Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Curious Case of Cloud Management

As springtime rolls around, all sorts of interesting things start popping up that either delight us (green grass), frustrate us (weeds), congest us (pollen) or confuse us (daylight savings time). And a similar phenomenon appears to also be happening with "Cloud Management" start-ups.

In the early days, Cloud Computing either meant using SaaS applications or developer groups ("Shadow IT") that used one of the public IaaS services, such as AWS. SaaS had built-in management and those developer groups either used the basic AWS tools or built some things themselves. Most of these were paid for on a credit-card, so people didn't spend much time "managing" the services, as they were either focused on getting a work-related function done (eg. sales teams using Salesforce.com) or attempting to stay under the radar from IT budgets and controls.

Then Cloud usage started taking off as groups realized they could solve problems faster. But with that came new challenges:

  • How do we keep track of all the online resources?
  • How do we more easily provision applications and associated resources?
  • Do we have a plan to keep the resources running if the Cloud has an issue? 
  • Do we need to consider using multiple Cloud services?
  • Why are there different performance characteristics as we move applications from Dev/Test to Production in the Cloud?
  • Why did the credit card company just call us to say that we exceeded the monthly limit?
Reality set in that managing IT resources isn't as simple as swiping a credit-card or signing up for an online service. So now what?

Enter the "Cloud Management" companies...
At this point, I suppose I could begin making a list of all the companies that categorize themselves as Cloud Management. Companies like Rightscale and Enstratus come to mind for managing multiple clouds (public and private). CloudStack, VMware vCloud Director, OpenStack, Eucalyptus all manage cloud resources (Infrastructure, vApps), but aren't necessarily "Cloud Management". Then there are a bunch of companies that manage aspects of the cloud, such as pricing/costs (Cloudability, ShopForCloud) or performance (CloudVertical) or identity (Okta). Wrapped around many of these services is the ability to leverage various provisioning frameworks (Chef, Puppet, CrowbarrPath, CIAC, etc.)

[NOTE: I'm aware this is by no means an exhaustive list - as new companies seem to be popping up each day. I also didn't make a list of the PaaS platforms, which also manage cloud resources below their application development environments]

What's interesting about all of this is a few things:
  1. It's good to see that many of these services can work across multiple clouds - both public cloud and private clouds. This gives customers flexibility and consistency as they align the right services to the right resources. [see: Cloud Concierge]
  2. Many of these are offer "as-a-service", with variable pricing models. So not only can customers determine which services work best for them, they can align their costs to the level of service required.
  3. Many of these services aren't trying to create a monolithic Cloud Management system, similar to many of the legacy systems in Enterprises today. They may add functionality over time, but as of now they are fairly nimble and efficient.
What I'll be watching for the in remainder of 2012 are:
  1. How many of these companies remain independent as Cloud Computing becomes the defacto IT deployment model (direct or shadow) and major vendors look to move up the stack?
  2. How many of these companies partner with other as-a-service capabilities, such as Security, Backup, etc.?
  3. Will any of the traditional vendors (eg. HW vendors; Enterprise vendors) partner with these companies to bundle their equipment with these more flexible management tools?
  4. Will the pricing models begin to converge to common units ($/hr vs. $/VM vs. $/traffic), or will there be additional tools needed to normalize this into a holistic view for customers?
  5. Will we see VARs or SIs partnering with these companies and offering holistic Cloud Management services (under their brand) to their customer base, helping them transition from legacy IT models to new IT models?
Cloud Computing represents an incredible opportunity for businesses to leverage flexible technology to solve problems in a new ways and to create new market advantages. But it also represents change and change doesn't come easy. Making this transition easier is the great opportunity for these companies and many others that appear to be popping up as quickly as springtime blossoms (and weeds).

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