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Tools pick up where cloud computing standards lack

Enterprises shouldn't see a lack of cloud management standards as a barrier to cloud -- with the right tools in place.

You might think a lack of standards for managing cloud computing services would be a deal breaker for adopting the technology. If you did, you're wrong.

There generally are two things you can safely say about any new technology: the standards are immature and the management is inadequate. But the truth is, most businesses shouldn't see a lack of cloud computing standards as a barrier. That's a good thing because those standards could be late in coming, at best, if they even come at all.

Every cloud provider has management tools aimed at giving users a way to handle a portion of their application platform -- application software, operating system, middleware and hardware -- that the cloud actually provides. For enterprises that plan to use a single cloud provider, that provider's management system is all they need; it doesn't matter much whether or not the system adheres to a standard. Enterprises looking to use multiple cloud services should be wary, but not enough to dismiss the cloud.

SaaS management vs. PaaS management
In Software as a Service (SaaS), enterprises contribute nothing technology-wise to the cloud; the cloud provider controls the application and its management entirely. The good news is that the SaaS management is concerned only with managing the application. The infrastructure is invisible to the user, which means that SaaS management focuses on controlling the right to use the application and, perhaps, the way data is stored and backed up.

These functions are as application-specific in the cloud as they are in the data center. So it's unlikely that management standards for the cloud will have much impact on SaaS. If you're a SaaS consumer, reconcile yourself to managing your applications without the aid of standards, but expect management burdens to be minimal.

With Platform as a Service (PaaS), the cloud hosts servers, storage, OS and application middleware tools such as database management systems. The enterprise contributes the application software and some additional middleware components. IT also contributes to application management, meaning they manage a PaaS application off-premises in the same way would they manage the application if it were installed on-premises, in the data center.

The data center in a PaaS model is the cloud, so this is the part of the management process that would be different. In common PaaS models, such as Microsoft Azure, a management portal administers the overall PaaS environment.

Enterprises using two different PaaS clouds likely would find the management processes difficult to harmonize for two reasons.

  1. Like application management, platform management is very dependent on the components of the platform and the way they are organized. Therefore, every PaaS provider likely will have a different management system because the PaaS offering itself is different.
  2. An enterprise using two different PaaS providers (or more) suggests they have two or more distinctly different server platforms in use in the data centers: Windows and Linux, for example. Anyone with that experience knows that harmonizing management and support processes across those platforms is difficult in-house and even more difficult when you have cloud management interfaces you must use, rather than internal management options you can use. But as with SaaS, there is little that can be hoped for from cloud management standards for PaaS, because the platform components likely will be so different that management harmony is not possible.

How IaaS management standards stand out 
Cloud management standards are most relevant in Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Because IaaS models allow IT managers to select virtually everything but the hardware itself, there is a better chance to move your favorite management tools into the cloud and use them there. You don't need to change your application and platform management practices, but you do need to manage how the cloud provider allocates its server resources, storage, caching and other tools.

Because enterprises are more likely to have multiple IaaS providers than any other cloud model, IaaS standards are critical. Even though IaaS could benefit from cloud management standards if they were complete and adhered to, it's not likely either of those qualifications will be met.

The first problem is the multiplicity of cloud management standards, which happens because there are so many cloud standards bodies. There are 13 bodies listed on a popular cloud standards bodies digest site, at least half of which have specific interest in one type of cloud management standard. The group is working toward a standard, but nothing has been finalized.

The second problem is that there is little chance the leading cloud providers will support the standards. Amazon, for example, is unlikely to comply with any of the works in progress.

What should you do to find cloud management standards? Use as much of your current management toolkit as your cloud architecture allows. You also should expect that most providers will follow Amazon's cloud management approach fairly closely. If effective cloud management standards will exist, it's likely they'll be compatible with this approach.

Finally, rely on high-level management tools like HP's OpenView or IBM's Tivoli to harmonize management practices -- even when cloud services have different management options internally. It's not necessarily going to be easy or painless, but cloud management likely is less of an issue than you think.

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

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