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6/12/2012
02:27 PM
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Bluelock Lets Customers See Cloud Charges, Control Bills

VMware supplier's tool is designed to prevent cloud bill shock by telling customers what their bill will be and how to adjust usage to stay within the monthly budget.

It's not uncommon to hear cloud customers talk about how their cloud costs got away from them. If you don't need a set of servers you've commissioned but left running, the bill mounts up. Bluelock's Portfolio tool lets cloud users not only see how their bill is developing during the month, but gives them policies through which they can cap it.

Portfolio, says Pat O'Day, CTO of Bluelock, is not just a monitoring tool granting visibility into how you're running up a bill. Rather, it can be used "proactively, not just reactively, to set limits and manage cloud costs."

This is still an emerging field in cloud management, but many cloud users wish they had such a tool available to help them prevent their bills from containing surprise increases. Portfolio has been in use for 18 months and is enough of a trendsetter that Gartner included Bluelock in its quadrant of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) leaders last November, along with the select company of Amazon, Savvis, Terremark, and CSC. Portfolio works with Bluelock's VMware-based cloud service in Indianapolis, but is not yet available for use on other cloud services or enterprise private clouds.

Bluelock, of course, isn't the only party active in this field. HP recently made its cloud services generally available, and announced June 6 that Cloud Cruiser's real-time cost analytics were included in its HP CloudSystem Enterprise and Cloud Service Automation.

[ Want to learn more about how cloud users run into difficulty with their monthly bills? See Cloud's Big Caveat: Runaway Costs. ]

Bluelock's Portfolio includes algorithms that take your current pattern of consumption and project its trajectory to the end of the month to offer an estimate of the pending bill. Basically, it's a cloud customer-oriented frontend to all the virtual machine data collected by VMware's Chargeback system, but Bluelock puts the Chargeback data in a Portfolio data warehouse where it can be analyzed to show resources used by sets of users, individual users, particular applications, or whole enterprise business units.

That kind of detail addresses one of the main shortcomings of existing cloud bills, which look something like a household utility bill. If consumption has gone up, it's hard to pinpoint what caused the increase without more detailed information.

Users can set dollar limits and receive notifications if Portfolio's analytics indicate that the customer is headed for a $12,000 bill in a month budgeted for $10,000, said O'Day.

On the proactive side, if the monitoring information shows trouble brewing, the user can click through to a self-service portal. The portal is powered by VMware's vCloud Director, which allows the customer to cut back on resources in the Bluelock cloud or move CPU, RAM, or storage around to applications showing unexpected increases in activity.

Bluelock has its customers set up a virtual data center for distinct user groupings, such as a business unit, and assign it a set of resources. It doesn't matter if usage varies within the group as long as total usage doesn't exceed the dollar limit set for that virtual data center, said O'Day. Each company tends to establish several virtual data centers, aiding the usage tracking.

Once customers can see what particular applications cost, they've started using Bluelock in surprising ways, O'Day said. In some cases, they may have a Lotus Notes server from an acquisition still serving a few users. By moving it into the cloud, they may find that 15 or 20 users are dependent on a server that costs $800 a month, and decide whether an aging system is worth the cost, he said.

If a user attempts to provision additional servers that will push his business unit over its virtual data center limit, a window pops up saying that a decision needs to be made to increase the virtual data center's dollar limit or the request will be refused. The user can then turn off resources that he's not using, scale them back, or decide to get by without the new servers.

"Employees can't spend more with us than what management approved, without going through a purchase order process," said O'Day. Customers who want the ability to automatically expand the number of servers when traffic for a particular application picks up can set a capacity at a higher level than needed in daily use. For them, a higher bill would be tied to an increase in traffic that can be used to justify the higher bill.

O'Day knows customers like the service because "one of the first questions that comes up is whether they can point Portfolio at their own operations." They can't because Bluelock isn't trying to become an independent software vendor and doesn't want to try to engineer Portfolio at this time as a general purpose product.

Bluelock is a VMware partner geared to supply public cloud services to users of VMware virtualization; other partners include Colt in Europe, Singtel in Singapore, and SoftBank in Japan.

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