Know the danger zones as you select cloud management tool platforms.

Beth Stackpole, Contributor

May 11, 2012

5 Min Read

Amazon's 7 Cloud Advantages: Hype Vs. Reality

Amazon's 7 Cloud Advantages: Hype Vs. Reality

Amazon's 7 Cloud Advantages: Hype Vs. Reality (click image for larger view and for slideshow)

Despite the growing sophistication of IT professionals building out cloud environments, the management piece of the puzzle still tends to be an afterthought--a scenario that can cause problems as cloud services mature.

Many IT shops moving from a virtualized infrastructure to a cloud-based environment initially fall back on their hypervisor provider for management capabilities. However, as they expand into public, private, and hybrid deployments, the baseline cloud management tools fall short. IT staffs aren't able to successfully integrate all of the various types of clouds, or deal with the complexities of moving between environments, according to various cloud experts.

"The 'aha' moment typically comes when companies want to start moving activities between clouds, offering self-service requests for internal resources, or deploying workloads, [and] thus need tools to connect private and public clouds," said Dave Bartoletti, senior analyst of infrastructure and operations at Forrester Research. "It's not really a function of size--it's a function of when you want to start kicking in cloud economics. You start to realize you're spending too much time creating, deploying, and recovering cloud resources and that you're going to run out of steam really quickly if you are still manually provisioning resources. That's not really behaving like a cloud."

[ How much can cloud change time to market? Read DreamWorks Turns To Cloud To Speed Production. ]

Once an IT organization becomes serious about cloud management, keep three danger zones in mind, experts say:

-- 1. Comparing tools won't be easy. Cloud management services are still fairly embryonic, and the platforms are evolving so it's hard to make apples-to-apples comparisons. A cloud management platform that has legs to meet future requirements must address a broad range of capabilities, not just performance monitoring. It also should provide automation, self-service provisioning, chargebacks, security and compliance audits, and governance. The ability to support a multi-cloud environment is perhaps the most critical differentiator.

Even organizations that are just starting out should take a long-term view and define a cloud roadmap so it can best match its requirements with what a particular cloud management provider delivers today and what it's committed to deliver tomorrow.

"All of the major players have management tools around their platforms, but they're all different from one provider to another, each with their own nuances," said Rick Blaisdell, CTO at ConnectEDU, who is directing the buildout of the college and career planning site's cloud architecture. ConnectEDU is currently using proprietary tools to manage its private cloud, hosted by a managed services provider, but Blaisdell is fully aware that longer term, this strategy will need some fine tuning. "Eventually we'll want one pane of glass so we can see all the SaaS applications and the infrastructure-as-a-service stuff tied all together on one management system with dashboards so we can look back at our SLAs and evaluate uptime. We can use third-party tools to get some of this information, but we're not there yet."

2. Don't ignore internal process revamps. The cloud management platform needs to be not only multi-cloud aware, but also integrated with existing internal processes. Given that most firms don't do a wholesale migration to the cloud, the cloud management platform needs to be linked to the existing infrastructure management tools, which is a rebuilding and integration effort many companies don't anticipate.

Further, companies need to think through what they want to offer from the standpoint of a standard services catalog--another hurdle related to integration because that image library needs to be pushed out to span multiple clouds. "You have to spend time thinking about what services you want to provide to end users from either a public or private cloud," said Forrester's Bartoletti. "How many deployment options do you want to provide? Three sizes of a Windows development environment, or six flavors of Linux? You have to take the time upfront to figure that out." Bartoletti's recommendation: "Offer a limited number of standardized services upfront and only expand when you're forced to. That's how you drive cloud economics."

3. Cloud tools must be a new kind of dynamic. The dynamic nature of the cloud demands a different type of management tool, one that understands the difference between an outage and something that is shut off purposely, said Dave Roberts, senior VP of business development and platform ecosystem for ServiceMesh, which provides cloud management products and services.

In the cloud, something could theoretically spring into existence in the morning and be taken down every night. "From a monitoring tool perspective, it's hard to tell the difference if the tool isn't set up to understand the characteristics of the cloud," said Roberts. A cloud management tool is set up in the path of provisioning so it can monitor the infrastructure and tell if someone is simply flipping a switch to shut down a cloud or if there a bigger problem, Roberts said. A traditional management tool can't make that distinction.

The pay-as-you go nature of the cloud makes ROI calculation seem easy. It’s not. Also in the new, all-digital Cloud Calculations InformationWeek supplement: Why infrastructure-as-a-service is a bad deal. (Free registration required.)

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