iPaaS should not become your Trojan Horse

I’m currently involved as a cloud architect at an insurance company, working on the hybrid cloud reference architecture. They are making a move from a hosted environment to a hybrid cloud. And cloud engineers are working on the detailed designs for networking, storage, subscriptions, identity & access and integration. Integration between the private cloud and the public cloud as well as enterprise integration and B2B integration.

The customer is currently using BizTalk Server for enterprise- and B2B integration. The hosted environment is managed by a 3rd party as well, which means that the customer’s IT department only focuses on the functional management of applications. This also applies to BizTalk Server. New services are provisioned by filling out a form, waiting a couple of days or weeks and getting access to the new service. All is well so far, except for time-to-market, cost and being able to make use of the latest and greatest technologies.

Hybrid cloud is needed to shorten the time-to-market and innovating business processes and at the same time decrease IT spend on infrastructure. The whole thing about (hybrid) cloud is the on-demand characteristics and also being able to move away from traditional solution development to agile solution development, deployment and operations. Because provisioning is so fast, solution development can become much faster as well.

This is not an easy endeavor I can tell you.

Apart from the organizational aspects (devops is a topic on its own; is your organization ready for it?), the constantly evolving cloud and at the same time the constantly applied pressure from the business (“hey, we now have shorter time-to-market; let’s see it!”) makes life not really easy for the IT folks. We’re working on the reference architecture, but in the meantime several projects are underway to deliver cloud based solutions. Some SaaS, some PaaS and some we-don’t-really-know-what-kind-of-aaS. Every day we run into issues with regard to security and governance aspects. You’re really going to store customer senstive data in a NoSQL database running on a public facing linux box? Let’s think a little bit more about that. Refactoring the (hybrid) cloud solutions that have been delivered so far is the first thing we have to do once the reference architecture and the detailed hybrid cloud designs are done. That, and making sure the organization can actually cope with hybrid cloud deployments, management and governance.

In the “good old hosting days”, security was designed, applied and governed. Processes were in place and everything worked fine. Today however, checking or unchecking a single box in the Azure portal can have quite the impact. Suddenly, data leaks are possible. And we thought all was covered. Not.

Infrastructure as Code (which not only applies to IaaS but also to PaaS), is a mandatory thing. Clicking in a portal should be avoided. Cloud resources have to be deployed and managed by means of code. Versioned code. Code that has been reviewed and tested. Since full DTAP environments are rapidly becoming a thing of the past, your DTAP process has to be in place pretty well in order to prevent screw-ups with production data.

Why is the title of this blog post about iPaaS (Azure Logic Apps, API Apps, Functions, API Management, Service Bus) and a Trojan Horse specifically? Integration is at the core of everything when it comes to hybrid cloud. All aspects of the hybrid cloud architecture are touched here. Before you know it, things are tried out and put in production with all the potential risks as a result. Let’s protect ourselves from that.

Four things are important here:

  1. Have a reference architecture for hybrid cloud. New rule apply here! Hybrid cloud is not private cloud. This should at the very least contain the architecture principles and high level requirements that apply to all hybrid cloud solutions deployed. Example principle “Passwords should be stored in a safe place”. High level requirement resulting from that “Passwords used in scripts and code should be stored in Azure Key Vault”.
  2. Document the Solution Building Blocks. Azure is box of legos. Make sure that you know how to use all those building blocks and make sure that everybody knows the rules about how to use them in which scenario. Solution Building Blocks are not evil, but necessary artifacts. When do you use SQL Database, Blob, DocumentDB? How does security relate to these choices?
  3. Hybrid cloud needs hybrid service management. Make sure your IT service management sees your private cloud, hosted cloud and public cloud as one hybrid cloud and is able to manage that.
  4. Design and apply the right level of governance. Architectures, principles, requirements and solution building blocks are completely worthless if you don’t make sure they are actually used (in the right way). Peer reviews. Signed-off solution designs. Random inspections. These are all necessary things that you should cater for in your devops teams.

And remember, these things apply to your organization, but also to your IaaS, PaaS and SaaS solution vendors.

Let’s keep the Trojans out of your hybrid cloud!

Cheers, Gijs

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