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Streamlining key IaaS operations with SaaS cloud management

Cloud management services let companies focus on business issues rather than technical ones. And third-party tools can be particularly helpful in AWS.

Many of us can get by with ad hoc procedures when we run a small number of servers in the cloud. But, as the number of servers, storage systems, users, accounts and specialized platform services grows, so do management challenges and the need for formalized management procedures and tools. An emerging niche of cloud management services tackles some of the most common management challenges -- operations management, cost control and security -- using Software as a Service (SaaS).

Cloud management services are a logical extension of one of the key benefits of public cloud providers. They allow us to focus more on business problems and less on technical issues. Public clouds, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), have demonstrated the advantages of letting someone else manage hardware and infrastructure. Now third-party management services can demonstrate the advantages of even greater delegation of IT administration, which could streamline Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) operations, particularly in AWS.

No one likes surprises in their cloud computing bills, but when you run a large number of servers, it is difficult to track how efficiently each one is used.

With that delegation comes the need to open your cloud operations to a third party, which may be an issue for some -- especially if access controls on your systems are subject to regulations. But the benefits of using SaaS for these key management challenges could outweigh the risk.

Operations management services

Operations management services, such as RightScale and Dell Multi-Cloud Manager (formerly Enstratius), help consolidate management of multiple clouds and accounts while providing tools to streamline deployment of applications to a cloud. These services offer a single point of management for multiple clouds and cloud accounts, which reduces the need to work with multiple cloud-specific management consoles. Users and permissions can be managed centrally, mitigating the risk of inconsistent user privileges across clouds. Operations management services also typically offer support for Chef or Puppet scripts to automate provisioning of resources and deploying applications.

The appeal of an operations management service is clear for businesses that use multiple clouds, but why bother if you only use a single cloud provider? For example, AWS has CloudFormation, a comprehensive management console that provides a similar template service to those offered by third parties. However, even users of a single cloud can benefit from additional features, such as support for budget management and governance. Also, because of market pressures, operations management services have an incentive to make their templates easier to use with better interfaces and additional features.

One way to evaluate the value of an operations management SaaS is to measure the time saved by system administrators and cloud managers when using the third party's tools versus the standard tools provided by the cloud service.

Cost-control services

No one likes surprises in their cloud computing bills, but when you run a large number of servers, it is difficult to track how efficiently each one is used. If your usage patterns have substantial variability, it may be difficult to determine the optimal combination of on-demand, reserved and spot instances you should be using. A number of cloud management providers address these issues with specialized cost-control services. Among these vendors are Newvem, Cloudability, Cloudyn, CloudCheckr and CloudVertical that use cost-control services to monitor your cloud resources, analyze your usage and formulate recommendations for optimizing your cloud resources. Recommendations include altering server size, making use of reserved instances in AWS or optimizing the way you use Amazon's Relational Database Service (RDS).

As with operations management services, AWS users could build their own tools to collect performance and usage data from the AWS CloudWatch service. The drawback of the DIY approach here is that you will have additional scripts to develop, debug and maintain. You will also have to invest effort to research and validate best practices that would form the basis of recommended cost-saving changes.

Security services

Outsourcing some security operations to a SaaS vendor will appeal to organizations that do not have sufficient expertise in house. Rather than install and manage your own network scanners, for example, you can contract with a SaaS provider and avoid the overhead of managing yet another application.

Metaflows Security System for Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) is an add-on service available to AWS customers and charged at an hourly rate based on instance type. The service is designed to detect and prevent cybersecurity incidents. Another example of a security SaaS is Dome9 Security, which streamlines AWS security management tasks, such as managing security groups, configuring firewalls and automating policy management. The company supports multi-cloud management and add-on services, such as strong two-factor authentication.

About the author:
Dan Sullivan, M.Sc., is an author, systems architect and consultant with more than 20 years of IT experience. He has had engagements in advanced analytics, systems architecture, database design, enterprise security and business intelligence. He has worked in a broad range of industries, including financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, software development, government, retail and education. Dan has written extensively about topics that range from data warehousing, cloud computing and advanced analytics to security management, collaboration and text mining.

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