According to a recent TechTarget survey, public, private and hybrid cloud adoption is expected to grow this year, which will see companies in all verticals continue to move more complex workloads out of the data center and into the cloud.
Cloud computing is convenient, but it masks many of the performance and management issues that traditional data centers have learned to monitor and manage. With businesses running an increasing number of workloads in a cloud environment, IT administrators have to anticipate workload performance to ensure reliability and a good user experience.
"When it comes to management of public or private clouds, generally speaking, you are talking about lifecycles of workload instead of thinking in terms of virtual machines [VMs]," which is how we used to approach virtual environments, said Jonah Kowall, research director for IT operations management at Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Inc. Things get more complex in the cloud, where you're deploying applications that consist of several VMs with applications deployed and configured on them, all working together.
Tracking virtualization's evolution to the cloud
For many users, the shift to the cloud is still on the horizon, and many are still working through the challenges of virtualization -- deploying and managing virtual resources. "I still get a lot more client questions about virtualization than about the cloud," Kowall said. Still, when it comes to public clouds, people generally are looking into a Software as a Service approach to managing those systems. But as the market for private and hybrid clouds evolves, a more coherent approach to cloud management will evolve, he said.
Generally speaking, Kowall said, whether private or public, the cloud isn't all that different from virtualization. "The issue is more about how you orchestrate it and how you automate the deployment of monitoring," he said.
The two major management platforms for virtualization -- Microsoft System Center 2012 and VMware's vCloud Suite -- offer a "collection of tools bundled into a single package for managing and operating private cloud environments," according to Aneel Lakhani, a Gartner research director for virtualization and cloud.
But don't expect these tools to deliver something that resembles Amazon cloud services. "Although you can get some similar experiences, there is no way to build an Amazon-style cloud internally just with these kinds of tools," Lakhani said. "A lot of the reasons people want to build an internal cloud have to do with cost and efficiency. But it is not the case that most private cloud platforms will get you to the cost profile of [Amazon Web Services] (AWS)," he said.
What you can do is provide a self-service interface so that users can get VMs on demand from a portal. "You can have that automated, and you can connect all of it to your existing systems, management systems and service desk systems," Lakhani said. You can take an environment with just virtualization and turn it into something like the cloud, with "the ability to automate the whole process of provisioning and de-provisioning, controlling who gets access, controlling capacity, and removing a lot of overhead activity," he said.
For those purposes, these tools work well, Lakhani said, though they don't solve every problem. They can move users closer to what might be called a legitimate private cloud, but they don't solve application architecture, process or organizational problems, he said. In particular, they won't "magically make your infrastructure into something that is infinite, which is an unrealistic dream that many people have when they try to implement cloud," he added. "The AWS experience is one of not worrying about capacity. People try to transpose that experience into their expectations for private cloud, which is impossible," he said.
For example, if someone reserves 16 VMs and then doesn't use them, he is taking up space and holding a reserve that others can't use, Lakhani noted. "Even Amazon won't take care of that; it's a process and management issue that can be automated, but you have to choose to do the automating," he said. Even with AWS, charges can be accrued when instances are reserved but not used. "The point is that there is a significant expectation mismatch between what people think they can accomplish with these tools and what they will deliver -- and with cloud in general -- than what is realistic," he added. By contrast, BMC Software claims its traditional business service management platform automates such processes as server provisioning and repurposing and user self-service in the cloud.
In addition to a large VMware and Microsoft presence, the market has more than 50 comparable cloud management products. "It is a churning and crowded market," Lakhani said, pointing out that there are likely more vendors and products in the space than necessary.
Cloud management tools market is still evolving
Another consideration is how mature and full-featured the tools are. For instance, some reviewers have found System Center 2012 to be difficult to learn and its private-cloud evaluation software kit to be difficult to use.
Chris Wolf, a research vice president at Gartner, sees no clear winner among the various options. He points out, for example, that many of the newer products are not a "complete traditional management stack like you might get from a company such as BMC Software." That forces many companies to think about whether they want to try to extend their traditional IT management tools into the cloud or adopt new tools.
Purpose-built cloud management platforms typically don't include core enterprise service features, such as ticketing and asset management -- which are tasks most enterprises take for granted, Wolf said. Instead, end-user organizations expect that the cloud management tools will integrate with such support ticketing systems as BMC Remedy.
Alternatively, some customers elect to take a single-vendor approach and, as a result, go with complete stacks from such vendors as BMC, CA, Hewlett-Packard and IBM. "One issue is cost," Wolf noted. "The newer, leaner solutions may be less costly; and some companies may decide they don't want to bring something like ITIL [the IT Infrastructure Library] forward; they may want a new, leaner way to organize IT processes that isn't so process-heavy," he said.
Wolf also warned IT purchasers to scrutinize claims carefully. "When you are doing hybrid cloud -- public cloud plus your data center -- management from a single-pane-of-glass perspective is practically nonexistent. Vendors will claim to have it, but most are not fully integrated," he said.
Technology standardization is another issue. When organizations build private clouds, many are trying to emulate the public cloud, which tends to be a highly standardized infrastructure with few management components, Wolf noted. As a result, public clouds can achieve high economies of scale. By contrast, traditional IT usually focuses on best-of-breed applications, and ends up spending millions on integration, which isn't terribly cost-efficient. "Keeping your portfolio to a few vendors in each area, like the public cloud, will streamline management and lower operational costs," he said.
The market continues to evolve, so Wolf recommends that customers focus on their vendor relationships and decide which vendors they are most comfortable working with. "Cloud management is tricky," Wolf said. "Prioritize the vendor relationship first, because some of the features being offered today are things most customers won't really need for a while."
About the Author
Alan R. Earls is a Boston-area freelance writer who focuses on business and technology.