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CloudHealth Automates Amazon Cloud Management

Automated Tasks enables IT to define a cloud management task, set policies around it, and implement the task programmatically.
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CloudHealth Technologies has added Automated Tasks to its CloudHealth Platform for managing all of a customer's accounts running in a service provider's infrastructure.

The cloud management-as-a-service firm wants to implant automated processes into the standard tasks that must be performed by IT to manage workloads in the cloud. It has previously taken a blank-slate approach to systems management, shifting the focus of discipline out of the data center and into the operation of cloud workloads. The firm taps into all the information available to customers through Amazon APIs and starts aggregating other outside information and analytics from there.

Automated Tasks tries to give IT the means to define a task, set policies on how it must be performed, and then provide the means to implement it programmatically. If an Amazon customer is running dozens or hundreds of Reserved Instances, the IT staff can make automatic the purchase of additional Reserved Instances as available capacity begins to reach a danger point. Policies can dictate when a running Reserved Instance gets modified. Is a server consistently underutilized? The CloudHealth platform can be programmed to shift the workload to a smaller Reserved Instance.

"You define a policy of how you want to do something, set up workflows, build in approvals, and then Automated Tasks does it," said Joe Kinsella, CTO and founder of CloudHealth, in an interview with InformationWeek. Automated Tasks became available Wednesday as an added feature on the existing platform.

[Some special problems in cloud operations require third-party insight. See CloudHealth Finds Path To Amazon Savings.]

CloudHealth can automate the provisioning of Amazon on-demand instances, but information on the new feature refers to Reserved Instances, a well-known area of complexity for Amazon customers. For example, Kinsella said, a customer might set a policy of making monthly capacity reservations, based on a $500,000 annual budget with no single purchase to exceed $150,000 in a quarter. The Reserved Instance capacity must operate at a cost benefit of 40% over on-demand instances, or the purchase isn't made. Each month's reservation must go through a two-level approval process that includes the director of operations and the chief financial officer.

In addition to purchasing Reserved Instances, Automated Tasks can modify Reserved Instances, delete on-demand instances, put unneeded Reserved Instances up for resale, delete disk storage volumes, and delete the snapshots of a system for used backup and recovery.

In 2001, IBM pronounced a coming era of software complexity so great that humans would not be able to keep up with changing systems. It proposed autonomic computing, or a programmable system of automatic controls to run the data center. The concept of self-healing systems comes from IBM's autonomic computing manifesto of that year. Kinsella said his firm is attempting to implement autonomic computing for each customer's cloud operations, or "cloud autonomics."

In theory, cloud autonomics will cover networking, security, availability, and performance, but Kinsella admitted that his firm is still at the entry-level stage and not approaching those challenges yet. Nevertheless, they represent a natural choice of areas for expansion, if Automated Tasks catches on.

Analytics contributes to policy setting. The platform collects operational data, analyzes it, and recommends actions based on the usage patterns. Making those recommendations programmable, automated additions to the platform was CloudHealth's "next obvious step," said Kinsella.

CloudHealth leverages Amazon's Identity and Access Management system to apply only the privilege level approved by the workload owner to an Automated Task. The goal is to ensure secure automated operations, not some other kind.

If the world wasn't changing, we might continue to view IT purely as a service organization, and ITSM might be the most important focus for IT leaders. But it's not, it isn't, and it won't be -- at least not in its present form. Get the Research: Beyond IT Service Management report today. (Free registration required.)