Cloud management platforms offer a unified approach to hybrid IT

While more cloud platforms can mean more challenges, the right management platform makes an admin's job easier. But with all the options, how do you know which one to choose?

The world of cloud can be overwhelming for enterprises that have finally decided to move data off the ground. There are numerous cloud providers, service offerings and pricing structures to choose from; not every enterprise is a one-size-fits-all operation.

With ever-growing compliance standards and workload requirements, enterprises see the value in hybrid cloud or multiple cloud platforms from different providers. But a hybrid model creates huge visibility and management challenges related to governance, compliance, security and performance. Cloud management platforms centralize these tasks -- including across private and public clouds -- under one umbrella.

"The big thing that's pushing the need to go to cloud management platforms is the fact that so many organizations now have these complex environments," said Mike Edwards, cloud computing standards expert at IBM, during a recent webinar hosted by the Cloud Standards Customer Council (CSCC). "Using different tools for each system you're using is just painful. It's not a good place to be."

Functions of a cloud management platform

Not all cloud management platforms are the same, and some vendors add additional capabilities to meet enterprises' unique needs. Still, all platforms should have these four core capabilities, according to the CSCC:

  • General services: These include a portal, a service catalog and analytics and reporting features that enable integration, provide self-service capabilities and optimize cloud use.
  • Service management: The platform needs to manage and monitor all the cloud-based compute services you use, as well as storage, memory and CPU resource capacity, to help you deploy workloads and meet performance requirements.
  • Financial management: To control costs, cloud management platforms should meter and allocate costs, use chargeback reports, invoice users and forecast future use. These features use real-time analysis, reporting and predictive analytics to automate cloud resource consumption tracking.
  • Resource management: The features manage apps, storage, network and server resources with capabilities such as discovery, tagging, provisioning, orchestration and migration.

"If you don't have the capability to discover and manage [your] resources, nothing else matters," said Karl Scott, executive consultant at Satori Consulting.

If you don't have the capability to discover and manage [your] resources, nothing else matters.
Karl ScottExecutive consultant at Satori Consulting

Without external and internal integration capabilities, enterprises cannot use existing systems or tools, or manage across multiple cloud environments. APIs published by public providers, such as Amazon Web Services and Azure, as well those for private cloud platforms, such as OpenStack and VMware, achieve integration in cloud management platforms.

Security for hybrid cloud also can get tricky, since enterprises need to make sure all resources are secure when deployed in different clouds. Encryption and identity and access management keep cloud resources secure across all environments. Hybrid and multicloud models also require governance capabilities, such as policy-based management and compliance, to guarantee users handle cloud resources correctly.

"You can never get away from security; it always matters," Edwards said.

Build up your cloud management skill set

Administrators should understand all the cloud services used in their organization, how they are delivered and their architectures. This knowledge ensures they can manage the platform correctly.

"[Cloud management platforms require] specific skills to make sure you can leverage the tool and derive the value you're looking for," Scott said.

A deep understanding of existing policies also helps with implementation and integration. While not mandatory, scripting skills for common languages, such as Python, are helpful for some of the automation management.

"Make sure that this is seen as a team effort, and [you] can bring in other organizations, like your finance team [and] your security team, to make sure you got an overall successful approach," said William Van Order, co-lead of the cloud service management team at Lockheed Martin, a global security and aerospace company.

Cloud management platform comparison

Before you perform a cloud management platform comparison, create a deployment plan, and determine your required resources. These resources will help you decide on a hosting model for your management platform -- on-premises or a SaaS offering.

"Whether you are using a SaaS or on-prem deployment, look at a complete picture of what the introduction of a cloud management platform is going to do to your overall cloud ecosystem," Van Order said.

Some vendors gear cloud management platforms more toward private environments and tailor their features accordingly. Check if the vendor has one offering that covers all capabilities or multiple offerings that spread out capabilities. For example, Cloudify, Scalr and Embotics vCommander are single products, while IBM divides capabilities among IBM Cloud Orchestrator, IBM Cloud Automation Manager and IBM Cloud Brokerage.

Consider which cloud environments you want to manage and then which systems are supported. If you have two public clouds, the management platform you choose must support both of the public providers' services. Also, find out whether the platform manages infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service or SaaS. If your enterprise uses containers or microservices, see if the IaaS compute abilities include such management.

"The key is to really understand exactly what you are trying to achieve. What is most important to you? Is it really to manage that cloud spend, or is it really to improve operational efficiency?" Scott said.

Next Steps

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