Cloud Strategy to Standardize and Streamline IT Operations

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Over the many years that I have consulted and managed  our customers’  IT operations , I  see that Cloud computing has the potential to reduce both the total cost of ownership (TCO) and overall IT operational costs. The flexibility and cost savings from using this strategy in production and testing is quite common knowledge and is well documented, but the strategy can be very useful for troubleshooting specific issues throughout the development process.

This article presents a few examples of how this strategy helped our clients identify and fix issues quickly and effectively using a well-thought out cloud strategy. A right cloud strategy provides opportunities to streamline and better manage operations at different stages in the IT lifecycle including troubleshooting issues, development, testing and production.

Cloud Strategy for Sandbox Issues

Cloud strategy can be very useful in reducing the cost and time to set up sandbox environments to re-create, identify and solve a problem. Having seen first hand the time and the costs involved in requesting and procuring hardware, I believe the ability to leverage cloud to spin up machines speeds up the process to troubleshoot issues. This is irrespective of the cloud provider like Windows Azure, Amazon Web Services or other specific providers like Oracle Managed Cloud Services. Below is an example of how we were able to leverage this strategy in a real word scenario.

We were working on a project that among other things needed to integrate Microsoft Active Directory (AD) with Oracle Internet Directory (OID). In this case, the communication was one way from AD to OID. Another team was simultaneously in the process of upgrading the servers that ran Active Directory from Windows Server 2008 to Server 2012. Our team was given a close copy of the current production instance for testing. This was still a Windows 2008 server.

Having solved the problem to communicate over SSL (ldaps://) between Server 2008 and OID through configuration, we handed over the solution to the Windows server team. They were unable to make the solution work for Windows Server 2012.

In the old days, this meant that we either wait until the upgrade was complete before being able to troubleshoot the problem or procure new hardware. Both of these options can be time consuming and expensive, not to mention the need for additional coordination between many teams. Fortunately, our client had a subscription to Windows Azure. Using this, we were able to spin up a Windows Server 2012 instance, install an LDAP client that simulated the communication between AD and OID, set up network monitoring tools and test out the communication in a single afternoon. Using this, we were able to identify that the issue was a change in the default TLS settings between Window Server 2008 and 2012. Having complete access to this sandbox environment, we were further able to implement a fix for the solution and hand this sandbox over to the Windows server team for review and replication on the final test server.

Cloud Strategy for Software Development Operations

Cloud strategy can also be very beneficial in the software development process to provide and enforce the quality of the development machines. This is very useful where there is a complicated installation process or complexity maintaining versions etc. for the software being developed.

In another example, where we were working with the Oracle SOA stack,the solution was sensitive to the version of Oracle SOA being used. By nature, this meant that specific versions of various components within the Oracle stack needed to be installed.

Leveraging a private cloud based development environment to allow developers to download a pre-built image of the development software solved this problem. A golden image was created and made available to all developers. The team leads managed changes to this image. Any modification or upgrades needed were made to this master image. This allowed us to quickly ramp up a team of developers while ensuring that the development process was standard across the development team and the test servers.

Cloud Strategy for Testing and Production environments

As mentioned, cloud strategy for testing and production environments is very well known and very well documented. This model allows for a much faster ramp up for new environments and allows very fast scaling of existing environments. Also, by nature, using a certified cloud provider can guarantee better hardware SLAs at a much lower cost than having an in-house team procuring, setting up, maintaining and patching the servers. In many enterprises with a predictable user traffic pattern, a burst to the cloud model can be used to increase the number of servers to support a predictable, and in some cases unpredictable, user traffic uptick.

Depending on the size of the organization and the complexity of operations, an effective, smart cloud strategy can be leveraged to keep IT operations smooth, well managed and standard based.

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