Middleware and the Cloud, Turning Existing Middleware Investment into a PaaS

Technical Lead, Cloud And DevOps Practice at Avnet Services

Technical Lead, Cloud And DevOps Practice at Avnet Services

Middleware has been a foundation of modern web-based applications for a long time now. Middleware has evolved substantially over the years and has provided a platform for developers to develop rich distributed applications. In today’s world the richest of applications can all be easily accessed via the web and can scale to accept millions of connections, thanks in large part to middleware.  There are a variety of middleware types from application servers to message oriented middleware, all working together to provide a platform upon which developers can develop and scale applications.

This landscape is continuing to evolve with the current focus on the cloud.  Traditional middleware platforms are being exposed in public, private and hybrid cloud scenarios. In addition to these traditional platforms being exposed to the cloud there are new platforms being created focused on the cloud; these platforms are built from the ground up in the cloud and are being called Platform-as-a-Service or (PaaS). The PaaS solutions offer a rich environment for developers to develop against. Some examples of these new PaaS environments include: Google App Engine, AWS Elastic Beanstalk, IBM BlueMix and Heroku. If you are writing new applications for the first time these are great platforms to consider as they provide a rich set of APIs and integration points to work with. However, there are challenges with leveraging pure cloud PaaS plays as they tend to lock you into a single hosting provider and limit you to public cloud platforms thereby preventing you from hosting on-premise.

In addition, most organizations these days have made substantial investments in middleware and host applications that are critical to their business. As platforms have evolved, so has the applications built upon them. With advancements in cloud computing now is the time to think about how mission critical applications can be moved into the cloud to take advantage of the flexibility and scalability that comes with cloud.

Killing Two Birds with One Stone

Automation is the key to providing the flexibility to lift and shift middleware to a public and/or hybrid cloud. The starting point to achieve such a lofty goal is to ensure every aspect of your middleware platform is fully automated to begin with.

For example, make certain that the installation of the middleware platform itself can be done in a fully automated way. This means ensuring that there is a silent installation process, environment specific parameters can be fed into the process and post installation configurations can be performed in a fully automated way. When done right, it should be possible to install the required middleware platform of choice at any given time.

Automated installation is a great starting point and lays down a foundation for continued investment in automation. In truth, the installations occur with less frequency than configuration changes and application deployments, therefore it’s critical to think about the day-to-day business of configuration management. Any and all changes to the middleware environments in your software development lifecycle should be managed in an automated way. This can be achieved through a combination of custom scripting and tooling.

Choose the Right Tools

It might seem a bit overwhelming at first to think about how you might achieve full automation of your middleware environment. Automated configuration and deployment automation have become big topics in the IT industry. The IT industry has rallied behind the term DevOps to refer to all things related to automation in the development, operations and testing arenas as well as a focus on collaboration and communication across these teams. As a result there are dozens of automation tools out there to support you.

At the top of the list is choosing an orchestration engine. An orchestration engine provides flow control, security, systems connectivity etc. to facilitate the ability to perform automated tasks to your operations infrastructure. These days there are many tools to choose from such as IBM’s UrbanCode Deploy, Ansible (now owned by Red Hat), CA Release Automation (former Nolio), Xebia Labs Deploy XL etc.

Once you’ve chosen your orchestration engine, next it is time to think about how to manage your middleware to apply configuration changes and drive deployments. Often such logic can be provided through custom scripts or can be found in the form of plugins available for orchestration engines to reduce the amount of custom scripting.  Avnet has written a tool supporting the configuration management of Middleware called Talos. Talos has ability to discover a variety of middleware and import the configurations to create templates that are then automatically uploaded to an orchestration engine so that it can then be queued for deployment, thereby eliminating the need for scripting. I would always encourage you to take advantage of tools out in the market (be it Talos or any number of plugins for DevOps orchestration engines) and then move on to the writing of scripts to plug any remaining gaps.

In addition to choosing the right orchestration tool, the integration of source control to version control of your middleware configurations is critical. Source control in an operations setting allows for comparison of current configuration settings to the past to facilitate troubleshooting, or can facilitate a rebuild of an environment to a previous state, both providing a very powerful way of recovering from a disaster.

Making the Move into the Cloud

Finally let’s return to the cloud topic. Making the move into the cloud doesn’t need to be as daunting as it might seem and doesn’t mean you must think about completely changing your platform. If you’ve made the proper investments in automation in the management of your existing middleware environment it need not be thrown away, or if in the cloud, a case of starting over.

By fully investing in the build out, configuration management and deployments to your existing on premise middleware environments, it should be a simple matter of turning the automation fire hose that is your orchestration engine of choice and firing it at any given cloud provider (be it AWS, Microsoft Azure or IBM Softlayer). You can now turn a traditional public IaaS provider into a PaaS completely customized to suit your requirements.  Furthermore what’s in your public Cloud PaaS matches what you’ve always done on-premise and you can now move configurations between the public cloud and your on-premise datacenter, achieving the hybrid cloud solution so many folks strive for. In summary, ensure your existing middleware environment is fully automated first, you will then find moving to the cloud becomes a trivial matter!

To find out more about how the Avnet team and their tooling can help businesses successfully automate and manage middleware including migration to the cloud check out Top 3 Things to Consider in Accelerating Low-Risk Migration to Cloud or contact me at scott.bybee@avnet.com

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Posted under Cloud Computing, DevOps, IT infrastructure, IT Software, Storage

This post was written by on August 23, 2016

How managed services providers can extend their portfolio and technical capabilities without the additional financial investment

managed servicesKaren Griffith, Practice Lead, Cloud Solutions EMEA has over 15 years’ experience in the IT industry. She and her highly skilled technical team work with customers within the full lifecycle of Cloud Services, from the initial asset discovery, pre-sales including POT’s and POC’s, to the Cloud Strategy and Architecture Services and on to the cloud migration, transformation and automation services

We all want to say yes to our customers and everyone I meet prides themselves in providing their customers with a great service. But for many businesses working in the managed services industry, finding the balance between offering your customers the support they need across numerous different technologies verses being able to maintain a healthy profit is a constant and intense balancing act.

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Posted under IT infrastructure

This post was written by on August 10, 2016

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How is the channel following through on its vision for 2016?

At the beginning of this year, we laid out our top predictions for technology trends in the channel for 2016. As we reach the half way point of the calendar year, it’s time to recap and see how things are shaping up so far:

Marcus Adae, Vice President Strategic Suppliers, Avnet Technology Solutions EMEA

Marcus Adae, Vice President Strategic Suppliers,
Avnet Technology Solutions EMEA

#1: Mobility for channel enablement

Mobility is moving more towards app-driven enablement, this much we know to be true. Mobile apps are becoming the norm for any kind of customer interaction, thanks to more personalised engagement through analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) data. However, what we’re seeing so far is that enterprise infrastructure is an even more important driver for the channel and partners in the mobility space.

Mobile is just one of many application areas in the IoT ecosystem; however it is the enterprise integration factor that’s really bringing this feature into the fabric of businesses. Mobility means much more than just having an app. It is a design and an IT project which requires all the relevant types of infrastructure to succeed.

#2: Security: a new engine to drive the transition to “the 3rd platform”

Earlier in the year we recognised that the accelerated uptake of 3rd platform technologies offers enormous potential for businesses, but will require distributors to adopt a broader security strategy to support partners through these changes. Software-defined networking, for example, needs the security model to change entirely.

IoT remains the most complicated of the 3rd platform technologies, but we’re yet to see a true scandal here in terms of security. As IoT penetrates deeper into people’s daily lives, security around IoT data becomes a personal factor and the consequences become more serious. Security is potentially the thing that could hold channel developments in this sector back. As a whole, the channel still needs to start looking at security as a holistic strategy, which operates at the core of the data centre.

 #3: 3rd platform big data and analytics evolution

Following the constant buzz around big data and analytics, the notion of actionable insights is a trend that is fast becoming normalised for end-users in the channel. We now consider it normal for organisations to look at their place in the market, search within their own performances and make business decisions working off inward analytics.

What’s driving this is that it’s much cheaper for SMEs to ‘do’ analytics, as innovation and competition in the market is driving the cost of these technologies down. The ability for businesses to start small with analytics in just one area of the business allows smaller companies to learn the value of analytics and build upwards. Over the course of the year, we’re starting to see a dynamic shift in the channel as smaller players come to market with low cost solutions that show instant results. Generally speaking, the barrier for entry for analytics is becoming much lower, which will be interesting to watch as the year progresses.

#4: Cracking the next IoT layer  

At the beginning of 2016, we foresaw IoT as an opportunity to bring Operation Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) together on a mass scale. It’s a move that we can see happening already; and it’s distributors who are essentially making it happen. More importantly, it’s becoming clearer that the roles and specialisations which individual partners have in this area are invaluable. Delivering IoT successfully in the marketplace requires partnerships.

The other big change that strikes me so far is where the budget for IoT projects is coming from, which is having a huge impact on what we in the IT industry are doing. IoT projects aren’t coming strictly from the IT budget any more. They’re coming from line of business and from budgets that weren’t previously available to partners. IT often won’t come into the conversation until much later on!

In terms of IoT security, 2016 so far has seen the passing of new EU data protection regulation which will have a profound effect on how businesses approach IoT projects going forward. Legislation in any area is a big driver and these changes coming into effect over the next few years will put security at the forefront of IT conversations for the rest of the year, and further in the future.

#5: Collaboration in the channel

 One thing that has surprised me over the past six months is how much the market now demands vendors and partners to collaborate on new solutions, particularly around IoT. It’s a new dynamic that has created an interesting role for distributors as ‘matchmakers’. This need for partnerships means that one single vendor solution might not be enough to go to market with anymore, and distributors are required to step in as an integrator for multiple vendor solutions. It will be exciting to see how this dynamic continues to shift and what the outcomes will be, as we watch the rest of 2016 unfold.

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Posted under Big data, BYOD; celebrating mobility, Cloud Computing, Converged infrastructure, Internet of Things (IoT), Security

This post was written by on July 27, 2016

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What does the Cloud really mean?

Tristan Gwinnell, Cloud Solutions EMEA, Avnet, takes a look at what cloud really means


TristanThe term cloud means different things to different people. For consumers the cloud might be where they store their music and photographs. For others it might be Google Apps or Office365. If you’re a business user it could be a cloud-hosted application. If you run a datacentre it could be a way of optimising hardware. The list goes on.

All of these are types of cloud – essentially a means of providing computer hardware and software via the internet. In ‘technology years’ the cloud has been around for a long time. Salesforce launched in the 1990s with a mission to end software. Recently the technology has come in to its own and there has been a rapid increase in the types and number of cloud services and suppliers.

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This post was written by on July 13, 2016

Four tips for partners looking to drive innovation in the cloud

Cloud migration has the tendency to cause a bit of a headache for partners. It creates new skill demands which require some heavy investment, such as the costs of personnel training or hiring new talent to handle the technical

Michael Fischermanns, vice president cloud solutions at Avnet Technology Solutions EMEA

Michael Fischermanns, vice president cloud solutions at Avnet Technology Solutions EMEA

migration, which for smaller partners just doesn’t seem worthwhile. Yet, IDC has predicted that worldwide spending on IT infrastructure for cloud environments will grow by 12.5% year on year, reaching $57.8billion in 2020 – so this is an area partners need to address sooner rather than later. And distributors can play a large role in supporting that transition.

Here are four tips for partners looking to make the leap:

Flexible billing options:

The pay-as-you-go promise of IT services accessed via the cloud has helped bolster the mainstream adoption of cloud technology among businesses globally. We’ve entered an era where end-user organisations now seek the same flexibility in business as they do in their personal life. They don’t necessarily want to pay for what they’re not using, and this pay-as-you-go mentality is bringing both subscription and consumption billing models to the fore.

Operational expenditure verses capital expenditure is a big driver for cloud migration, as finance teams look to move away from the expensive process of buying and managing hardware. Partners can consider introducing various billing options for software and services such as consumption-based models for Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) alongside subscription models for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). They can also look to distributors to help create and manage a unique custom solution for customers that combines consumption and subscription models.

Multi-vendor solutions:

Vendors are the main drivers of growth in the cloud market. With so many cloud offerings from a multitude of vendors, it’s possible to integrate these offerings into a package that combines services and solutions from multiple sources and create a complete cloud solution for customers. Bespoke cloud solutions also enable partners to expand their capabilities and diversify their offering to attract new customers in areas where they might not have been able to before. Combine this with consolidated billing and suddenly you’re in a position to offer customers a truly unique proposition. Distributors are in a position here to act as matchmakers who can help partners deliver an end-to-end cloud solution without the headache caused by multiple vendors.

Leverage the skills pool:

It’s time for partners to stop using the technical skills shortage as an excuse not to be the trusted advisor for their customers. Organisations will move to the cloud regardless of where they get their support from, and if the partners won’t help with the migration effort, they risk losing their customer to a competitor. This is another area where distributors can help – with a broad base of partners, many distributors have invested in the technical skills to help plan, execute and manage cloud migration projects. Partners can take advantage of the distributor’s skills pool to make their own customer’s cloud migration project a success.

White label solutions:

Offering a unique solution can be a key differentiator for partners in the market.  Again, distributors like Avnet are able to provide access to a white-label portal of cloud products and services, to help partners make cloud solutions their own. A white-label solution allows partners to have an immediate cloud presence with their own brand, look and feel – an online store which is unique to them and specific to their customers. White-label options, supported by architect skills through to managed solutions, also allow partners to add value to the cloud market in a cost-effective and efficient way, getting innovative solutions to market quickly.

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This post was written by on June 28, 2016