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Systems management software heads for the cloud

Systems management providers are pushing their on-premises offerings to the cloud, as well as developing or acquiring pure cloud-based software in hopes of staying relevant.

As corporate IT departments rapidly shift mission-critical workloads to the cloud, systems management software vendors have responded by reconstructing their product portfolios.

This sea change to accommodate cloud computing demands has included not only the rearchitecting of top-tier systems management software, but has also infused  a wide variety of cloud technology into these products, which makes it difficult even for vendors to pinpoint who they are competing against.

"It's a legitimate question," said Ayman Sayed, co-president and chief product officer at CA Technologies, based in New York. "Best way to say it is we compete against those shifting away from managing systems and infrastructure and going toward AI-driven, end-to-end offerings that cross over both cloud and on-prem platforms."

Not only is the cloud reshaping the products and strategies of systems management software companies, but edge computing is having an influence, as well.

"Multi-cloud management is a real need, as is the ability to manage those servers and devices sitting in the fog or the edge from the initial deployment through sunset," said Matt Kimball, senior analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy.

Vendors cater to cloud

Over the past couple of years, CA -- which for decades made a healthy living selling proprietary mainframe tools and applications -- has embarked on a mission to reinvent its business by developing or acquiring several cloud-based software development and management companies. What has given CA credence in selling cloud-focused systems management software is the fact its customers are going through the same changes in transitioning their business models.

Ayman Sayed, co-president and chief product officer at CA TechnologiesAyman Sayed

This effort is accelerating, as evidenced by this year marking the first time more than half of CA's distributed platform was available via SaaS and subscriptions. CA is not the only legacy systems management software vendor to shift its products to the cloud. Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) in February jumped into the cloud-based management business with OneSphere.

Intended as an all-purpose management offering, OneSphere works across multiple public clouds from multiple vendors, as well as with on-premises private clouds and software-defined infrastructure. It complements OneView, the company's longtime on-premises systems management package that HPE upgraded last year to make it easier for IT to deal with workloads wherever they reside.

OneSphere is one of HPE's three strategic products for helping to simplify the implementation and management of hybrid IT. The other two include SimpliVity for hyper-converged infrastructure and Synergy for composable infrastructure, according to Ric Lewis, HPE's senior vice president and general manager of software-defined and cloud.

With OneSphere, for instance, when customers buy HPE hardware with SimpliVity and Synergy loaded on, HPE can deploy a private cloud for them, deploy VMware's ESX across all nodes and set that cloud up through HPE's SaaS portal, Lewis said.

"OneSphere lives in the cloud, but controls functions in your on-premises cloud," he said.

The HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, a nonprofit genomic research facility in Huntsville, Ala., uses HPE's OneView across two local data centers on campus. The institute is pouring most of its energies into its hybrid cloud efforts to figure out ways to bridge applications and storage across multiple providers, said Katreena Mullican, its manager of cloud computing. Eventually, the institute will gravitate toward a multi-cloud strategy, but that is still a work in progress, she said.

The DevOps person in me likes the ability to standardize.
Katreena Mullicanmanager of cloud computing, HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology

Mullican prefers OneView because IT can control it by code or by clicking buttons, and the user interface is easy, making it help-desk-friendly, she said.

"At the same time, the DevOps person in me likes the ability to standardize, reduce errors and treat all infrastructure as code, which is one of IT's most important missions," Mullican said.

Mullican said she is beta testing OneSphere and sees it serving as an important bridge between private and public clouds. She has no concrete plans to adopt OneSphere, however, because she said she is happy with the way OneView performs now.

For the short term, at least, HPE is content to support both OneView and OneSphere. Given the inevitable march of cloud technology, some experts believe OneSphere will become the dominant offering, however.

"But HPE is allowing their users to adopt at their own pace, which is smart," Kimball said.

How Honolulu fits in

Microsoft's System Center suite of systems management tools has supported on-premises and cloud infrastructures with a single set of tools for a few years now. Most developers seem satisfied with the suite's breadth of capabilities across physical and virtual domains, but others could use some enhancements.

"There is some room for improvements, like maybe using less server consumption and more flexibility in delivering reports," said a project manager at a Boston architectural firm, who uses the configuration and operations manager for on-premises and cloud projects.

At its Ignite conference in September, Microsoft debuted an early version of Project Honolulu, now officially named Windows Admin Center, which is a multitool systems management software suite that remotely manages both Windows Server and Windows 10. The product shipped this April.

What helped shape Honolulu's feature set, in part, were system administrators' complaints about the lack of analytical features in Microsoft management tools such as PowerShell for capabilities like data visualization or even simple configuration adjustments.

The tool is designed to allow administrators to look across domains from a single interface to get an overview of how server resources are being used, as well as execute tasks ranging from registry edits to replicating VMs to Azure. The product works with Windows Server VMs in competitive cloud platforms, including Amazon Web Services.

Kimball said he sees HPE's and Microsoft's recent systems management software offerings as evolutionary and purposely not making any attempt to be disruptive. For instance, neither company is positioning the new consoles as replacements to their existing products. This is a wise decision, given how conservative most IT departments are in adopting new technologies, particularly systems management software.

"Like HPE, Microsoft is offering up complementary functionality to an existing product, allowing the customer base to adopt and embrace it," Kimball said. "It is also a smart move knowing the popularity of System Center."

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