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Self-service portals give IT control in the cloud

Cloud computing purists say true clouds require portals for self-service, but those who've actually deployed portals are in the minority.

Maintaining control over IT processes in the cloud means giving end users access to self-service portals, but only a minority of companies heed that message.

A 2012 poll of 1,000 IT pros in North America and Europe conducted by Forrester Research Inc. found that 35% of respondents indicated no interest in a self-service portal for internal use; 30% were interested but had no plans; and 35% planned to deploy one. At year's end, however, only 11% actually had deployed private cloud portals.

Now it's possible to offer adequate access without giving everybody the keys to the kingdom.

Jim O'Neill,
CIO, HubSpot

"There's not a great business case for portals in a private cloud if you're just running production applications and you don't have a lot of churn," Forrester Research analyst David Bartoletti said.

Some 40% of respondents that use public clouds reported using a portal, but it's really just the administrators, not end users who use it, he said.

Shadow-boxing with self-service portals

Still, a few IT shops have begun to embrace self-service portals to avoid "shadow IT" deployments and stay on top of end users' consumption of new resources.

"We'd rather know about [deployments], and help them out," said Jim O'Neill, chief information officer at Cambridge, Mass.-based online marketing firm HubSpot Inc., which uses role-based access controls (RBACs) to offer end users direct access to Amazon Web Services' management console, as well as to Rackspace Inc.'s Cloud Control Panel.

There have been some kinks to work out with the self-service process.

"Early on, portals didn't give you a lot of controls -- they allowed everybody to access everything," O'Neill said. "Now it's possible to offer adequate access without giving everybody the keys to the kingdom."

Other users prefer to keep a layer of custom software between end users and the main management console. At Layered Innovations Inc., an Omaha, Neb.-based firm that makes marketing automation software, about 50 end users have access to application-level interfaces for self-service through a portal designed by cloud service provider CoSentry Inc., but they don't go any deeper than that.

"They can't add RAM, or things like that," said John Grange, managing director at Layered Innovations. "For them, it's really more about the app, and a way to get them more involved with our services."

The company also uses VMware Inc.'s vCloud Director to manage its cloud infrastructure, but doesn't give more than three or four IT people access to its self-service portal.

Third-party tools that pull together multiple portals from different clouds also are gaining popularity, according to John Treadway, a vice president at Boston-based consultancy Cloud Technology Partners LLC. "In a multi-cloud world, you're going to want a portal to pull it all together," he said. "And you're going to want one tool -- not three or five."

Vendors add self-service portals, RBAC to offerings

Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) and ServiceNow hope to attract more users to the self-service camp with product releases this week.

ServiceNow, a Software as a Service provider of IT service management software, has a new cloud automation and orchestration platform and a self-service provisioning portal. The platform, dubbed Orchestration Core, costs $2,500 a month, while the provisioning module is priced at $5,000 for a pack of 10 images in the self-service catalog. Beyond 10 images, packs of 10 images apiece go for $2,500.

HP, meanwhile, has updated four existing software products: Server Automation, Operations Orchestration, Database and Middleware Automation, and Cloud Service Automation. Operations Orchestration will now offer RBAC so that staff other than administrators can run and execute workflows.

HP declined to disclose prices for the software, which is available now. Operations Orchestration is priced per orchestrated node. Server Automation and Database and Middleware Automation are priced per operating system instance. HP Cloud Service Automation is priced per operating system instance and available as one package of 10 instances that includes HP Server Automation and HP Operations Orchestration licenses.

Beth Pariseau is senior news writer for Write to her at or follow @PariseauTTon Twitter.

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