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Cloud management beyond the API

APIs are only one way to manage a cloud. Combining native vendor management services with third-party tools can help bridge the hybrid cloud divide.

Most experienced cloud consumers have some familiarity with cloud management APIs. Cloud computing newbies or those with cloud applications that are limited to single-server pilot projects or test and development may think management APIs are the key to controlling the cloud. In fact, APIs are only a stepping stone to a growing list of cloud management features.

Companies using cloud services are looking to third-party hybrid and private cloud management tools to supplement what’s lacking in the public cloud. This combination of native tools, plus additional third-party management tools, is reshaping the vision of how cloud services are managed -- from APIs and user interfaces to cloud management orchestration.

Public cloud providers are bolstering services with the addition of native management services; Amazon Web Services offers elastic, auto-scaling and elastic load-balancing features, which distribute traffic across multiple Amazon EC2 instances and allow provisioning of additional instances during peak times as usage increases. IT administrators could accomplish something similar using per-instance configuration and application tools or network appliances, but it’s much easier to use Amazon’s native tools.

All of these native cloud tools are meant to simplify the use of more complex cloud features. The challenge is that cloud applications will continue to expand in various directions, few of which will be supported by native cloud services.

Hybrid cloud management 
Enterprises that adopt hybrid clouds will also need to build applications in such a way that they can cross the public cloud/private cloud boundary. For the sophisticated cloud user, one solution may be to use a growing set of cloud orchestration tools and services that facilitate common tasks.

The combination of native tools, plus additional third-party management tools, is reshaping the vision of how cloud services are managed.

Cloud orchestration services come primarily from vendors that offer both cloud software and a public cloud service. Therefore, enterprises that plan to deploy complex applications or hybrid cloud apps may want to focus on cloud providers with specific management-task orchestration tools. This is particularly true for companies without in-house IT expertise that don’t want to hire third-party cloud deployment services.

Most software for private clouds will support Amazon EC2 APIs, allowing companies to build Amazon-compatible hybrid clouds. But it may also be possible to find a cloud software provider that offers cloud management orchestration tools for private cloud that also work in a public cloud.

Hybrid cloud users may want to base cloud installations on a platform that provides management orchestration, such as Ubuntu cloud, which is compatible with Linux. For example, a cloud consumer would build a private cloud on Ubuntu and then run Ubuntu “guest” instances on the public cloud. The common cloud platform means that cloud management tools can manage applications across the public/private cloud divide.

Ubuntu includes the Juju administration package, which allows cloud application developers and IT admins to create “charms” that represent application pieces that can then be strung into applications automatically using the Ubuntu cloud management interface. Ubuntu claims its Cloud Guest is the most heavily used guest OS in both Amazon and Rackspace public clouds. Similar hybrid orchestration tools are available from Dell, HP and IBM; other cloud software providers are likely to offer them as well.

What’s on the cloud management horizon
At some point, cloud management and orchestration tools may become available as standalone offerings. Juju is an open source cloud project that can be used on both public and private clouds with an Amazon EC2-compatible management interface. Juju could become an exceptionally valuable management tool for deploying clouds with applications that consist of multiple connected components.

At some point, cloud management and orchestration tools may become available as standalone offerings.

However, Juju is too advanced for nearly all cloud adopters, especially the inexperienced;  its value will likely come gradually, as software providers offer Juju “charms” that allow less-experienced cloud admins to easily deploy applications. There are several cloud projects similar to Juju; OpenCloud has a few open source cloud projects other cloud software vendors offer commercial products. And even though commercial cloud projects are more user-friendly than open source tools, they also can be more expensive. While it’s good to have choices in the cloud, this wide range of products can make it difficult to judge which cloud project will gain momentum and have staying power.

Some cloud applications are greatly distributed, requiring more management orchestration to be used effectively. Apache Hadoop and MapReduce use Juju orchestration, but new projects, such as Apache Whirr, are emerging to improve management orchestration for distributed data, search and other services. These may be critical for large enterprises with complex cloud plans. But in the near term, it’s more likely Software as a Service (SaaS) providers will use them to deploy services.

Standards and common APIs facilitate broad support of cloud management and orchestration tools. Such tools will likely support most major public cloud services, which could broaden cloud options while simplifying cloud deployment.

Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecommunications and data communications since 1982.

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