Cloud tools abound. Is enterprise IT ready?

The sky is the limit for both the number and the types of tools that will eventually help enterprise IT fully embrace the cloud, say industry analysts and cloud integration experts.

There are currently tools available that can assist IT departments with VM configuration management, help migrate in-house business applications to the cloud, enable full orchestration of cloud services and provide monitoring across multiple clouds. There are also tools that implement management policies in the cloud, set governance parameters and handle encryption management for data flowing around up there.

These tools are being delivered in equal proportions by cloud platform providers, systems integrators, third-party start-ups and established vendors.

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That said, one market condition holding back widespread proliferation of these tools, is whether or not enterprise cloud consumption has matured enough to take advantage of them.

"Across many of these classes of tools, it's really not a question of the technology being mature enough for use in the enterprise, it's more a question of whether or not the enterprises working in the cloud are ready to employ them," says Laurent Lachal, a senior analyst with Ovum, an IT consulting firm.

Mike Pearl, a principal in PriceWaterhouseCooper's Advisory practice and leader of PwC's Cloud Computing initiatives, says many of the enterprise customers he works with have spent the last couple of years getting a strong handle on virtualization within their own data centers, while watching the public cloud to see how it might fit into their operations.

Currently, most of those PwC clients are working on implementing the automation and provisioning services necessary to achieve the economy of scale benefits cloud computing promises.

"The next step for these IT shops will be identifying the tools that will make delivering automated cloud services to their users more of a point and click proposition. Things that address cross-platform management, metering, granular dashboard visibility into cloud assets, tools that help provide self-healing services are certainly going to be useful to them at some point. But for most, those are still a future proposition," Pearl says.

Keeping it simple

"Right now, we try to keep things as simple as possible when it comes layering tools on top of the services we're running in the cloud," says Craig Miller, CTO of Empire Avenue, a social media exchange network in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, that helps users meet other people and measure their social media value.

Empire Avenue runs on a mix of dedicated and multi-tenant virtual servers in the Rackspace cloud that support its website, development environment, file servers and databases. The company also employs Amazon's cloud storage service. Miller and his team have generally been very satisfied with the tools provided by Rackspace to do things like resizing virtual machines. And his teams routinely writes its own configuration scripts on the VMs when necessary.

"But third-party tools add a layer of complexity that we're not interested in dealing with at this point," Miller says. He also pointed to the fact that tools that tap into VM cycles to operate can significantly increase the cost of running in the cloud. "When you keep your resource usage tight, you pay less, which is one of the major benefits of being in the cloud."

All of the major cloud platform providers have built or bought layered sets of cloud administration tools that are available to customers who want to take advantage of them. For example, Rackspace offers up its Cloud Control Panel, a GUI-based tool currently being revamped to include features that let users add customized labels to any of their cloud assets, set filters to help find assets that share common properties and more easily perform multiple administrative tasks from the same screen.

AWS Management Console (AWS Console) is a point and click admin interface offered to customers to manage and monitor instances running across its suite of cloud offerings. Amazon also makes available a mobile application for Android, which has support for some of the management features from the console.

"Enterprise IT wants the same types of cloud management tools that they are used to having for managing servers in their data center," says Doug Jarvis, product marketing manager for SuSE Cloud, a private cloud offering based on the open source OpenStack IaaS platform.

The linchpin of SuSE's cloud management toolset is the SUSE Cloud administration server which helps customers navigate the more than 700 configuration and provisioning options for the SUSE Cloud control, compute and storage nodes. Jarvis likens the features of this toolset to that of the company's YaST (yet another setup tool), its trusted program for deploying and managing its Linux-based server software. "Configuration is the critical piece of making a cloud deployment possible," Jarvis says.

Rackspace CTO John Engates - while careful to say his company would continue to evolve its admin tools that give cloud users hands-on control over their cloud assets and will encourage partners in the OpenStack project to do the same - argues that corporate IT should also be looking at tools that automate provisioning and administration tasks.

Last month, Rackspace included OpenCenter - a cloud automation tool - as a feature in its private cloud offering.

According to John Treadway, senior vice president with consultancy Cloud Technology Partners, there is some confusion in the marketplace between cloud automation tools and cloud orchestration ones because the two are often incorrectly interchanged.

Automation is when processes are programmed for repeatable tasks, while orchestration joins dissimilar automated processes together using workflows and provides some integrity for data flowing across those processes. Automation is generally the bailiwick of the cloud providers, as it is increasingly being built into most IaaS stacks, Treadway says.

He pointed to OpenStack where there are several projects circulating that could advance automation services for any cloud provider running an OpenStack-based service. VMware offers up strong automation tools for users of that platform, he adds.

The traditional systems management vendors, like HP, CA and IBM, also sell cloud automation tools, but Treadway notes they are generally more complicated, brittle systems that would likely be used by IT operations that have long-term relationships (and consulting service contracts) with those vendors.

Third-party cloud management tools from vendors such as RightScale, Appistry, DynamicOps and Tap-In Systems also offer tools that boost automation processes with technology like VM auto-sizing in their own clouds. They also offer usage metering, cross-platform performance monitoring and cost tracking.

Automation v. orchestration

"Automation, though, is ultimately going to be one of those things that over time just kind of disappears under the covers in the cloud so IT won't have to worry all that much about it," says cloud analyst Paul Burns, a president of Neovise. Both Burns and Carl Lehmann, an analyst with the 451 Group, argue that orchestration is the bigger problem that needs to be solved.

"It plays into the whole question of how do you include cloud in your overall computing architecture and link it properly to what you already have?" Lehmann says.

Cloud orchestration happens on two levels, explains Lehmann. "You have application-to-application integration and you have business-to-business integration. The former is the easier to pull off because there are less security complications," Lehmann says.

Cloud orchestration products are being served up by both traditional middleware vendors like Oracle and IBM and by cloud focused vendors like DellBoomi, Informatica, Jitterbit and MuleSoft.

Center Point Energy is a Fortune 500 electric and natural gas utility serving markets in Arkansas, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. According to Barry Glasco, who serves as the company's Salesforce.com subject matter expert, Center Point Energy uses MuleSoft's CloudHub, an integration platform as a service (iPaaS), which enables his company to collect all the data from a host of utility companies to run its www.mytruecost.com web site. "We've got to interact with both regulated and deregulated sources across this industry, making thousands of calls a day between their data sources and our Salesforce.com platform. It's got to be a continuous integration," Glasco says.

One of the biggest challenges is making sure that the data being used across these on-premise and cloud assets is clean, organized and performing reliably. "And that plays into the whole issue of cloud governance which ideally helps us understand better what is happening to the data as it moves across applications, across the cloud and across businesses," Lehmann says.

Cloud governance is a general term for applying specific policies or principles to the use of cloud services in an organization, the goal of which is to secure applications and data when they are located remotely.

Lehmann says that cloud governance is lagging behind data orchestration in general as there are no specific suites of tools that specifically target this area of cloud management. "But you can see the underpinnings of cloud governance being laid down in part by tools that can track authentication processes, access controls and key management in the cloud," Lehmann says.

Burns is a freelance writer. She can be reached at cburns1227@gmail.com.

This story, "Cloud tools abound. Is enterprise IT ready?" was originally published by Network World.

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