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It’s time to gain visibility in the cloud

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Omelchenko)

Cloud computing is a major technological innovation that rivals the advent of the Personal Computer (PC) and the Internet. Since the introduction of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platforms around 2006, the Cloud has grown rapidly and all forecasts are predicting continued growth ahead. Gartner predicts that by 2021 more than half of global enterprises already using cloud today will adopt an all-in cloud strategy.

The traditional private data centre is not going away. In its sixth annual Future of Cloud Computing survey, North Bridge found that a hybrid model is still the predominant strategy at 47 per cent followed by Public 30 per cent and Private 23 per cent. These figures have remained roughly constant from the previous year and are expected to remain roughly the same as hybrid blends the best of scalability (public cloud) with a way to keep costs under control (private cloud). In addition, a hybrid configuration protects sensitive data on premises for legal and privacy reasons.

Cloud platform services are usually initially used for development and testing. Quick access to cloud-based virtual machines makes it easy for developers and test engineers to quickly “spin-up” new machines to test software. More recently, the growing trend is to migrate production workloads in the cloud. Cloud expert, David Linthicum, reports that production migrations have tended to range between one and 50 per organisation. Looking forward, he predicts they’ll range into the hundreds.

Cloud challenges for IT asset management

New cloud-based software solutions that users and business units bring to the enterprise are changing the way IT organisations manage their business. Enterprise IT leaders are looking for new ways to manage traditional on premises IT assets together with new cloud-based software assets. Early use cases (e.g. development/test) are not mission critical and do not require robust asset management. However, many organisations have progressed beyond early use cases and are utilising the cloud for mission-critical workloads.

Digital transformation initiatives are driving companies to migrate more applications to the cloud. Organisations worldwide are migrating applications and services to the cloud to reduce costs and improve IT efficiencies by eliminating hard-to-scale systems and the never-ending task of hardware and software upgrades. Many organisations have turned to services such as Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) to provide secure, resizable compute capacity in the cloud.

As IT migrates from on-premises software to the cloud, major obstacles begin to surface:

·         Rapid adoption of IaaS demands new discovery approaches for Software Asset Management (SAM).
·         Traditional SAM tools do not support cloud application discovery and normalisation.
·         Complex Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) license models require constant oversight.

Meeting the challenge

With more mission-critical workloads residing in the cloud, IT leaders are finding it increasingly challenging to manage software assets in the cloud due to lack of visibility. Same as on premises workloads, IT assets in the cloud must be tracked and managed closely for IT planning, budgeting, audits and compliance. IT assets in the cloud present a challenge to manage for multiple reasons. 

·         Cloud-based assets reside beyond the reach of traditional asset discovery and management tools that focus 100 per cent on, on premises assets. 
·         Cloud-based IT assets are easy to “spin-up” and conversely, easy to “spin-down”, making them difficult to track and manage. 
·         Multiple users – administrators, developers, and test engineers have access to AWS accounts which complicates matters further.

Production workloads require disciplined asset management – something every IT manager knows very well. Unlike development and test workloads which are short-lived, production workloads are subject to rigorous Service Level Agreements (SLAs), vendor audits and regulatory review for companies that operate in highly regulated industries such as financial services, government and healthcare. 

IT assets that operate in the cloud are not visible to the traditional asset discovery tools that operate on premises. To visualise and manage cloud assets, administrators must rely on separate cloud management tools that may be cumbersome to operate, do not integrate with on premises discovery tools and may not provide a complete picture of cloud assets.  (Table One.)

Table One. Limitations of cloud asset management

Table One. Limitations of cloud asset management

Current management tools for IaaS installations often provide information about cloud instance usage and preliminary views of applications deployed. However, the challenge is often the information is not quite complete enough to provide full visibility of applications deployed. The missing information creates an audit risk for the organisations who deploy production workloads in the cloud environment.

More importantly, a holistic approach of being able to view both on premise and cloud assets is key to provide a true picture of assets. A comprehensive view of assets is required to accurately reflect the real investments of an organisation.

The ideal solution

For the best software asset management, access to deep asset information is necessary. The best solutions are those that are tightly integrated with cloud vendors for IaaS deployments.  With tight API integration with IaaS providers, detailed information about operating systems, models, versions and applications can be discovered. The solution should have the ability to capture short-lived or ephemeral instances and the software running on them, which is often found in integrating with cloud vendors. (Table Two.)

However, discovery alone of resources does not provide a true picture of assets in the cloud.  The data often contains duplicated data, irrelevant information and more.  Normalisation of the data is key to gain a true picture of assets. Data often comes from multiple discovery solutions and procurement systems each with its own nomenclature. The resulting inconsistencies and variations in vendor and product names mean a single product might be represented three different ways in three different systems. In addition, every new release, merger, or acquisition makes the available data more outdated.

Normalisation involves rule-based mapping to deterministically map data to a common identity and categorise it based on vendor name, product name, product version, and other relevant criteria. It aggregates and de-duplicates this normalised data to resolve conflicts and other data quality issues. Further complicating matters, IT data often lacks the additional market and product information necessary for fully informed decision-making. Enriching the data with additional market information including end-of-life dates, license options, and much more provides actionable market intelligence for IT initiatives. EOL software information, for example, enables a proactive approach to managing EOL software that can lead to cybersecurity vulnerabilities.

Table Two. Cloud SAM Best Practices

Table Two. Cloud SAM Best Practices

The value of a holistic approach

IT leaders are facing a major transformation in software delivering and licensing. The goal of any asset management solution is to provide the most comprehensive coverage for all IT assets.  The same holds true for software assets deployed in the public cloud. Applications deployed on Amazon EC2, for example, demand the same asset discovery as on premises applications. 

So how can IT leaders address the challenges brought about by this transformation in software delivery and licensing? The answer is to augment traditional discovery strategies with new discovery tools that support cloud software installation. With the right SAM tools, a complete picture of IT software and hardware assets is available to drive IT initiatives.  A holistic view of all IT assets, no matter the location, is a key element to a successful data centre strategy.

To conclude, the success of gaining visibility of IT assets as they migrate to the cloud are to ensure these key takeaways:

·         Establish a trusted view of assets with a direct integration with the IaaS platform.
·         Ensure the visibility of assets is a comprehensive view of instances, even short-lived or ephemeral instances of software applications.
·         Confirm the visibility of assets provides greater insight and transparency into IT technology asset spend to reduce operational and financial risk to simplify cloud management.

Walker White, Vice President of Data Platform, Flexera
Image source: Shutterstock/Omelchenko