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Don't neglect your IT architect skills in public cloud projects

Public cloud infrastructure is beyond the veil for IT admins: unknown and untouchable. But depending on the deployment -- and the cloud -- admins still have architecture to manage.

The expectation that public cloud-based applications will operate without careful planning and design on your part leads to failure. In reality, a lot of the logical data center and network design required for on-premises IT is still necessary for public cloud success.

For IT architects, there are numerous requirements around public cloud, as well as hybrid cloud deployments. Brush up on IT architect skills around such critical areas as high availability, connectivity and data security -- with some adjustments from server room to cloud portal. And because most IT organizations deploy on one or more public clouds, such as AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform or Oracle Cloud, these IT architecture skills apply wherever your IT organization chooses to go.

Failover and availability research

An essential element of the IT architect's job is to accommodate an environment's constraints to deliver applications that fulfil business requirements. In public cloud platforms, failure models differ greatly from those on premises. For example, AWS advises an architect to treat an availability zone (AZ) as a failure domain; this approach is equivalent to on-premises designs that build in resources for an entire data center to fail. As with on-premises architecture, these constraints are embedded in multiple layers of the public cloud. Some AWS services are scoped to a single AZ, so the service is subject to any failures there. Efficient IT architecture adapts to the constraints of public cloud platforms and services, just as it does for on-premises operations, so research what the cloud provider does, and does not, offer for specific setups.

Infrastructure design skills

In general, the more high-level the public cloud service is, the less infrastructure there is to design. For example, if it's a serverless application, such as Azure Functions AWS Lambda, then there will be minimal infrastructure to design. But if an application uses VMs on IaaS, then the IT architect must design networks, storage and computing. Even if the application mostly uses high-level services, an architect must design architecture for any low-level services. Most applications combine high-level and lower-level services to meet business requirements. For example, a scalable user-facing front end delivered via PaaS connects to databases and security systems on the back end in IaaS.

Hybrid cloud connectivity knowledge

One significant design question for enterprises looking to adopt a hybrid cloud system is how to connect existing on-premises applications and data to applications that run in the public cloud. The answer lies in classic IT architect skills.

Some public cloud elements are accessible over the internet. Many integrations with on-premises applications are better served when parts of the public cloud platform are treated as extensions of the enterprise network. Cloud connection technologies, such as AWS Direct Connect and Azure ExpressRoute, enable private hybrid cloud connectivity. Just as the enterprise network requires architecture guidance and design, so does the enterprise network's extension into the public cloud.

The public cloud still needs architecture

A significant argument for the necessity of IT architect skills is that public cloud providers have large sections of their documentation dedicated to architectural guidance. These sites have prescriptive instructions to accommodate applications on their platforms and services. The cloud adopter's architectural task is to fit these design patterns with the particular needs of their application.

Data protection and compliance expertise

Enterprises often use public cloud first for non-production purposes, since data protection and regulatory compliance are less critical than for live production workloads. But as soon as production data resides in the public cloud, an IT architect must ensure that both data protection and data archiving meet compliance requirements.

Regulations including the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, GDPR and HIPAA have precise requirements for data management. Simply paying for a cloud provider's compliant services does not absolve an enterprise from internal compliance responsibilities: It must still architect its infrastructure and applications to meet regulatory standards.

DevOps and automation skills

The desire to increase agility through a DevOps methodology for software creation and management frequently drives public cloud adoption.

To enable rapid application innovation through DevOps, the underlying infrastructure must be reliable and consistent. For IT infrastructure architects, this means they must find ways to automate the creation and destruction of development and test environments that mirror production.

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