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Technologies on horizon brighten AWS hybrid cloud future

The challenges of managing hybrid clouds could be mitigated significantly by technical advances that look to take over the data center in the next few years.

While the challenges are many, few doubt that IT is poised for a hybrid cloud future, especially given the technologies...

coming down the pike that could ease AWS hybrid cloud migrations and management.

Two of the more prominent technologies under discussion as linchpins of the Amazon Web Services (AWS) hybrid cloud are Docker Inc.'s containers, which could ease app portability issues between disparate clouds both public and private, and OpenStack, at least pieces of which are coming into their own as standards on which hybrid cloud infrastructures can be based.

"It's still very early in the game where anybody can claim bragging rights and say, 'We figured out this whole thing and integrated two cloud platforms,'" said Ian Perez Ponce, an independent consultant who previously worked for VMware and Zerto, a virtual data replication software maker.

Docker to the cloud migration rescue

Part of the promise of containers, which Docker has popularized over the last two years, is application portability between disparate infrastructures. Though the technology is in its infancy and under development, Docker recently acquired a company called Tutum to aid multi-cloud container management.

Tutum offers a tool that pulls containers from image registries, deploys them to an environment, and then logs, monitors, health checks, updates and patches the containers.

"Customers are coming to us and saying … how do I get the containers from my developers in the lab into production? How do I manage them once they're deployed?" said Scott Johnston, SVP of product for Docker. "Tutum is the answer to that."

But Tutum isn't the only answer to that -- Mesosphere and Google Kubernetes also have their fingers in the container management pie, and the battle for container management supremacy is still playing out.

"Containers are a very, very promising-looking solution to a hybrid cloud problem," said Anne Currie, co-founder of Force12.io, a startup in Barcelona working on a meta-scheduler for Docker.

While those who've been in IT for a while are right to be skeptical of the promise of "the end of lock-in," containers at least have the potential to put some truth behind that IT bromide, said Currie, who has 20 years of experience in the software development field and is also the CEO and co-founder of WorkingProgram Ltd., a software company based in London.

"At the moment [container] clusters have to be within the same cloud, but I think everybody is working on how to make that cross-cloud," she said. "I genuinely think it will happen."

Containers are almost there in terms of production-ready tools to be able to do stateful container migrations, and then the next obvious move is to port those applications from a private cloud to a public cloud service, according to Nirmal Mehta, senior lead technologist for the strategic innovation group at Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., an Amazon Premier Consulting Partner based in McLean, Va.

"That's definitely something we're looking into for use cases to show to our clients," Mehta said.

Some companies use containers to port workloads between clouds today, though only for development and test purposes; one such company is FlightStats Inc., a global data service company in the aviation space, located in Portland, Ore.

"We store the full state of [our environment in] all these frozen Docker images that represent the whole stack," said Alex Witherspoon, VP of platform engineering for FlightStats. "So we can replay data that we have, say, from a year ago and say 'what if we took the data from a year ago and did something new with it?'"

OpenStack's hybrid vision

Among the original promises of the OpenStack project is the ability to move workloads from on-premises data centers into and out of public clouds, namely AWS. There have been a number of advancements in recent years as the technology moves through its adolescence, though there is still ongoing debate in the OpenStack community about how closely its APIs should resemble those of AWS.

As with containers, certain aspects of OpenStack are already being used in AWS hybrid cloud management today.

"We had a client recently who asked us to look into building an OpenStack Swift compliant interface to switch between [Amazon Simple Storage Service] and OpenStack, just because they wanted one endpoint, and they wanted to build a primary infrastructure in one direction or the other," said Patrick McClory, director of automation and DevOps for Datapipe Inc. a provider of managed hosting services for AWS based in Jersey City, N.J.

"I'm experimenting internally with the use of Swift specifically -- I'm willing to work on specific components [of OpenStack] because pieces have matured, and I think Swift is one of them," McClory added.

Another company using OpenStack in production locally will look to it as the framework of choice for its private cloud, in part because of similarities with the AWS infrastructure.

"We're passing in a bunch of data at boot to start containers and do various things as part of the [startup] process, and that function is pretty similar between AWS and OpenStack," said a senior director of platform engineering for a visual communications company based in the Pacific Northwest, who requested anonymity.

Native tools won't stand still

While Amazon is characteristically tight-lipped about the future possibilities for the Amazon Management Portal for vCenter -- its documentation states that future releases might support resources for additional services -- VMware has trumpeted its plans to dominate the hybrid cloud management marketplace with its vRealize Suite.

So far, VMware has shipped vRealize Operations, which supports AWS through a management pack, an embedded adapter and diagnostic dashboards for vRealize Operations Manager. VMwares's vRealize Operations Management Pack for AWS 2.0 was introduced in the first quarter of 2015, and provides reports, alerts and dashboards for AWS products, including the Elastic Compute Cloud, Elastic Block Store, Auto Scaling Groups, Elastic MapReduce and others.

However, there are still software titles in the vRealize Suite that have yet to hit the street, namely vRealize Automation 7 and vRealize Business Standard 7, which will both support AWS. The new release of vRealize Business Standard also introduced support for analyzing the cost of AWS offerings such as Elastic Load Balancer. These are expected to be available by the end of the year.

VMware's native tools have users lined up, as well -- one VMware shop which plans to use vRealize is run by Michael Conroy, director of TechOps for Rent-a-Center, a rent-to-own retailer headquartered in Plano, Texas.

Rent-a-Center uses vRealize Operations to monitor across on-premises VMware and off-site vCloud Air environments, but hasn't chosen a tool for deployments between VMware and AWS yet, according to Conroy.

"It's definitely a walk before you run thing," Conroy said. "We're still exploring how to get [vRealize] to cover all of our existing internal infrastructure, we haven't even talked about the cloud yet."

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for SearchAWS. Write to her at bpariseau@techtarget.com or follow @PariseauTT on Twitter.

Next Steps

 AWS, VMware work to clear migration hurdles

Cloud management tool uses vCenter to access AWS, Azure

Hybrid cloud with AWS, Openstack is a balancing act

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What technologies do you think will augment the hybrid cloud future?
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- Containers for helping developers package applications
- PaaS platforms to help run applications in on-prem or off-prem environments.
- Data gateways and tools like AWS Snowflake to help move large amounts of data.
- IAM and Authentication services (AD in the Cloud) to manage end-user interaction with applications. 
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So many of the "hybrid cloud" discussions are focused on things like containers or VM-interoperability, and so little is focused on the data. Placing an application is not the difficult part, it's getting to the associated data. 
- Are you moving the data? 
- Are you using a virtual network path like VPC to reach the data?
- How do you synchronize user credentials? 
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