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Multicloud hopefuls welcome Red Hat CloudForms, Ansible integration

Users anticipate fewer multicloud management snags with Ansible natively integrated into the latest version of Red Hat's CloudForms management platform.

BOSTON -- Multicloud computing has become the Holy Grail for many IT shops, but effective management of multiple infrastructure-as-a-service providers is often easier said than done. Red Hat, joined by a growing number of IT vendors, hopes to change that.

At the 2017 Red Hat Summit here this week, the company introduced CloudForms 4.5, the latest version of its cloud management platform, which now offers native integration with Ansible, the IT automation software that Red Hat acquired in 2015.

This means users no longer have to manually integrate CloudForms and Ansible for automated configuration management across on-premises infrastructure and private clouds, including those that run on OpenStack or VMware, as well as public IaaS clouds, such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.

"[Previously], to extend CloudForms through the [Ansible] automation model, you'd have to write Ruby code -- and those guys are not a dime a dozen," said Richard Smith, cloud solutions engineer at Unum, an insurance provider headquartered in Chattanooga, Tenn.

With native Ansible integration in CloudForms 4.5, much of that coding can be replaced by Ansible Playbooks, a set of declarative configuration and orchestration templates. Admins can now use these natively within CloudForms to automatically deploy complex, multi-tier applications across multicloud environments.

This provides an alternative to cloud-native orchestration templates, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) CloudFormation, OpenStack Heat or Azure Resource Manager templates, to configure cloud applications and all their supporting resources. These cloud-native templates are tied to one specific platform or provider, which hampers portability and interoperability, said Geert Jansen, product owner of CloudForms, who spoke at the Red Hat Summit this week.

"You can't really say, 'I'm in Amazon right now, but I want to go to Google or somebody else,'" he said.

Charlton Kao, lead technical architect at Eagle Investment Systems in Wellesley, Mass., a unit of BNY Mellon, welcomes the native Ansible integration. His company is implementing a multicloud strategy with VMware and Microsoft Azure, with Ansible for configuration management and Red Hat and Puppet in production. He said Ansible integration into CloudForms satisfied several of his needs: centralized management for the company's cloud platforms, the ability to leverage Ansible to manage Puppet and integration with IP address management.

Multicloud interest grows, but hurdles remain

Summit attendees heard a lot about multicloud portability and management this week. In addition to the CloudForms 4.5 release, Red Hat unveiled plans to allow its OpenShift Container Platform to manage containers that run on the AWS cloud. Customers can also use the OpenShift platform with Azure and Google Cloud.

But while there is enterprise interest in multicloud, a number of challenges stand in the way of deployment, including integration, policy management and cost reporting.

The majority of Unum's infrastructure is on premises, but the company has started to deploy development servers in Azure, Smith said. The next project for Unum's cloud enablement team over the coming months is to migrate one of its smaller data centers, with roughly 400 or 500 VMs, to Azure.

While Unum has explored a multicloud strategy, from a cost perspective, it made more sense to go all-in with Azure at this point. "We have a strategy, but, practically speaking, we're starting with one provider, because we're a large Microsoft shop and we have a big [enterprise agreement] in place," he said.

Still, it makes sense for Red Hat to shift its focus to support modern cloud applications and public and multicloud environments, given the long-term direction of the market, said Holger Mueller, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, an analyst firm in Cupertino, Calif.

"Nobody is building large, private clouds on Linux anymore," he said. "They are running a lot of them, and they are thinking about moving and where they want to go, but that's not growth for [Red Hat] in the long term."

News director James Montgomery contributed to this report.

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