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Want better cloud infrastructure management? Re-examine your IT tool set

Among the many changes a cloud migration brings to an enterprise, IT teams must take a long, hard look at their existing infrastructure management tools.

A cloud migration brings a lot of change for enterprise IT teams, from how they monitor costs to staff organization. But one of the biggest changes, and challenges, is the need to evolve their infrastructure management tool sets.

Not only does a move to cloud infrastructure generally require a re-examination of existing system management tools, but those tools will differ depending on private, public or hybrid clouds. Add in the decision of whether to use a cloud provider's native tooling or a third-party system, and the choices quickly become complex.

Private cloud infrastructure management extends from legacy systems

Of the various cloud computing models, private cloud most likely aligns with an enterprise's existing infrastructure vendors, and its tool sets. This is because, when choosing a private cloud platform, most organizations tend to go with what, or who, they know.

"When [many enterprises] decided to implement a private cloud solution, invariably they turned to the incumbent vendor, who was VMware," said John Martin, president and founder of The Cavan Group, an independent cloud and data center consulting firm based in Boston.

For many organizations, their go-to private cloud stack was VMware's vCloud Suite. As an extension of that, they would use vRealize, vSphere and other components of that suite to handle provisioning, self-service capabilities, monitoring and other essential cloud infrastructure management tasks.

The same concept rings true for OpenStack, the open source platform that also serves as a foundation for private cloud deployment.

"You need the cloud platform itself, be it OpenStack or vCloud, and then from there the management is an extension of that platform," said Carl Brooks, an analyst at 451 Research. "So with OpenStack, for instance, you have a number of baked-in management tools and abilities."

Another option is to layer on private cloud management tools from other vendors, ranging from BMC and CA Technologies to open source configuration management tools such as Chef and Puppet.

Third-party tools gain traction for public cloud

The global public cloud services market is expected to grow 18% in 2017, totaling $246.8 billion, compared to $209.2 billion in 2016, according to analyst firm Gartner. Martin sees that growth reflected within his own enterprise client base.

"Many customers have dabbled -- and I do mean dabble a little bit -- in private cloud," he said. "But they've also recognized that it's unlikely they can ever deliver the level of quality service, resiliency, redundancy, performance and agility that an AWS (Amazon Web Services) or Azure or the other [public cloud providers] could do."

Like the shift to private cloud, the move to public cloud demands a new set of infrastructure management tools. But, in this case, some of that management burden is offloaded onto the public cloud provider.

"When we're talking about cloud from an infrastructure perspective, like an AWS or Azure, that's when the vendor is managing from the hypervisor and below," said Lauren E. Nelson, a principal analyst and private infrastructure-as-a-service cloud lead at Forrester Research. "You don't need to have access to a vSphere portal or your hypervisor tool. You also don't need access to a storage tool or a network tool -- it kind of eliminates some of those native monitoring tools you need."

Instead, most public cloud users adopt another kind of native management tool -- those specific to their cloud vendor's platform. An AWS user, for instance, would employ the AWS Management Console to manage and control access to AWS resources including Elastic Compute Cloud, Simple Storage Service (S3) and Elastic Load Balancing. The console also helps users monitor their AWS spending.

Some enterprises, however, supplement those provider-native tools with a third-party cloud infrastructure management tool, such as those from RightScale, ScalR or CloudHealth. There are various reasons for this, but one of the most common is simply that these tools provide independent insight into a cloud deployment, Nelson said.

For instance, when AWS suffered a major S3 outage in February 2017, the vendor's health dashboard, which tracks the status of its cloud services, was also disrupted. A third-party monitoring tool would help fill that gap.

Hybrid, multicloud bring new management challenges

Companies are now literally parsing through their application stack saying, 'This one is probably better suited to our Microsoft cloud, and this one is probably more suited to our Amazon cloud.'
John Martinpresident and founder of The Cavan Group

A second reason enterprises adopt these third-party tools is for a hybrid cloud deployment. While traditionally private cloud-centric tools such as vRealize have added cross-platform capabilities to work with public clouds like AWS, they sometimes fall short of the range of management features offered by third-party, born-in-the-cloud tools, Martin said.

"You have companies that are trying to shoehorn, quite frankly, a proprietary private cloud management platform into a public cloud governance, access management, service management and service optimization model, and what happens is that it's just limited," he said.

A third, and similar, reason that organizations opt for these third-party tools is that cloud provider-native tools are specific to that vendor -- admins can't use the AWS Management Console to manage resources on Azure, for example. That presents a challenge given the rise of multicloud computing, where organizations use a mix of different infrastructure as a service providers.

"Companies are now literally parsing through their application stack saying, 'This one is probably better suited to our Microsoft cloud, and this one is probably more suited to our Amazon cloud,'" Martin said. "It really does drive you toward a tool that can manage multiple environments."

The harsh reality of the single pane of glass

While third-party cloud infrastructure management tools can help bridge different platforms and supplement provider-native tools, IT buyers should be a bit skeptical when any tool is pegged as a "single pane of glass."

"Every one of these cloud management platforms, especially from the larger vendors, really has to be examined in detail because a lot of them make sweeping claims, but when you get down to the details, it's a lot more rickety than it would appear," Brooks said.

For example, one tool could have sophisticated functionality for cost containment to alert organizations when they overprovision their public cloud instances, but might have limited functionality for governance or access management.

The industry as a whole, however, is inching closer to end-to-end cloud management tools, according to Martin.

"Within the next 12 months, you will see a rapid consolidation, either through [mergers and acquisitions] or other activity, of all of these functions into a unified cloud management platform," he said.

Given all the complexity around choosing a cloud infrastructure management tool, another trend has taken hold in the enterprise: the use of managed services providers, or partners within public cloud vendors' ecosystems, to lessen that management burden.

Companies including Rackspace and Datapipe will help take the "brunt" of it for you, Brooks said. "A lot of the promise of cloud management is being delivered by partners right now."

Unearth the layers of cloud

This article is part of a series that breaks down the different technologies that underpin cloud-based infrastructure. Navigate here to see the other articles.

Next Steps

Azure rolls out new native cloud monitoring tools

Multicloud silos present IT management challenge

Evaluate cloud configuration management tools

This was last published in April 2017

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