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Hybrid cloud management tools improve, but not perfect yet

Cloud vendors continue to improve their hybrid cloud management tools, but there is still work to be done to give admins a true 'single pane of glass.'

Hybrid cloud computing promises faster and more efficient IT service delivery, but that benefit comes at a cost:...

increased system complexity. As companies build hybrid clouds, the number of devices swells, the network connections rise and the level of automation increases, resulting in more management complexity.

Vendors have been working to integrate their hybrid cloud management tools, hoping to give cloud administrators increased visibility through a single pane of glass across public and private clouds. But, in reality, hybrid cloud management remains largely inefficient, with admins constantly bouncing from application to application.

Data centers consist of servers, storage systems, network devices and applications from different vendors that run different operating systems. In addition, the management purview has expanded. Data center technicians need to track workload locations, ensure device connections are clean and monitor performance. Hybrid cloud complicates these tasks by linking two disparate sets of devices and management tools.

Because of this complexity, flaws are evident.

"One vendor may offer a strong configuration management solution but be weak in analytics," said Mary Johnston Turner, research vice president, enterprise systems management software at IDC, a research firm based in Framingham, Mass.

The API conundrum

Application programming interfaces (APIs) play a key role in linking hybrid cloud management tools to provide a single pane of glass across different cloud environments. To help IT pros gain visibility into hybrid cloud software and hardware, vendors need to provide interfaces into and out of their products. In addition, connections are needed to transfer information among different modules -- for example, from a configuration management system to an analytics application.

However, APIs are designed in different ways. Software-based APIs are easy to deploy, but add processing cycles and degrade system performance. Other APIs come as appliances -- a combination of hardware and software dropped into the network -- but these APIs become one more piece of hardware that an IT pro needs to manage, leading to increased complexity.

In addition, API integration is dynamic, and enterprises constantly upgrade their systems. With updates occurring so frequently, gaps emerge between what a cloud provider runs and what the customers' hybrid cloud systems can support, forcing admins to bounce from one management interface to another.

Making the right connection

When building a hybrid cloud, the connections between public and private clouds can be difficult to consolidate. Businesses must weave two distinct data centers with different technologies into a cohesive whole.

One vendor may offer a strong configuration management solution but be weak in analytics.
Mary Johnston Turnerresearch vice president, enterprise systems management software at IDC

Vendors focus first on connecting their own services, so when businesses use underlying infrastructure from one supplier -- such as Microsoft Windows Server running on Microsoft Azure -- they gain more management integration, which means less movement from screen to screen. When the infrastructure comes from multiple vendors, connectivity is spottier, and visibility becomes murkier, said Colm Keegan, senior analyst at The Enterprise Strategy Group (ESG), an analyst firm based in Milford, Mass.

Cloud vendors know many customers want to mix and match their services, and have been prodded to improve integration. Amazon Web Services and Google have been working to enhance their management services, while Microsoft offers a robust set of hybrid cloud management tools and consistent interfaces for private and public clouds -- but there is still work to be done, according to ESG's Keegan. For instance, Microsoft's tools are still largely proprietary.

The value of tradition

When it comes to achieving a single pane of glass for hybrid cloud management, enterprises can also look to third-party vendors for help. Traditional management vendors, such as BMC Software, CA Technologies, Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and IBM, are strong on the private cloud side of the equation, but weaker on monitoring public cloud.

Newer vendors, such as Cloud Cruiser, Egenera, Kaavo, RightScale and Verismic Software, have entered the management marketplace. They tend to do a good job with public cloud services, but are less adept at delivering private cloud management tools. And while their systems are based on modern designs, and are easier to alter and maintain, they have limited feature sets.

Cloud computing is becoming one of the most common computing models in the enterprise. As companies adopt hybrid cloud, their focus shifts to hybrid cloud management tools. And while these tools are improving, most tend to have holes, forcing admins to bounce between interfaces. As the hybrid cloud management market matures, organizations should explore their options and choose the tool that best fits their needs.

Next Steps

Five common questions on hybrid cloud management

An enterprise guide to hybrid cloud deployment

Hybrid cloud gives way to multicloud model

This was last published in January 2016

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