ask Yourself “Is This Even a Problem?”

It’s a common misconception in hybrid environments that everything should work the exact same way across on-premise and cloud environments. When they don’t, it can be perceived as a problem, even if it’s not truly the case. What happens then is you end up looking for a solution that falls to the lowest common denominator again, often creating more harm than benefit.

Trying to fix non-existent problems because you expect hybrid to run like on-premise is not only damaging to outcomes, but can create barriers in processes, limit the abilities of your team, and create unnecessary spend in the long run. Instead, taking the approach of understanding the situation and the “why” behind it can prevent the creation of problems that aren’t truly problems.

There’s no single way to create a successful Hybrid Architecture on AWS, but following these rules and using the right tools can help when you’re limited by your architecture needs. Breaking down these rules for hybrid architectures comes down to a case of “Dos & Don’ts.” Not getting stuck in the definition of hybrid and not treating the cloud like a data center is key to enacting a successful hybrid architecture. Similarly, taking advantage of the strengths of each platform, and leveraging cloud services from on-premise is also important to maintaining the best of each side. Finally, having a single point of reference for monitoring health, and looking for single points of failure between environments is key to ensuring your architecture works together well.

Interested in how Onica can help you achieve a successful hybrid cloud architecture? Get in touch!

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