Cloud management platforms: What you need to know to make multi-cloud happen

Deploying a cloud management platform can make adopting a multi-cloud approach to consuming IT resources easier, but choosing one that is the right fit for your enterprise can be a challenge for CIOs

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Now that multi-cloud strategy is a firmly established business practice, the next stage on the journey is finding ways to bring together the disparate cloud environments that are being used. This is where deploying a cloud management platform (CMP) comes into its own.

There are several CMP providers to choose from, such as Embotics vCommander and VMware vRealize, for example, but how do CIOs know which platform is right for them?

“A good hybrid cloud management solution should deliver a zero touch,” says Mahesh Kumar, senior director of product and technical marketing for cloud management at virtualisation giant VMware.

“By providing a unified consumption layer, policy-based governance, automation of service delivery, and lights-out operations across private and public clouds, a robust cloud management platform can help IT personnel respond to developers in an agile fashion, letting application teams focus on business priorities.”

Many people think of CMP as a portal that allows the services of several cloud providers to be consumed at once, but it is more than that.

When used effectively, these platforms can help reduce costs, automate and strengthen management control over the virtual estate, but what makes a CMP worth investing in?

Take back control

Control is one of the most important aspects of a cloud management platform, and is exerted through the whole process of providing a strictly controlled environment.

An environment that allows users to select from a pre-defined library (service catalogue) of virtual machines (VMs) and services (with blueprints) helps enforce consistency, in that only VMs or services from a defined selection can be created. This can be different on a per user, per VM or per company basis.

In the background, the automation provides a consistent, predictable build and ensures it is placed in the right folder with the correct rights, resulting in no random ad-hoc builds to spoil the administrator’s day.

Another aspect of a cloud management platform control is using approval processes to manage costs and machine sprawl. A user may be able to provision a machine with two vCPUs and 4GB RAM without having to get approval, but anything above this could require managerial sign-off in the CMP through the user portal.

Approval workflows should be highly flexible and support the business approval workflows the company has in place. The compliance aspect also provides a verifiable trail of requests, approvals and delivered/commissioned items. It also helps prevent the “Who does this machine belong to?” scenario. This capability goes hand in hand with lifecycle management.

Lifecycle management benefits of CMP

Public cloud comes with real, tangible costs. Traditionally, in on-premise environments, virtual servers can be abandoned and left running long after they have outlived their useful life. The cost involved was considered irrelevant because no one has to pay the bill. The same is not true in the public cloud.

Whenever a machine or service is built in a CMP-enabled environment, the costs and ownership are attributed to a specific user. It enables easy chargeback or just showback, depending on what the company wishes to do regarding cost allocation.

Automation is another key tenet of a cloud management platform. This is where a lot of companies fail to fully grasp the financial rewards as well as what is required to setup an appropriate automation play.

It is critical to define the what, why and how of automation before implementation. Any system purchased has a learning curve and it is easy to become bogged down in the complexity of delivering that service. Complexity is the enemy of speed.

The automated orchestration also reduces IT support costs by eliminating the manual interventions and reduces scope for error due to automation. Alongside this, the use of the service catalogue means quick service for the user. Automating the build process can also bring the delivery time for services down from days to just minutes.

Help users to help themselves

Self-service is critically important and provides a number of positives. First, decoupling the interface from specific cloud infrastructures means the user only has one to master.

Users do not care which cloud the service is provisioned on but still have access to manage and control their infrastructure. Typically, this means providing remote desktop and power operations functionality, as well as the capability to request additional servers, services or capacity. From a security perspective, it also means users do not need direct access to the cloud platforms, providing a little more security.

Expanding the self-service aspect also allows users to consume non-virtual catalogue items such as password resets, saving additional time, money and resources.

These portals are the heart of the CMP user experience. They drive down the cost because the administrator need not be involved at any point, assuming the automation has been successfully set up. They also expose the ability to manage owned VMs.

Read more about multi-cloud

In summary, cloud management platforms provide an excellent way to speed up delivery of virtual infrastructure as well as reduce costs through over-provisioning, errors and lost or abandoned virtual machines.

Or, as Scott Davis, executive vice-president and chief technology officer of multi-cloud management provider Embotics, puts it: “Cloud management platforms add value in many ways, but first and foremost by enabling self-service automated provisioning for users of IaaS [infrastructure as a service] and virtual machines while ensuring these resources adhere to IT policies.

“They also bring capabilities such as automation and orchestration, resource sizing recommendations, cost management, governance/compliance and single pane of glass management across public, private and hybrid clouds.”

When evaluating cloud management platforms, it is important to realise these key items cannot exist in a vacuum. While it is possible to get different components from different suppliers, doing so strategically weakens the service offerings.

It also means having several suppliers to chase and manage if something goes wrong. In short, pick your supplier wisely and ensure up front that the platform has these key functions built in.

This was last published in February 2018

Read more on Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

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