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User self-service is a big potential benefit of cloud computing. With it, deluged IT departments can offload mundane resource allocation tasks to users, affording themselves more time to work on strategic projects. But many organizations do not offer, or are wary of, this feature for a variety of reasons, and the growing use of multi-cloud computing could complicate things even more.
A number of factors deter enterprises from a user self-service provisioning model. First, to get there, organizations must alter their development and deployment processes. Both the IT department and business units need to understand how to manage cloud services -- a change that often requires training and more dialogue between the two groups.
Sprawl is also a concern. IT teams worry that business departments will spin up more workloads than they need. Historically, enterprises haven't had tools to control this kind of workload sprawl, but fortunately, vendors ranging from Cisco Systems to RightScale have developed tools that provide more cloud transparency and management features.
The self-service integration challenge
Despite these tools, challenges around user self-service persist, and the growth of multi-cloud computing amplifies those challenges.
Today, 63% of corporations use at least two cloud vendors, according to Lauren E. Nelson, principal analyst at Forrester Research. Many cloud services have also been designed to run autonomously with virtually no common integration points. This is because vendors focus more on improving their own capabilities than they do on integrating those capabilities with a competitor.
Jay LymanPrincipal analyst, 451 Research
Consequently, when a business uses multiple cloud platforms, IT teams might need to support multiple user self-service portals, and integrating them is difficult.
"Each cloud vendor's portal formats data, presents information to users and supports development tools in a different way," said Jay Lyman, principal analyst at 451 Research.
A self-service portal, whether hosted by a cloud vendor or an enterprise, is an infrastructure software application. Unlike a word processing app, for example, a portal does nothing by itself; you don't just buy it, download it and run it. Enterprises need to tie the portal into their existing application infrastructure, which is complex, given that those infrastructures often have thousands or tens of thousands of APIs. Basically, to deploy a self-service portal, a company needs to take on a massive amount of software integration work.
Because of these challenges, integrating self-service portals for multi-cloud is at a nascent stage of development.
Vendors have signed a few joint development agreements, such as the one between Amazon Web Services and VMware, that could help with these efforts, but integration work remains.
That scenario is not expected to change anytime soon. No standards group has shown interest in taking on the work, and while open source has helped spur the development of common interfaces, there hasn't been significant movement in this area yet.
A few enterprises have developed some common dashboards, and there are some tools, such as RightScale, that can help with these multi-cloud self-service challenges. But, in many cases, cloud portals still largely run autonomously.
And that user self-service work might stay on IT team's back burner for now.
"Many businesses are taking a step back and trying to determine what level of integration they need with multi-cloud solutions," Nelson said. While integrated multi-cloud self-service offers some benefits for IT, other needs, such as multi-cloud cost containment, are now higher on the corporate wish list.
Eventually, vendors and IT teams will put other building blocks in place to ease cloud self-service integration. For instance, according to Larry Carvalho, research manager at IDC, a fully containerized development environment would break down barriers and ease integration.