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Get a grip on evaluating cloud management platforms

Software for managing multicloud computing environments can help companies tame the tumult. An industry expert gives tips on how to assess products.

A sensible first step in sifting through the jumble of public and private cloud computing services is shopping for a cloud management platform, software that helps manage how applications are deployed and operated in multicloud computing environments.

The market, though evolving, has already fragmented into products with different designs and capabilities, according to the Cloud Standards Customer Council (CSCC), a user group that works to establish industrywide standards for cloud computing. In a webinar late last month, the CSCC enumerated evaluation criteria for buying cloud management software. The webinar followed the publication of the report "Practical Guide to Cloud Management Platforms."

William Van Order, who works on cloud service management at aerospace and defense giant Lockheed Martin Corp., broke down the criteria into three categories: technology and architecture, operational, and business and acquisition. Below are highlights of those items. (For the full criteria, view the CSCC report.)

Technology and architecture

Organizations must first determine whether the product under consideration provides a single pane of glass, or a central portal that allows an organization to view and manage all of the cloud services in use. Those can be public cloud infrastructure services like Amazon Web Services or Microsoft Azure, where data is hosted in the providers' far-flung data centers, or, say, an internal private cloud, which is built on premises.

"That's a very significant factor," Van Order said in the webinar. "Do they support the infrastructure that you're moving towards or that you currently have in place?"

This is still an emerging market in the area of cloud management platforms, so we do still anticipate a certain amount of upheaval in the marketplace.
William Van Ordercloud service management co-lead, Lockheed Martin

Cloud management platforms must also allow for the integration of all cloud services. Most of the tools on the market can integrate with many of the same cloud service providers, but, the report warns, "some notable vendor differences exist that can influence a procurement decision."

Also, Van Order said, it's important to determine whether a tool supports industry standards for interoperability -- in other words, whether it follows basic technical guidelines so that it can work with cloud infrastructure providers. One such standard is the Cloud Infrastructure Management Interface.

Another consideration is whether a cloud management platform requires that a software agent be installed on the architecture supporting the different cloud services, Van Order said. An agent is a piece of software that performs automated tasks such as deploying applications and enforcing governance policies. Some call for an agent; others don't need them.

It's important to know, Van Order said, because "you might have to go back and retrofit, for example, those agents onto your existing cloud infrastructure."

Organizations must also scrutinize the security design of a cloud management platform, Van Order said. Get the information security team involved early in the evaluation process, he recommended, and then find out how the vendor built security into the product.

Operational criteria

Picking a hosting environment is next on the list of evaluation criteria for cloud management platforms. Organizations can choose to buy software that they install in their facilities, or they can go with a software as a service (SaaS) application offered and maintained by the service provider, Van Order said. The choice could have a big impact on total cost of ownership -- the direct and indirect costs of buying, deploying and using the system -- the skills you'll need staffers to have and the type of network connectivity required.

Then there's looking at a product's operations and service management capabilities, Van Order said. For example, it must support self-service provisioning, allowing users to set up and launch applications and services in the cloud. And though most platforms are configurable for specific businesses, he said, "You just need to make sure that the configuration support it consists of profile with your organization's governance policies."

The administrative capabilities of a platform must also check out. The software must give IT admins the ability to do security management -- protecting information assets and enforcing policies. And it must also allow for complete visibility into how cloud computing resources are being used. Automation and workflow orchestration is also important for effective management of a multicloud environment, Van Order said. Organizations should also check whether a cloud management tool can provide automated notifications when preconfigured events are triggered in the cloud infrastructure.

William Van OrderWilliam Van Order

"And what type of automation capabilities can they have to reduce your operational staffing needs to accomplish your mission?" Van Order said.

Other important components are a cost management dashboard for monitoring how much cloud computing power is used, which may help in case service-level agreements with vendors aren't met; infrastructure optimization, which makes recommendations "to you and your subscribers of the most cost-effective cloud deployment footprint," Van Order said; and the vendor's product support -- when, for example, does it release patches for fixes or functional improvements?

Business and acquisition criteria

Total cost of ownership is crucial to keep in mind when evaluating cloud management platforms, Van Order said, because it will justify the investment. As important as the initial acquisition cost of the tool -- which will vary depending on whether the product is on-premises, open source or a SaaS -- is how much recurring operations will run, as well as costs for integrating with other systems.

Organizations should also think upfront about an exit strategy -- getting out of a vendor contract in case the tool doesn't work out.

"It avoids incurring higher costs later if you find out that you're going down a path with a vendor that's just not going to meet your overall long-term operational needs," Van Order said.

Also, when evaluating products and vendors, organizations need to "look at the comprehensiveness of their product training and professional-service offerings," he said, because some costs for training staff or getting professional-services assistance are inevitable.

One more important thing to keep in mind, Van Order said, is that the cloud management platform market is still new, so organizations should scrutinize the "financial stability and viability" of a vendor before signing on the dotted line.

"This is still an emerging market in the area of cloud management platforms, so we do still anticipate a certain amount of upheaval in the marketplace," he said.

Next Steps

Deploying multicloud platforms? First, some considerations

Cloud management platforms: What they do

A buyer's guide to cloud management tools

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