3 ways to make sense of cloud complexity
Presented by Lucid
Cloud technologies open up opportunities for agility, scalability, and innovation that on-premises systems never could have matched. It’s no wonder that almost every company has already begun committing much of its infrastructure to the cloud.
But far from simplifying the IT executive’s life, this expanded use of the cloud is introducing a whole new level of complexity.
According to research from Flexera, the average enterprise uses 2.6 public clouds and 2.7 private clouds. Meanwhile, the average organization is using 110 different cloud applications in 2021, up from 80 in 2020.
Digital transformation exacerbates the problem. In a study of 400 senior IT decision makers by Aptum, 62% reported that complexity and an abundance of choice were actually hindering their cloud transformations. It gets even more challenging when IT people need to communicate crucial aspects of the organization’s cloud infrastructure to nontechnical decision makers.
So while the cloud is a powerful tool that solves many IT problems and creates enormous new opportunities, it must be used wisely in order to mitigate its complexity.
Begin with an inventory
A primary issue faced by cloud architects, IT managers, managed service providers, and IT consultants alike is simply knowing what they have within their cloud environments. First, as mentioned above, there are dozens or even hundreds of SaaS apps in use within an average organization. Then, the typical enterprise also has hundreds or thousands of cloud-based infrastructure resources like databases, virtual machines, containers, and workloads.
To achieve an accurate understanding of your company’s cloud footprint, you need an accurate inventory.
The usual first stop is the cloud management console provided by Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, or Google Cloud Platform (GCP). (There’s guidance on Stack Overflow if you need pointers.) You will need to proceed carefully, possibly using code to script the process of querying different regions and ensuring you’re pulling every resource type.
Main screen of an inventory tool called AWS Retriever.
Once you’ve done this for AWS, you’ll need to repeat the process for Azure, GCP, and any other public or private cloud provider you’re using.
The end result is usually a spreadsheet listing all the resources that you’ve uncovered through this process.
This approach is manual and time-consuming, leaving plenty of room for human error. It is also fragile because any changes to the infrastructure will not be captured in your spreadsheet in real time. You’ll need to update the spreadsheet on a regular basis, or whenever any major changes are made — and just like the first time, you’ll need to ensure that you capture every type of resource in every region and every cloud.
This complexity is why many companies opt for an automated cloud cost management tool like CloudHealth, but spreadsheet inventories remain in wide use at many companies.
Simplify with a diagram
Spreadsheets are useful, but they are limiting. Cloud infrastructure managers who use only spreadsheets or lists are like building managers who lack a blueprint and instead only have a list showing all the rooms and what’s in each one.
Just as building management is easier when you have a blueprint, cloud management is much easier when you have a diagram that represents your cloud architecture visually. It also makes it easier to communicate about that architecture with nontechnical stakeholders.
An architectural diagram for your cloud infrastructure will display every resource with an icon corresponding to the type of resource it is (compute, storage, database, network, etc.). Different icons can represent specific technologies, while color-coding can help you identify similar resources at a glance. You can use boxes and dotted lines to show how different resources are grouped, logically or on a physical network level, and arrows show dependencies or the flow of data.
A typical cloud architecture diagram. Source: Lucidchart AWS template library
There’s no shortage of tools for creating cloud architecture diagrams and no shortage of advice on how to create these diagrams. For instance, here’s a detailed post on how to build AWS architecture diagrams.
If you want a library of icons to use in your diagrams, every major cloud provider offers one. Here are a bunch of GCP icons, AWS icons, and Azure icons that you can use in your projects.
Even with all these resources, be prepared to spend some time on these diagrams. It can take days or weeks to create a complete, accurate architecture diagram for a complex infrastructure. But the payoff is visibility and accountability: You will know exactly where everything is and how it connects.
Automated cloud diagramming
An easier approach is to use a solution that generates accurate, dynamic cloud diagrams automatically. Such solutions connect to your cloud provider (with your authorization), pull in an inventory of the assets you have, and then generate an architectural diagram based on what assets they actually find in real time.
Like a CAD program for cloud infrastructure, automated cloud diagramming solutions like Lucidscale give you a blueprint that you can use within minutes instead of requiring you to spend hours or days in a drawing tool, translating your list of assets into a visual format.
These solutions are also more flexible because you can create dynamic diagrams on the fly, zeroing in on a particular subset of the infrastructure, such as a region, a type of resource, or all the resources owned by a particular team. With an automated solution, you can generate a virtually infinite array of detailed diagrams from the same list, depending on your particular needs at the time.
As a bonus, these diagrams can be updated in real time. As the list of resources you’re using changes, the diagrams change too, so you’re always looking at the current state of your cloud environment. This is critical for today’s rapidly changing businesses to maintain insight into dependencies and reduce potential downtime costs.
Such diagrams are also indispensable in keeping non-technical stakeholders aware of dependencies and potential problem areas within your infrastructure.
Lucidscale is the most advanced cloud visualization solution available today. It helps users to document their cloud environment, verify implementation, and communicate clearly across both technical and non-technical teams. With automated, dynamic cloud diagrams, Lucidscale provides crucial information to help organizations stay on top of compliance, security and internal best practices, and maintain a consistent view of infrastructure across the business.
Learn how Lucidscale can quickly and visually help you verify new cloud architecture with this cloud architecture diagramming tutorial and case study.
And watch this video for a short (1-minute) overview of how Lucidscale makes cloud architecture diagrams easy and collaborative.
Dan Lawyer is Chief Product Officer at Lucid.
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