Hybrid IT Environments: Pros, Cons and Best Practices

Hybrid IT Environments: Pros, Cons and Best Practices

October 16

About 74 percent of businesses are currently using or planning to adopt a BYOD strategy. Tech Pro’s research suggests that, love it or hate it, the enterprise is latching on to this “bring your own device” thing. It’s hard not to think about the gadgets at play, but IT must wrap their head around the software components, particularly the operating systems at the heart of these intermingling devices. The rapid proliferation of BYOD is merely one point in the case for hybrid IT environments.

Rivals Systems in Harmony … Sort of

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Windows and Linux may be mortal enemies in the IT arena, but as an IT person, there may come a time when you need access to both. A developer could benefit from testing on both platforms before introducing a software product to the masses. An employee might need to dial up WordPerfect, TurboTax, or another program that isn’t designed to run on a Unix-like system. These objectives and more can be achieved in an environment that marries these two independent systems.

A heterogeneous infrastructure is a dream scenario for us IT dorks who wish to dabble in the best of both worlds; you have the familiarity and user-friendliness of Windows plus the flexibility and control of Linux all at your fingertips. As for how to go about carving out this ideal IT environment, you pretty much have two options: dual booting or virtualizing.

Dual Boot vs. Virtualization

Virtualization tech gives you the power to transform your main OS into a platform that hosts a number of guest systems as virtual machines. It doesn’t discriminate, either, so if Windows 8 is your main system, you can designate a couple of those guests to Linux distros you reserve for testing or other applications you don’t want disrupting your core operations. Or if you’re running Linux, you can spin up a VM to experiment with Windows 10 and run both simultaneously while making your assessments.

By nature, virtualization offers what looks and feels like a more seamless transition into hybrid IT. Switching between systems requires “no reboot” and a few simple configurations make it possible to display their output on two or more monitors and control each platform with the same keyboard and mouse. IT managers benefit from the fact that you can effectively man a fleet of operating systems without ever having to leave the environment you feel most comfortable in. But there are drawbacks to consider …

The limitations of virtualization will ultimately determine how smooth a given hybrid environment runs. So if your primary OS is acting screwy, then there’s a good chance that your secondary systems will feel the pain. Vendors can tout superb performance all day, but every VM puts a considerable strain on the host machine. And since there is no direct access to the hardware, 3D rendering and other resource-intensive applications can be problematic.

Dual booting is something I learned about during my first Linux computer crisis. A dual boot takes place when you configure your your loading sequence to boot specific partitions. This is your opportunity to customize your IT environment with the versions of Windows and Linux you want to run on the network. Dual booting offers the advantage of independence. Each system runs independent of one another and have direct and exclusive access to hardware resources, so performance is noticeably better.

The trouble with dual booting is that it isn’t so seamless compared to virtualization. For starters, you have to restart the machine to boot each individual operating system. I don’t know about you, but waiting for a system to load is one of the most agonizing parts of computing in general. Imagine having to do that every time you need to get something done on either platform. And since you have to run them independently, simple, yet critical tasks like updating and patching can become a nuisance.

Pro Tips on Hybrid IT

As the world turns, the enterprise loses more control over its most critical information technology systems. At one time, IT had close tabs on exactly which applications were installed and running from end to end. Things are a bit different now that the modern enterprise is catering to a diverse range of devices running all these different operating systems. Coming up, we examine some recommended best practices for keeping a hybrid environment running smoothly.

Get Automated

An infrastructure with diverse OS platforms demands a lot in the way of financial and physical resources. Automation technology offers a way to offset the cost of hiring and training new employees to maintain each individual system. IT can use automation to help maintain a heterogeneous infrastructure including several key areas:

  • System configuration
  • Security audits
  • Remote app installation
  • Help desk administration
  • Patch management
  • Backup and disaster recovery

In addition to to eliminating hassles, automation will free IT staff up to focus on other core objectives that help move business forward.

Grab Some Cross-Platform Tools

A toolkit made of cross-platform IT tools is a must-have for mixed infrastructures. Platform specific tools may be great at taming the systems they’re designed to manage, but are often limited when deployed in a heterogeneous setting. While you sometimes have no choice but to go with something geared for a specific platform, the ShadowProtect software is a perfect example of such cross-platform brilliance. This solution aces backup and disaster recovery with automated functionality that simplifies your hybrid IT environment.

Run Network Inventory

Diligent IT administration means taking inventory of your network like you would your physical product line. Through this process you come to learn exactly what’s on the network in terms of applications, services, and data. Consider it a first crucial step towards end to end security. This is the point where you decide what’s allowed on the network, how to spot untrusted applications, and what to do with anything that isn’t company approved.

Beef Up Security

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Running Windows and Linux side by side is essentially doubling your trouble because you expose the network to another set of security threats. Though you want your mixed infrastructure to be as cohesive as possible, bullet-proof endpoint security means creating a comprehensive strategy for securing each individual system. This layered approach should incorporate established security technologies such as VPNs, DDoS protection, firewalls, anti-malware software, and encryption to name a few. Finally, you need tools that enable IT personnel to effectively implement these technologies and policies across your OS pool.

Stay Up to Date

I briefly touched on how keeping your IT systems updated can be a bit more challenging when you mix platforms. Technology moves at breakneck speed, but you don’t necessarily have to upgrade when vendors roll out new releases. Still, you need to be prepared to move up. IT leaders are advised to outline vendor road maps complete with upgrade dates and paths from each system to their respective applications. Of all the software in the network ecosystem, your system administration tools should definitely be geared to support your OS mix as updates and upgrades are rolled out.

Without the proper care, today’s blend of desktop, server, and mobile operating systems can put a strain on IT departments in a way that drains both corporate budgets and employees. It’s up to the leaders of IT to integrate automation and other technologies that streamline system management and get the most from these hybrid infrastructures.