Easy deployment in the cloud: What about users and applications?
Businesses are migrating their systems to the cloud, it’s true. Organizations of every size and type are taking advantage of the cost savings and flexibility introduced with cloud deployments and hosting services. Rather than focusing efforts on procuring, installing and maintaining servers and applications in-house, IT departments are moving workloads offsite to cloud providers and hosted platforms. The tools are readily available to help these IT workers configure and light up VMs in hosted infrastructure, and certain platform licenses and other elements are made accessible to customers. But there’s something missing in the toolsets provided by platform hosting companies – a certain something that ultimately determines how useful (or not) the hosting platform service is when IT is ready to deploy users and applications in the environment.
Conceptually, hosting services are supposed to provide a centralized management and administrative capability for an organization. While this is true in the context that most of the system and resources are assembled inside the datacenter, proximity alone doesn’t make things easier to manage. In fact, some virtualization and delivery models can exacerbate issues that IT at least had a known way of dealing with when it was in-house.
Consider that, even in hosted and virtualized infrastructure, everything that needed to be done to build the in-house network still has to be done – only now it involves the on-premises computers (sometimes with client software still requiring installation and management), the local LAN, the Internet, the datacenter facility and network, and computers and software in the datacenter. Most of the complexity may reside in the datacenter with the hosted systems, but even that scenario isn’t necessarily plug-n-play. IT must still bring up the servers, and then the fun begins. Fun, in this case, means setting up policies and permissions, users, and applications. The unfortunate thing is that there are few tools being made available which directly and specifically address this requirement for customers in hosted infrastructure. Hosted customers are still burdened with the requirement to not only establish and manage their permissions and user accounts – they also have to still install, update and maintain application software in the environment.
Most IT teams recognize that installing an application once is way better than having to install it a bunch of times, so there is a tendency to lean towards hosting models where a single (or few) machines service desktop and application sessions for lots of users. Reducing the number of actual application installations, this approach (such as with terminal services) can make software implementations go a bit easier than if the app had to be installed across a lot of machines. On the other hand, there is a fine art to implementing some applications in terminal server environments, and not all apps behave well in the delivery model. Many engineering hours have been spent trying to get user apps working on terminal servers – sometimes much more time than if the application were simply installed to multiple PCs. On an ongoing basis, technicians fight with applications and broken functionality, wishing the entire time that they could bypass the terminal services issue and get back to working with individual machines and app installs. At least they knew the apps would work.
Companies determining that a VDI or DaaS solution would more directly mirror the individualized PC approach quickly find that managing and maintain the working user environment, including the variety of applications and functionality demanded by entry-level and power users alike, is just as complicated and time-consuming as it was when they were managing individual user PCs. And, lacking quality software distribution and lifecycle management tools in the platform, find that template-based VM imaging doesn’t go far enough in terms of easing the burdens of installing, updating and maintaining applications on a user machine, whether it’s the local PC or a managed VM.
The truth about many cloud solution offerings and hosting platforms is that they are often oriented towards the enterprise customer and IT department, expecting that the customer has the skills and capability required to do the right things in deploying the hosted solution for the company. Leaving all of the time-consuming aspects of service management and delivery to the customer – the parts of the delivery which address the actual users, desktops and applications – simply shifts the location of work for IT, but not necessarily the nature of the work. They’re still going to spend a bunch of time not just setting up groups and users and applications; they’re going to spend a bunch of time managing and maintaining them, just like they always have.
There should be smart solutions to these problems – tools which could be made available to customers having a desire to deploy their operations in hosted infrastructure and that deliver the automation and ease of management which enables IT to realize gains through process efficiencies at all levels of the deployment. The heavy lifting isn’t buried in the building of a server. The heavy lifting – the grunt detail work that nobody really wants to deal with – exists around groups, users and applications. Get some truly useful automation tools in those areas, and hosting becomes even more viable and beneficial for value added resellers, IT departments, and their users.