cloud provisioning cloud infrastructure

Evaluate these 15 multi-cloud management platforms

Dig into the benefits -- and drawbacks -- of the top tools and services to help enterprises manage their hybrid and multi-cloud environments.

Work in IT long enough and it seems like the same things occur repeatedly, with new names to keep them fresh. One of these is the cycle of consolidation and decentralization. Mainframes once ruled the data center, but we've progressed through an era of decentralization that takes many forms: edge computing, working from home, cloud architectures -- and, most recently, hybrid cloud and multi-cloud infrastructure.

The appeal to move some workloads to inherently redundant and reliable cloud services was to combine the tight controls and sunk cost of on-premises infrastructure with the cloud's scale, flexibility and efficiency. However, IT architects soon chafed under the limitations of some services and waxed for the freedom to choose best-of-breed products from various clouds. Likewise, IT and business executives saw in multi-cloud the opportunity to analyze resource usage against cloud service costs to optimally place workloads on the cheapest alternative.

In either case, correctly implementing a multi-cloud strategy requires software to:

  • manage resources spread across several environments;
  • accurately assess the regularly changing service portfolio and pricing models of each;
  • recommend the best destination for each workload;
  • automate workload placement, configuration and maintenance;
  • summarize resource usage and costs; and
  • predict usage and costs based on trend analysis using sophisticated machine learning models, not simple linear regressions.

As with most things cloud, multi-cloud management doesn't neatly fit a universally accepted definition, and, as a result there's a muddle of product feature sets. Nonetheless, most vendors of cloud-agnostic management software have arrived at roughly the same place, even if they took different paths there, often through acquisition and assimilation.

The most comprehensive cloud management software products incorporate features in five categories:

  • automation and orchestration for both applications and individual VMs;
  • security, including identity management and data protection/encryption;
  • policy governance and compliance, including audits and service-level agreement metrics;
  • performance monitoring of both the infrastructure -- compute instances, storage, networks -- and applications; and
  • cost management through resource optimization and billing estimates.

Gartner adds service requests, cloud inventory and multi-cloud migration and backup to its definition of a cloud management platform, but many companies already have systems in place to provide those functions.

Cloud features and characteristics
Key cloud features and characteristics include the ability to manage automation, costs, performance, compliance and security.

Notable multi-cloud management tools and providers

Multi-cloud management vendors continue to expand their functionality in a race to offer the broadest range of tools. They often provide a centralized view into an enterprise's distributed resources, though each vendor has its strengths and weaknesses. This market remains vibrant, with numerous acquisitions and product updates in the past year despite significant disruptions to the workplace. Indeed, the pandemic has accelerated many organizations' cloud plans and accentuated the importance of cloud-agnostic management software.

Below are high-level breakdowns, in alphabetical order, of the most notable vendors and products currently in the multi-cloud management market. These options span management vendors, IT service management (ITSM) tools and infrastructure-as-code options.

Apptio Cloudability, which the IT financial management vendor acquired in 2019, only addresses the cost management aspect of multi-cloud operations. However, it can automatically download and aggregate data from AWS, Azure and GCP into a uniform, standardized cost database. Cloudability normalizes usage reports from multiple vendors into standard categories and tracks spending and usage across applications, projects and business units.

Cisco CloudCenter Suite, released in 2019, combines a Workload Manager, Cost Optimizer and Data Center Orchestrator to enable users to design cloud-neutral infrastructure blueprints that can be automatically deployed and configured to AWS, Azure or GCP. It also integrates with Cisco's AppDynamics APM product and intent-based network management platform. The suite is available as licensed software or SaaS.

CloudBolt broadly supports cloud environments and hypervisors. It automates the import and redeployment of legacy installations to the cloud. CloudBolt includes modules for cloud resource and cost management. It works via an agentless technology, which can simplify the deployment of resource blueprints to multiple disparate cloud environments. CloudBolt recently acquired Kumolus, an Australian-based company specializing in cloud cost management, security and policy governance.

CloudCheckr significantly updated its cloud cost management and optimization product in April 2020 with CMx, which integrates with existing enterprise financial systems to provide a comprehensive view of an organization's spending. Its pivot table feature allows budget analysts to better understand usage, trends and inefficiencies.

Flexera Cloud Management Platform (formerly RightScale CMP) is a long-established, mature multi-cloud management platform with a feature set that includes service orchestration, policy enforcement, usage controls, cost optimization and budgeting. It has an extensive list of supported cloud providers. Flexera has continued to strengthen this already comprehensive product through other acquisitions. In mid-2019 it bought RISC Networks to add on-premises asset and data discovery to help organizations prioritize applications for cloud migration, and in early 2020 it acquired Revulytics to improve its application and data usage analytics for organizations' budgeting and policy compliance.

Google acquired CloudSimple in November 2019 to provide secure, dedicated environments for users to migrate and run VMware workloads in the public cloud, including demanding enterprise workloads such as database-backed and high-I/O applications. It natively runs the entire VMware stack including vSphere/vCenter, vSAN and NSX-T, and has a unified management console for all deployments. CloudSimple supports Google Cloud Platform (GCP) -- VMware Cloud on AWS offers equivalent functionality -- and only manages VMware environments, not native cloud resources. A similar Microsoft Azure VMware service also uses CloudSimple, but the next iteration of that service now in preview will not, according to Microsoft.

Hypergrid merged with iQuate in June 2020 to form CloudSphere and offer a combined multi-cloud platform for enterprises to plan cloud migrations and manage cloud costs and security. It uses a predictive analytics engine with over 400 million benchmarked data points to optimize an organization's decisions about cloud costs, budgeting and resource allocations. Other capabilities include agentless application discovery and service dependency mapping, identity and access management, self-service provisioning within defined policies and policy compliance monitoring for both VM and container environments. Some features, such as instance planning, app cost modeling and resource inventory are only available for AWS, so it might not work for some enterprises' multi-cloud management needs.

IBM Cloud Pak for Multicloud Management is an OpenShift-based hybrid cloud management platform that provides a unified view of applications and cloud resources across on-premises and cloud infrastructure. It supports Red Hat, VMware, Kubernetes and OpenStack private environments along with AWS, Azure, GCP and IBM Cloud. The product uses Ansible and Terraform for configuration and deployment automation.

Micro Focus Hybrid Cloud Management X (HCMX) takes a service-centric approach to multi-cloud management with a graphical workflow designer that includes a configuration management database, 8,000 prebuilt workflows, 300 application components and 150 third-party software integrations. It also can build customized usage reports that include service consumption and chargeback information.

Morpheus Data offers modules for automated and self-service provisioning, resource configuration, monitoring and incident management, workload scaling, policy compliance and reporting. It has broad multi-cloud support covering more than a dozen platforms, and a large third-party ecosystem for integrations with automation, backup, identity and access management, ITSM, monitoring, networking and security providers. A significant update in late 2020 added features such as a persona-based service catalog, UIs for invoicing and reports, cloud integrations with better support for AWS Costing and Reporting and an updated ServiceNow plugin certified for the platform's Paris release. The numerous integrations and options for setup mean organizations with existing tools must do some post-deployment integration testing, which may require professional services.

Nutanix Xi Beam evolved from the company's 2018 acquisition of Minjar, and its Botmetric service for cloud cost management, control and workload visibility. Beam monitors cloud resource consumption and includes modules for consumption, cost controls, spending policies and optimization. Unlike other multi-cloud management options, Beam doesn't include infrastructure or other cloud service management, though other Nutanix products do. It optimizes configurations and costs, but isn't a full workload management system. Nutanix Calm is an application orchestration and lifecycle management tool for Nutanix's hyper-converged infrastructure; as of late 2020 the company is in early testing to extend Calm into its Xi cloud services umbrella.

Scalr offers a rich set of cost management and optimization features and is particularly strong at controlling resource sprawl in VM environments. It includes self-service provisioning from a defined service catalog with a policy engine to enforce controls on resource provisioning and usage. The platform includes a modern, intuitive GUI. Scalr is also known for its scalability to thousands of users. Support for VMware environments is relatively immature, with some potential feature gaps compared with other supported platforms. Users must supplement its limited monitoring feature set with third-party integrations. The company recently added role-based access control (RBAC) security with five built-in roles to provide granular control over user and group permissions.

ServiceNow ITOM Cloud Management and ITOM Optimization support multi-cloud operations management via two modules, Cloud Insights and Cloud Management. The latter enables resource configuration and provisioning within defined policy limits to ensure compliance across environments. It also integrates with the ServiceNow ITSM service catalog and change management product. Cloud Insights provides reports and dashboards of cloud usage and costs, including breaking out spending by organization, cost center or business unit.

Snow Software acquired Embotics in late 2019 to integrate Snow's software asset and cost-management with Embotics' cloud resource automation and provide unified governance and compliance policies across environments. This works with both public and private cloud resources. It includes automation templates, cloud expense reporting and budgeting, self-service deployment from a central resource catalog, task approval workflows and policy compliance auditing.

VMware has expanded its virtualization management stack to include cloud deployments. The vRealize Suite features a central management console and control plane for VMware environments regardless of the deployment platform, and a growing list of vRealize Cloud modules cover blueprint-based resource management, resource catalogs, policies and self-service deployment and CI/CD for DevOps organizations. CloudHealth, which VMware acquired, addresses cost management and optimization. VMware recently acquired SaltStack, an infrastructure automation platform that complements VMware's existing vRealize Code Stream (CI/CD), vRealize Orchestrator (workflow) and Cloud Assembly products.

VMware tools are multi-cloud since the VMware stack can run on AWS (natively), Azure and GCP (both via CloudSimple), but they're not stack-agnostic. The VMware Tanzu Kubernetes platform works with AWS, with support for Azure and Oracle Cloud (OCI) coming soon. CloudHealth also now supports OCI.

Infrastructure-as-code tools

For the cloud-savvy DIYer, infrastructure as code (IaC) tools have become a popular alternative to purpose-built products. They enable organizations using DevOps teams to integrate cloud-agnostic service deployment, configuration management and logging into existing CI/CD toolchains. However, IaC tools do not address resource consumption, costs and usage optimization or application services such as backup and disaster recovery. Furthermore, templates and blueprints require configuration coding expertise and a UI.

Platforms such as Chef, Puppet, Red Hat Ansible and HashiCorp Terraform can systematize and automate multi-cloud management. This is done via cloud-agnostic encapsulation of resource configurations and deployments, as text files structured with YAML or JSON, that are portable and easily automated. These templates enable users to consistently deploy resources and configurations across all IaaS platforms that their chosen tool supports, and add new platforms via software modules or libraries.

Editor's tips for selecting a multi-cloud management tool

When selecting a multi-cloud management tool, there are many aspects to consider. Here are two basic questions you'll need to resolve first:

  • Understand why you have implemented a multi-cloud strategy in the first place. This will help you prioritize aspects of management in whatever tools you evaluate. Is it to monitor cloud spending? Or consolidate deeper services, such as data analytics or artificial intelligence capabilities? Keep in mind that no single tool covers 100% of every enterprise's wish list.
  • Determine which platforms and tools your multi-cloud management setup must accommodate. What cloud platforms do you use currently, or might consider in the future? Does this involve assets in a private cloud as well? Do you use other management tools, and will this replace them or necessitate their integration? If your organization implements DevOps, how will those processes and tools tie into your multi-cloud management efforts?

A native cloud management console

Each of these vendors and products consolidates management across multiple cloud platforms into a single interface and control plane that consistently applies configurations and usage and security policies. But what if you only use one cloud and don't have to worry about managing disparate environments?

Third-party software once plugged holes in cloud vendors' management capabilities, but the major public cloud providers (AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud) have dramatically enhanced their native management platforms. Tools such as AWS Cost Explorer and Azure Cost Management + Billing include analytics, reporting and optimization features once found only in add-on products.

Organizations that currently use a single cloud setup should stick with their cloud provider's native management services for cloud workloads, and their on-premises infrastructure management stack to the degree it supports that chosen cloud platform. If you extend the workload to another cloud environment or run into significant limitations with the built-in tools such as lack of visibility or manual versus automated provisioning and analytics, explore these multi-cloud management options instead.

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