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Choose the right mix of hybrid cloud management for your enterprise

Buyers must evaluate hybrid cloud management tools carefully, knowing their team's needs and experience level, to choose the most beneficial option for their platform.

When buying hybrid cloud management tools, an organization's unique cloud strategy could limit its choices. Some tools might be missing certain features or take longer to get to production, but fit an operation with limited resources or expertise. On the other hand, there are new and leading-edge products that fill critical gaps in the tool set, but bear startup risks, such as quality.

In addition, some hybrid cloud management tools, such as Red Hat's distribution, are platform-agnostic, while others are tied strongly to a vendor's system.

Here are some general guidelines for choosing hybrid cloud management tools, based on use case and skill set.

Case 1: Hybrid cloud prototype with limited staff and experience

If an IT team is comfortable specifying hardware, it can purchase a private cloud platform from distribution or direct from a vendor such as Supermicro. Most commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) gear will work. Given the scope of skills implied by the hardware, the team should lean toward a suite product, such as Red Hat OpenStack or RightScale, which contain a comprehensive set of tools, are hardware-agnostic and offer ease of use and support capabilities.

Today's COTS hardware -- whether from traditional original equipment manufacturers or from original design manufacturers ust entering the market -- generally have few problems with cloud platforms such as OpenStack. A more risk-averse team, however, might buy a pre-integrated system from Dell, IBM or Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), with hardware platforms, cloud software stack and a set of basic cloud management tools bundled together. The key is a single point of contact for support, but this comes at a premium.

Bundled products allow teams to round out hybrid cloud management with additional tools, such as cloud security tools from HPE, monitoring tools like Cloudyn, cost analysis tools like Cloudabilty and governance tools like Scalr. For a prototype setup, teams should evaluate a range of these tools to see if they significantly improve ease of use.

Case 2: Experienced team looks to optimize hybrid cloud preproduction

Teams at this stage should look at a wider set of hybrid cloud management tools, and then narrow them down. This group is more likely to buy hardware from distribution or direct from an inexpensive provider, which means a suite product such as Red Hat or RightScale.

The value of the SaaS route is that it reduces the cost of moving to an alternative tool set compared to buying a license -- particularly during the prototype installation phase. Whether the economics work long term, however, depends on the growth roadmap for a company's hybrid cloud.

The number of platform-agnostic hybrid cloud tools continues to expand. Scalr, which comes with strong support and upgrades, is an option along with CliQr. CliQr was acquired in April 2016 by Cisco. A third vendor is Abiquo, which offers an orchestration suite that includes a central dashboard with a strong GUI and a solid policy toolkit.

The key selling point for these three tools is that they are second-generation products with better ease of use compared to some of the older tools. This feature reduces the need for hand-holding and makes support less of an issue.

The bundled products from traditional OEM vendors, such as Dell EMC and Cisco, are also options. Automation has reached a new level with these second-generation tools, which increases agility, reduces admin workloads and offers a more intuitive interface.

Users in the advanced hybrid cloud category should explore APIs to integrate hybrid cloud management tools with users' applications. This is generally easier to do with second-generation tools.

Case 3: Team prefers as a service model

Another option is to use a software as a service (SaaS) tool, which offers a pay-as-you-go model. Several vendors offer that model, including RightScale, CliQr and Dell EMC.

The value of the SaaS route is that it reduces the cost of moving to an alternative tool set compared to buying a license -- particularly during the prototype installation phase. Whether the economics work long term, however, depends on the growth roadmap for a company's hybrid cloud.

Case 4: Forward-looking team plans for Docker containers

With Docker containers being a fairly new phenomenon, many hybrid cloud management tools are playing catch-up. This constrains vendor selection to a small group today, but the main tool players should embrace containers in 2017 to stay relevant. Vendors with Docker support include RightScale, Scalr, Red Hat and Dell EMC, which have ported the tools to run in Docker containers. Red Hat CloudForms is now portable to any Docker container.

VMware also supports containers, an option that might appeal to shops heavily invested in VMware processes and training.

Case 5: Outsource hybrid cloud management

In 2016, this was a limited option, with Rackspace effectively the only hybrid cloud managed services provider -- but this has changed. Admins, for example, can expect Azure to offer a homogeneous hybrid cloud package through Azure Stack. This will be limited to a few hardware platforms, but the vendor list supporting Azure Stack should increase as the stack matures, and management will be part of the offering.

There is some speculation that Amazon Web Services (AWS) may also enter the hybrid cloud software market in 2017 with a product that enables a single management and operational environment across AWS public and private clouds.

There are pitfalls in these approaches, however. Data needs to travel across cloud boundaries in these homogenous environments, making any simplistic approach inefficient. Teams will demand more advanced storage management, for example, from companies like Zadara and Velostrata.

Hybrid cloud management tools are a dynamic segment of the IT portfolio. New companies appear often and the scope and breadth of their offerings expands quickly, as evidenced through comparisons of first- and second-generation tools. Users can expect more automation, enabling rapid insights and responses that can meet the explosion of instances that containers bring. Hybrid cloud management tools will also grow to handle the challenges and opportunities of software-defined infrastructure.

Next Steps

The role of hybrid cloud management software in the IT enterprise

How the hybrid cloud management system functions and why it's such a hot issue

Three hybrid cloud management problems and the ways to address them

This was last published in January 2017

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Hybrid cloud management tools: An overview of functions and products

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