Managed cloud services: 4 things IT leaders should know

Thinking about adopting a managed cloud service for your organization? Consider these key truths to help evaluate the best strategy
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The first thing to know about managed cloud services? It would certainly help to define the term as a starting point.

“In today’s environment, cloud managed services is a broad topic,” says Kaushik De, VP, cloud center of excellence, Capgemini Americas.

At some point in the not-so-distant past, a “cloud managed service” probably referred to something straightforward like paying a cloud provider to manage some VMs for you instead of running them yourself in your own datacenter. Buying compute or storage from a cloud provider is still a core use case, but it has been joined by a much broader set of tools and services.

“Previously, cloud managed services were mostly centered around infrastructure services,” De says. “This has shifted to include new complexities, meaning that the enterprises must now consider first what they need out of their cloud services.”

A managed cloud service today could be anything from a fully managed service for building and training machine-learning models to a fully managed container platform.

[ Share this with your IT team: 5 things developers should know about cloud service providers. ]

If you want a deeper dive on the term and its nuances – is a managed service the same thing as a hosted service? – we’ve got you covered: Read Laurie McLaughlin’s latest article on our site, Managed services vs. hosted services vs. cloud services: What’s the difference?

At a high level, a managed cloud service can refer to any technology that you acquire from a cloud platform or provider – and that the provider largely runs for you, as opposed to you provisioning and maintaining that service (and all of the related infrastructure it requires) yourself. A common example these days is using a managed database in a public cloud.

Managed cloud services are everywhere these days, again not just for core infrastructure but across the IT portfolio. They can be exceedingly valuable – but IT leaders must be thoughtful in their approach or risk wasted resources, tool overload, talent gaps, and other issues.

4 considerations for deploying managed cloud services

Here are four key things to keep in mind when evaluating how best to deploy managed cloud services in your business.

1. Managed cloud services vary quite a bit

To De’s point above, managed cloud services comprise a broad category, and your choices can vary on a pretty wide spectrum. This is not a case where one-size-fits-all or “just pick one” is a great approach, especially in any organization that deals with considerable complexity (which means most of them).

“Cloud managed services mean a lot of different things to various organizations,’’ says Matt DeCurtis, VP, managed operations, Anexinet.

Essentially, what you need to ask is: What do they mean to us?

“Are you a business wanting to transform the way you utilize your on-premise resources and are looking to leverage the resiliency of geo-redundant public or private clouds?” DeCurtis asks, for example. “Are you an organization looking to take their application workloads into a space where microservices can help you leverage the pay-per-use model and be elastic as your business or customer base grows?”

[ Related read: Amazon cloud services: 5 things CIOs should know. ]

De likewise points out that managed cloud services are not one-size-fits-all – and therefore not interchangeable.

“They are highly customized depending on the purpose that is driving the organization to invest in cloud,” De says. “Companies seeking cloud managed services for cost purposes will require services that are vastly different than those seeking cloud managed services for enhanced capability purposes.”

"Each company will have different needs for their cloud managed services, and identifying those needs ahead of time will be the key to a successful integration."

Still other organizations may require both – and then the evaluation will require understanding how a particular cloud managed service helps strike that balance.

“Each company will have different needs for their cloud managed services, and identifying those needs ahead of time will be the key to a successful integration,” De says.

2. A managed cloud services strategy must reflect your enterprise realities

This means that – news flash – not everything needs to be migrated to a public cloud or consumed as a cloud service. Most enterprises manage a diverse, complex portfolio of applications, infrastructure, integrations, and other services. (See also: one size does not fit all.)

“Your architectural plans will also need to acknowledge your current realities,” says Gordon Haff, technology evangelist, Red Hat. “When we ask IT decision-makers about their approaches to application modernization, most are taking multiple approaches – from keeping systems as-is for now to replacing components with a SaaS or cloud service to developing new microservice-based applications in-house.”

[ Want to accelerate application development while reducing cost and complexity? Get the eBook: Modernize your IT with managed cloud services ]

Modernization doesn’t automatically mean refactoring or even re-platforming every application. Cloud is a pivotal part of IT, but you won’t find large or midsize organizations dumping their legacy applications and infrastructure en masse as a result.

“Cloud services can be an important part of the application modernization mix,” Haff says. “But they have to make sense in the context of an overall application modernization strategy which includes, among other things, assessing your level of in-house skills.”

3. Yes, you still need in-house skills

Managed cloud services still require some internal expertise if you want to maximize your ROI – they should supercharge the IT team, not take its place. You can certainly use cloud managed services to do more with less – the constant marching order in today’s business world – and attain technological scale that wouldn’t otherwise be possible. But you should still do so in the context of your existing team and future hiring plans.

“When developing a cloud-managed service strategy, you need to consider that we are now combining what used to be two separate sides of the house, infrastructure and application development,” DeCurtis notes.

Managed cloud services still require some internal expertise if you want to maximize your ROI – they should supercharge the IT team, not take its place.

DeCurtis notes that skills such infrastructure as code will be essential for complex cloud services environments.

If you’re already a mature DevOps shop, then you’re ahead of the game. Other teams may have some learning to do – and leadership may realize that people that can blend once-siloed job functions can be tough to find – though not as impossible as it once seemed.

“Fortunately, these roles are becoming more readily available as organizations continue to adopt cloud strategies,” DeCurtis.

Fully managed services can help bridge talent gaps, but even with these, IT leaders need a firm handle on who will be responsible for what internally.

4. Managed cloud services and hybrid cloud pair well

DeCurtis also notes a funny thing about the DevOps age – it doesn’t actually obliterate distinctions between what’s required to develop an application and what’s required to operate it reliably or ensure its security. “There still is the need to bifurcate between the two,” DeCurtis says.

[ Related read: 5 things CIOs should know about cloud service providers. ]

There are various reasons why this is the case, but here’s one of the biggies: Most enterprises aren’t going full cloud-native in the near future, if ever. If you’re a 40-person tech startup building everything in a greenfield environment, you’re probably all-in on cloud. But if you’re running IT for a Fortune 500 company, or at a government agency or elsewhere in the public sector, or at a privately owned midsize firm that’s been operating successfully for 80 years – or any number of other organizational contexts – not so much.

“Most organizations will not be able to reduce their on-premises footprint to only network infrastructure,” DeCurtis says. “Not everything plays nice when sitting in the cloud, nor is it supported by the OEM. Having vital networking and infrastructure skills to tie the two environments together into a seamless hybrid working environment is critical to the success of your IT operations.”

IT is another talent consideration, but it also points to a strong relationship between managed cloud services and hybrid cloud and/or multi-cloud environments. As Haff says, cloud services are one important piece of the bigger picture in these environments.

Managed cloud services can be part of the glue that helps bring these diverse environments together. With careful, intentional planning and adequate resources, managed cloud services can improve developer velocity, simplify operational overhead, and retain future flexibility to move workloads where they’re best suited.

[ What should you know about AI/ML workloads and the cloud? Get the eBook: Top considerations for building a production-ready AI/ML environment. ]

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.