Many organisations now recognise the benefits that a move to the cloud offers in terms of scalability, business agility and cost. However, while cloud adoption is increasing, there are still many factors to be addressed ranging from integration issues, to finding the right balance of public, private and hybrid cloud. Cloud management is another important consideration which is fast becoming a key element of any cloud investment. Here I explain what cloud management is, and why it’s such a vital investment for any enterprise operating within large and complex cloud environments:
‘How many appliances do you have in your living room?’
Some would answer this question with "too many", others with "not enough", depending on how much you love technology. But let's hypothetically count: a TV, a sound system, a cable box or media appliance (or both), a game console, maybe even a personal assistant device like Amazon Echo. Each coming with their own remote controls.
Now, imagine that each appliance is a cloud engine. Either on-premise, like OpenStack, or hosted online, like Microsoft Azure. Imagine that each remote is the management tool that each technology provider is offering, out of the box, to operate the cloud engine. You are all set. You have a cloud and a tool to accomplish all the tasks that you would expect to accomplish there.
The appliance remote is a form of cloud management. Its value is obvious, thanks to the analogy: “without the tool you simply can't operate the cloud”.
However, it is not the one we usually refer to when we talk about "cloud management". More often than not, what we mean by "cloud management" is a third party that acts as an over-arching solution to govern a complex, sometimes multi-cloud, IT environment. The value of this over-arching solution is less obvious.
Managing complexity with a single remote
To explain this further let's go back to my analogy. I think others will agree that when there are more than three remotes in the living room, things start to get confusing. Not only do you need to learn how to use each of them, but very often you need to use them in combination, following a precise and convoluted sequence to get what you want. The remotes can easily get lost, some of them can do the same thing, and you have to change batteries for all of them. It really seems an unnecessary complication. So when you reach three remotes, you start to look for a solution. Your solution is a "universal remote". This tool, offered by third parties, aggregates the features of all the native remotes provided by the appliances manufacturers in a single, easy to use, object. Depending on the brand and the model, the universal remote accomplishes one or two goals:
1. It speeds up the execution of common tasks that would normally have to be executed across multiple appliance's remotes. If you notice, it doesn't do so by replicating every single button on the original remotes in a new body. It only exposes the buttons that are really important, and hides a lot of complexity behind the scene, to make the experience as frictionless as possible.
2. It offers something on top, something that the original remotes don't have. Like a display that lights up in the darkness, or voice control. Capabilities that maximise the potential of the appliances and further improve the experience.
Cloud management, if approached correctly, is the same. It offers a universal remote for your cloud engines, which speeds up the execution of the most critical tasks across them through a unified and coherent interface. What is the value here? It's just one tool to learn, integrate, operate, and maintain.
A single remote with automation
Cloud management, also adds value on top of the basic management tools provided by cloud providers. For example, by introducing a service-centric self-service provisioning portal or a powerful automation layer. What is the value here? Let's revisit the analogy one last time. Imagine explaining to your grandad how to operate three different appliances to play a game with his niece: turn on the TV, audio system, and game console; then change the TV input to the HDMI port where the game console is hooked; then... What is an HDMI port, again? Too complicated. But what if the universal remote had a big, bright display that just said "Play Game", automating all the coordination I have just described?
Is this kind of cloud management replacing the native operation management tools that come with cloud engines? Not at all, just like a universal remote doesn't have to fully replace native remotes. And for a number of small deployments the latter is all that is needed to run a cloud. But if the cloud project is successful and its scale grows accordingly, eventually you'll have to cope with increasing complexity across the IT environment. And to continue serving your cloud users, maintaining the quality of service at a high level, whilst meeting increasingly sophisticated demand, you'll have to start investing in this form of cloud management.
In summary, third-party cloud management can significantly increase the return on the investment for both private and public cloud computing. On one side, it can allow the IT organisation to accomplish more with the same amount of staff. On the other side, it can empower the LoB to be more independent and agile with the same infrastructure."
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