This article originally appeared in the August issue of INTERNET TELEPHONY
Although I’ve covered virtual machine and infrastructure management here before, I feel like I’ve barely been able to scratch the surface of what can be written on these topics. Every year seems to bring newer and better management solutions from the big virtual platform companies as well as from third-party management platforms and virtual hosting providers. Management is arguably the key factor in moving to a more agile IT model so it’s great to see strong support for data center-level management from all major virtualization players, especially with vendor solutions that target virtualization in a cloud environment.
But management solutions for cloud environments (and virtual infrastructure for that matter) don’t always have to come from hypervisor vendors. Despite the push from the platform providers to improve continually their management solutions, over the past year we’ve actually seen the most growth in cloud management tools from virtual infrastructure and cloud providers. This growth has been fueled by market demand, new platform tools from the likes of VMware and others that can be re-used by providers, and good old-fashioned competition. How an IT organization manages its off-premises cloud platform and what options are available to it is often the key differentiator in choosing a cloud provider. Luckily for cloud consumers, providers are beginning to understand that the easier they make it for the customers to control their own cloud environment, the easier it will be to bring in those customers.
Like management tools and cloud providers, not all cloud deployments are the same; there is not a one-size-fits-all management model for all cloud platforms. The type of cloud model that an organization chooses will greatly influence how its new cloud deployment is managed, and more importantly how – or rather, if – the platform can be integrated into its existing infrastructure. Ultimately, any cloud deployment should be managed as an extension of the existing data center, and the cloud management tools should provide the enterprise complete control over its portion of the off-premises cloud environment. In contrast, this level of control is much easier to accomplish if the organization has deployed an internal cloud since all of the platform pieces are still controlled internally. It’s still not trivial to integrate a completely new, on-premises cloud platform with existing management tools, but it is something that can be handled by internal IT. Off-premises and hybrid cloud models are more challenging; there are more moving parts when moving infrastructure resources off-premises, most notably in the network and the infrastructure connecting the internal data center resources to the external cloud platform.
Data center and networking infrastructure is designed to be somewhat fixed. There is some room for dynamic agility at the network layer, but it’s not nearly as flexible as the systems and applications running on top of the network. There is going to be some amount of up-front work – typically much more than expected – in connecting the internal data center infrastructure to an off-premises cloud provider. If done correctly with management forethought, the off-premises cloud platform should become a natural extension of the on-premises data center, which includes basic connectivity such as WAN links, IP addressing and subnets, routes, VLANs, etc. That first infrastructure integration step is often a lengthy and difficult process for the organization. All of the networking components that are so easy to manage in house can become huge barriers when an organization is dealing with an external cloud provider’s network and its customer-facing IT staff. Every network is different and the provider has to work with the organization to align the shared cloud network with the unique internal organizational network. This is where the combination of a great cloud provider and more mature management tools can come together to create a successfully managed cloud platform for the customer. The true benefit of a cloud platform versus a hosted environment is in the scale and control that a cloud platform provides. Those two elements are dependent on an organization’s ability to integrate and manage successfully the off-premises cloud platform, which allows scale and growth while maintaining control of the infrastructure.
As we’re starting to see enterprise IT adoption of cloud services take shape, managing on- and off-premises cloud solutions will become more important than ever, and infrastructure management solutions will become the most critical components for a successful cloud integration. Management is all about control, visibility, and access: all things we take for granted when we own the infrastructure. With off-premises and hybrid cloud models, we have to rely on – or rather push – cloud providers to deliver a platform that allows complete infrastructure integration so we can manage our cloud resources as though they were located in our own data center.
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Edited by Stefania Viscusi