Cloud operations, or CloudOps, generally refers to the methodologies deployed in support of a company’s cloud IT strategy, one that ensures the optimized delivery of cloud services, especially to achieve high availability. CloudOps is a high-level pattern that interconnects with other patterns including business processes, CloudOps strategy, CloudOps models, and DevOps. To this end, CloudOps serves both as a high-level model, but also can refer to the actual management and delivery of services for a company, including defining roles for people, outlining and detailing all processes involved, and integrating necessary technology.
CloudOps utilize three key concepts that support the normal provisioning of cloud resources. First, cloud operations attempts to monitor a company’s cloud activities through abstraction software that creates a “single-pane-of-glass” view, conveniently using a single administrative tool, of cloud resources and their interconnections. Second, CloudOps also utilizes automation for many critical processes, notably resource provisioning, which, while reducing human errors, significantly improves cloud efficiency and capabilities. Third, policy enforcement is made easier through monitoring and automation.
CloudOps and DevOps are two schools of thought born out of “agile” software development. While CloudOps overlaps DevOps practices, especially the use of automation, both are primarily concerned with achieving agility within their respective areas.
DevOps, which came before CloudOps, is a shortened combined form of software development and IT operations. DevOps aims to create a continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) environment that supports short development cycles, reduced time to market, and continuous improvements through rapid feedback and development. In practice, this means that developers are able to receive change orders and then push updates or patches weekly, daily, even hourly, responding to dynamic needs. DevOps teams are able to accomplish this rapidity and agility by tightly integrating both the operational systems, making IT services available, with development workflows, largely through automated testing and deployment systems.
CloudOps borrows liberally from DevOps methodologies, namely using agile principles and tight integrations between DevOps and cloud operations to rapidly respond to demand. DevOps is a collaborative approach to keeping apps updated and running, likewise, CloudOps attempts to keep cloud operations up and running, ideally over 99% of the time, known as high availability.
A cloud strategy guides how all the business units in an organization adopt the cloud and how it aligns with greater business goals. A “cloud-first” strategy balances business goals with strategic and technical limitations, gives a high-level review of the technology capabilities needed, and addresses the risks for each technology considered. For example, a business may want a highly robust and flexible system, while possible, the more robust a cloud strategy, the more it may be offset by availability and cost. A cloud strategy is a roadmap rather than a detailed document.
A cloud operating model, on the other hand, is an operational blueprint that outlines the processes, people, and technology required to carry out the agenda laid out in the cloud strategy. Operating models, in short, define the operational processes that execute on your cloud strategy.
Technology forms the foundational layer of a cloud operating model, defining the major capabilities and limitations of the system. The cloud platform is the most critical of these technologies. Cloud platforms support the management of cloud operations in several ways: creation and management of cloud services, enforcement operational best practices, provision of application management, development and deployment tools, and provision of host database tools.
Similar to other operating models, cloud operating models must also define roles for people, and processes they must adhere to. People will remain the most important aspect of the operating model despite increased usage of automation. Consideration must be paid to organizational hierarchy, roles (including internal and external roles), responsibilities, accountability, or any new required skill sets. Because there can be hundreds of unique processes used in daily operations, defining processes is a necessity. Once processes are known, and optimized, those that can be automated should be.
Cost-Effective Controls — Cloud service providers typically adhere to a granular payment scheme, based on the “pay-as-you-use” model. Because cloud resources tightly wrap cloud usage, when demand spikes, cloud systems respond, growing to fill demand, deflating when demand subsides. In this model, the payment scheme also wraps usage, and the company only pays for the resources used. The alternative is to pay for an allotment of resources, potentially leading to under-utilization of resources in low times, while also risking a lack of resources during peak times.
Scalability and Flexibility — As noted in the benefits of cost controls, the modern cloud is responsive to resource demands, referring to the scalability of cloud resources. The cloud is also flexible in its usage. Employees can interface with company systems and resources from anywhere, while IT departments will have a greater base of technology options to support those systems.
Automations — Automation is a necessary feature of cloud operations management, without it, the modern cloud ecosystem does not exist. Automation helps to reduce human error, reclaim valuable man hours, and reduce costs.
Enhanced Security — Major cloud service providers are able to leverage economies of scale, not only to enable scalability of cloud provisioning, but also to ensure enhanced security, more than what many organizations provide for their own systems. In many cases, enhanced security in the cloud is standard for securing compliance and protection of data.
Reduced Time to Market — Because of the rapid development cycle provided by CI/CD practices, CloudOps helps to reduce time to market by streamlining updates, upgrades, and innovation.
Backup and Disaster Recovery — Cloud systems are intended to be resilient and fault-tolerant, through the use of multiple backups, possibly in several locations. Depending on the degree of continuity required by the cloud use, for example, the need for financial information to remain available and current despite failures, backup systems can be configured to archiving data every month, day, hour, or even provide multiple data stores in parallel so that systems remain available through disasters.
Major cloud service providers have gone to great lengths to ensure the security, and reliability of their technologies and so provide many solutions to overcome CloudOps challenges.
Cultural Adoption — Organizations must reconcile their company culture with a cloud first culture. This challenge is receding as more business is conducted online, and using cloud resources. A cloud first culture adopts the cloud with enthusiasm to learn and leverage its benefits.
Cost Controls — This too is becoming less of a challenge. Manual provisioning of cloud resources is taking a back seat to automated provisioning, and as this becomes standard, so too will costs be tightly controlled to reduce over-provisioning.
Security Risks — While major public cloud providers secure themselves very well, cloud security still requires an updated approach to security thinking because the landscape for attacks has changed. Data security is top of mind as data rapidly generates, and is stored more in the cloud.
Governance — Companies operating multiple clouds will need governance infrastructure to ensure that they retain complete control over provisioning.
Vendor Lock-in — As the adage goes, don’t put all your eggs in one basket. While many major cloud providers provide migration tools that help transfer data between different providers, other CPS may not allow this. In this case, when the CSP doesn’t provide data tools to move data away from their systems easily, then that is considered a form of vendor lock-in.
Cloud Integrations — Integrating disparate technologies in the cloud will continue to pose challenges for companies. Standardizations and techniques, like APIs, though reduce the challenges with cloud integrations. Hiring the right technical expertise is highly encouraged.
Organizations need to set themselves up for success by leveraging the benefits of the cloud. The following best practices remind companies to first plan and build upon previously successful strategies.
Develop a CloudOps Strategy and CloudOps Model — Teams first begin with a CloudOps Strategy and CloudOps Model. A cohesive CloudOps Strategy must link clearly back to business goals. A subsequent CloudOps Model then needs to connect that strategy to realistic processes, technology, and roles that will execute that strategy. Implementing a cloud strategy is a time-consuming process, but is critical to the long term success of the project.
Visualize Network Infrastructure — Integrating the Cloud into company networks immediately complicates how network traffic and resources are utilized. Further, different cloud configurations, for example, multi-cloud and hybrid clouds, present network monitoring challenges. Implementing a vendor agnostic network monitoring software, with cloud monitoring capabilities, helps map out the network and draw insights from network data.
Promote Cloud-focused Cultural Alignment — An important concern is how the adoption of cloud-first technologies will impact company culture. Cloud technologies are ubiquitous, but their value often belies cultural acceptance. Cloud first cultures have bought into the benefits of the cloud, aim to learn and understand how the cloud supports the business, and leverage cloud technologies to improve performance. Before adopting a cloud-first strategy, understand how the people and processes specific to your organization will need to adapt in order to fit the new model.
Automate CloudOpsand Security — Leveraging automation in both operations and security is a fundamental measure in reducing risks and increasing efficiency. Key CloudOps workflows that benefit from automation include infrastructure build outs, deployments, scripts, patching, compliance, backups, provisioning, version control, and security monitoring. Each area, when automated, can signify a substantial time and cost savings, delivering predictable and scalable services.
Streamline Change Management — Change management is an often overlooked function, but it creates a framework that can reduce resistance to change, as well as improve time to adoption. Automating a collaborative change management system within CloudOps allows new developments to be implemented without disrupting operations.
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