Guiding customers through cloud automation platform selection

Cloud-shopping customers need help with cloud selection, and IT solution providers can guide them in the selection of a cloud automation platform.

Enterprise IT departments need to stop running scared from the cloud and either broker connections to external clouds or build internal clouds, maybe both. IT solutions providers can help these customers navigate through the cloud selection and implementation process.

To start, solutions providers can help customers understand the players and do some of the leg work to make recommendations for their business needs. There are many players in the cloud platform automation software market -- from big open source technology companies such as OpenStack and CloudStack to specialist companies like Cloupia, Gale Technologies and RightScale. Then there are options from larger software  vendors such as Cisco, Dell, HP, Microsoft and VMware. No single cloud automation platform will suit all customers, and the smart vendors are focusing on doing a few things right rather than doing everything at once.

Cloud selection: What do customers want from a cloud automation platform?

Some customers want a cloud automation platform that makes it easy to deploy a large number of physical hosts and their associated network and storage infrastructure. These customers have high server growth or hardware replacement rates and need to remove the pain of frequently building new platforms. These customers still want enterprise IT with all the resiliency and management capabilities they are accustomed to. They want a cloud automation platform that works with their current infrastructure vendors, possibly their server hardware vendor or their virtualization hypervisor of choice.

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The tool should rapidly deploy according to established design patterns. In this type of cloud selection process, Cloupia, Gale Technologies and OpenStack are among the vendors that fit these criteria. Another option is the integrated stack deployment model such as VCE's vBlock and HP's CloudSystem, which puts the vendor in charge of the build and integration of the platform.

Some customers want a tool to prevent business units from spending their IT budgets on cloud on-demand services such as Amazon and allow the IT department control instead. These customers need a tool that lets them build an internal cloud with the service level and functionality of a public cloud. The challenge here is getting the internal IT department to understand that public cloud has a very different design to enterprise IT. For example, in enterprise IT, the production network is the most highly protected; in the cloud, the platform management network is far more resilient than the network provided to individual tenants.

Not approaching the internal cloud design the same way that the external cloud is designed makes it impossible to be competitive on price. Vendors with products that answer these business objectives include CloudStack and Eucalyptus Systems. These cloud automation platforms allow the internal cloud to be Amazon compatible -- using the same APIs as Amazon and making it easy for the business units to consume.

Some customers want a tool that lets them help the business units decide whether to use Amazon or internal resources. These customers really need an extended service catalog, one that describes the services of the internal IT team as well as those of the approved cloud providers. They need a provisioning portal that has hooks into a few different cloud automation platforms, including their own internal cloud and a variety of external clouds. This is a place where companies like Cloupia and RightScale are making their move.

The best way solutions providers can serve their customers is to know their business needs and requirements when it comes to cloud automation platforms and to present them with the best options for cloud selection. There isn't a single solution for all needs and most require some services effort to make them suitable for each customer. In five years' time, a customer's requirements may be satisfied out of the box with market-leading products, but right now it's up to you to guide customers to the best cloud selection.

About the author
Alastair Cooke is a freelance trainer, consultant and blogger specializing in server and desktop virtualization. Known in Australia and New Zealand for the APAC virtualization podcast and regional community events, Cooke was awarded VMware's vExpert status for his 2010 efforts. Follow him on Twitter @DemitasseNZ.

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