Architecting the Hybrid Cloud

Consumers energy corporations

For two years, the utility provider had been looking to implement a cloud strategy to meet the demands of their customers. Their IT team was spending too much time on menial tasks, putting out fires and dealing with downtime, and they wanted to change the way they delivered IT services to make their consumption easier. They believed a highly automated cloud infrastructure with a self-service portal could solve a lot of their problems.

The Journey to a Hybrid Cloud featuring Consumers Energy

The Challenge

The company’s primary goal was to build cloud architecture with the capability to leverage the public cloud when it made sense. Specifically, they wanted to:

  • Achieve a functioning hybrid cloud service catalog in just six months
  • Decrease the amount of time it took to deliver services
  • Enable self-service capabilities for developers
  • Automate the configuration of basic-access control for all systems
  • Enforce the deployment of fully-patched and updated VMs

To achieve these goals, they needed to take four major steps:

  1. Find a strategic partner: While the IT organization worked with a number of technology partners and resellers in various capacities, they didn’t have a partner who could offer both the strategic understanding and technical capabilities necessary to design and implement a hybrid cloud.
  2. Set the hybrid cloud infrastructure strategy: The IT organization needed to set the strategic direction of hybrid cloud and choose technologies to meet their requirements.
  3. Overhaul the build process: The IT team needed to streamline and optimize the way they were building servers and deploying applications for internal clients.
  4. Empower IT with new skills and processes: The organization needed to equip team members with the right skills and capabilities necessary to operate the new hybrid cloud infrastructure model efficiently.

Choosing a Strategic Partner

The company was already using a large outsourcer and reseller as their consulting partner and had a robust network of manufacturers including Cisco and VMware. While these partners could effectively deploy technology products, the company needed specific help determining the big-picture approach to creating a strategic solution with integration across several vendors.

The internal cloud team visited AHEAD’s Lab and Briefing Center to attend strategic workshops hosted by cloud specialists and gain a greater understanding of AHEAD’s proprietary methodology.

AHEAD’s cloud methodology is built on the foundational understanding that there is no such thing as an “out-of-the-box” or turnkey hybrid cloud. This approach is standardized in AHEAD’s consulting life-cycle, the AHEAD Innovation Framework, which breaks the process of transitioning to a hybrid cloud model into three major phases:

  • Strategy and Roadmap: A hybrid cloud initiative will often fail without a thoughtful evaluation of a business’s long-term strategic and technical goals before any other steps. These goals are used to create a multi-year roadmap that serves as the guiding point for all cloud initiatives.
  • Design and Plan: Each hybrid cloud is unique to an enterprise’s business goals and technical environment. AHEAD helps clients build a custom environment with the tools that are most suited to their needs and operate within their existing technical environment.
  • Deploy and Manage: Successful implementation of a hybrid cloud requires the understanding that moving to the cloud is an iterative journey versus a destination. This means providing training for employees and maintaining, optimizing, and strengthening your service delivery regularly. AHEAD doesn’t implement a hybrid cloud and walk away, our cloud specialists continue to help evolve our clients’ environments and processes.

Impressed with AHEAD’s capabilities and experience, the client asked AHEAD to design a hybrid cloud solution with an automated service catalog and public cloud capabilities, along with training around new processes and technologies.

Building the Hybrid Cloud

To determine the appropriate strategy, AHEAD gathered all of the company’s stakeholders into one room for a workshop to understand their business requirements, critical factors, risks and assumptions.

When this phase was complete, AHEAD led a design workshop and mapped out the automation process, eliminating redundant steps For increased efficiency. AHEAD then moved into the design and implementation phase for the hybrid cloud using the following solutions:

Cloud Management Platform

AHEAD designed vRealize Automation blueprints for Windows, Linux, and SQL VMs running on vSphere. To eliminate manual tasks, AHEAD also implemented vRealize Orchestrator workflows including third-party integrations with Active Directory, Infloblox, and ServiceNow.

Configuration Management

With the company’s goal of automating the configuration of basic-access control for all systems, they needed to implement a robust configuration management tool. The company was using about 90 percent Windows operating systems and ten percent on Linux. However, most of the new workloads deployed would be running Linux, and any configuration management approach would need to support both operating systems.

While the client already owned Microsoft System Center to manage its Windows servers, it needed viable configuration management tool for Linux. The client evaluated SCCM, but ultimately decided against it given a lack of maturity in the product.

To simplify the entire process, AHEAD implemented Puppet, a single tool that can be used to manage both Windows and Linux, and trained the organization how to use the tool for their configuration management needs.

Cloud Infrastructure

AHEAD’s design also enables the organization to use public cloud services via Microsoft Azure when they are ready.

AHEAD trained and collaborated with the existing cloud teams to jointly build out the hybrid cloud environment. In addition, AHEAD built a business value analysis to track the progress of this project. This will allow the company to measure the ongoing results of putting this new system into place.

Accelerating Service Delivery and Enabling Self Service

The process that the IT team had been using to provision and build servers was outdated and inefficient. Each server request took six weeks to fulfill and required input from more than six separate IT teams, including network, servers, storage, security, Linux, and Windows. With over 30 steps in the build process running across multiple teams, and many of these steps involving the running of irregular scripts, the process was slow and lacked effective communication. In fact, many individuals didn’t know the purpose or benefit of various steps throughout the process.

To tackle this problem, AHEAD collaborated with the IT departments to eliminate redundant steps from the build process and streamline inefficient steps. Using vRealize as the service catalog, AHEAD standardized all of the scripts being used across the process, optimizing each one for automation. After the transformational project was complete, the customers were able to access the catalog via a self-service portal, and the entire request and build process had accelerated from six weeks to just thirty minutes.

Empowering IT with Specialized Training

Individuals in IT are motivated to develop and hone valuable technology skills, and they need to be working in an innovative, challenging environment to do so. A large project like a hybrid cloud infrastructure transformation empowers these individuals to learn how to create and make use of new efficiencies.

Developing these skills, however, requires much more formal training. AHEAD worked closely with the company’s dedicated cloud team, helping them to develop the necessary skillsets to build out the project together. Starting with the automation and orchestration pieces, over the course of four months, AHEAD built out around 65 percent and the internal team built 35 percent of the first piece of their cloud solution. As a result, the IT team is able to retain skilled talent and attract more top talent to work in their environment.

The Results

While the project is still very new, the organization has already realized transformational results including:

  • Building and implementing a custom hybrid cloud environment
  • Reducing the time to create new servers from six weeks to 30 minutes
  • Fully automating server deployment
  • Improving the quality of infrastructure application deployment
  • Simplifying management and troubleshooting
  • Empowering IT with new skills and attracting top talent
  • Integration with public cloud provider Microsoft Azure