Brandon Curry, Senior Vice President Solutions and Service Delivery, NTT America

Cloud computing, in both public and private mode, has become the new enterprise standard. At the same time, enterprises are continuing to work with managed service providers for a widening range of IT solutions. These two trends are linked.

In a survey of some 400 managed service providers (MSPs) last year, CompTIA reported that the percentage saying that cloud services play no role in their offerings was “almost immeasurably low.” You could say that MSPs are simply following the market. But cloud and managed services complement each other. There are several reasons why.

One is the difficulty of managing public and private cloud deployments. With the rise of Shadow IT, enterprise CIOs are often not even aware of how many and what kinds of public clouds their employees are using. Discovery and management of those resources is something the right MSP can enable. Private clouds pose their own challenges. They are difficult to stand up, as Chief Architect for the Microsoft Azure Infrastructure and Management Team Jeffrey Snover explained in his talk at Azure OpenDev in June 2017. Then they can become “snowflakes,” unique configurations “doomed” by a lack of documentation, training, education and community.

Azure Stack and Managed Services

In part to overcome those challenges, Microsoft released Azure Stack, the private cloud environment for its well-known Azure public cloud. The promise of such a hybrid cloud platform is its ability to bridge the public hyper-scale computing environment with that of the private cloud, whether deployed on-premises or in a third-party data center. Microsoft was first, though other public cloud providers could follow with similar offerings.

For enterprises with hybrid cloud deployments, the consistency of Azure Stack is a welcome development. (Disclosure: I work for NTT Communications, which launched an application testing and validation lab for Azure Stack in September 2017.) Another advantage is simplified operations.

Microsoft, for instance, talks about a “driver/mechanic” model for Azure Stack in which the enterprise IT staff simply pays attention to the dashboard and calls for help (a mechanic) when a light goes on. That’s a good – but limited – analogy. A hybrid cloud platform doesn’t arrive ready to drive, but must be architected to an enterprise’s particular circumstances, which is another task for the right MSP. Likewise, with connectivity. Cloud-focused MSPs with the networks and data centers to glue all of these services together are especially well positioned for this arena.

Three Hybrid Use Cases

Managed services could play key roles in these commonly discussed, hybrid-cloud platform use cases:

Data sovereignty. Enterprises are finding that complying with the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), scheduled to take effect on May 25, 2018, is a “complex undertaking,” as these IDC security experts write. Being able to bridge public and private clouds, as with Azure Stack, should reduce that complexity. But enterprises can also benefit from global expertise in network and infrastructure security, data center management and regulatory compliance.

Application development. One common use of Azure, or any other public cloud, is as a sandbox. The advantage of Azure Stack is that software engineers can now develop once and deploy once. At the same time, having a common environment makes it easier to grow new front-end and retire legacy code. Yet along with a hybrid cloud platform, enterprises will need to tap internal or external resources for actually managing these applications and their lifecycles.

Edge and disconnected apps. Then there are applications where Internet connectivity is unavailable, inadequate or undesirable, or where data is simply better suited for batch processing. In such cases, a hybrid cloud platform makes sense. Connectivity is likewise critical. And at a time when networking is becoming more flexible and software-defined, enterprises will benefit from service provider partners with such capabilities and with backbones natively integrated with the platform.