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Cloud services beg for nimbler management

Carl Brooks, Senior Technology Writer

Some businesses are looking for a bridge between managing systems and operating like a cloud. Slowly but surely, as the world of traditional IT and cloud computing butt heads, the market has begun

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to adjust.

Much of the initial [cloud] hype had a sixties flavor of 'tune in, drop out and put it in the cloud' behind it.

Dennis Drogseth, analyst at Enterprise Management Associates

Traditional systems management has been obscured in large part by the advent of cloud, where, after all, the promise is cheap, automated infrastructure you don't have to manage, just use. But as the public cloud paradigm has proven out, more and more businesses, both small and large, want to replicate that success in their own operations.

For some small businesses, the case for cloud is pretty obvious. Chuck Spalding, a hydrogeologist with McDonald Morrissey Associates, Inc., said his firm needed to run complex calculations on data and turn it into useful models of groundwater resources. They ran simulations on their workstations, but depending on the size of the project, it could take days to crank out the end result. Spalding said they felt the pinch, and his competitors had solved the problem traditionally.

"There's a guy who put in 94 servers in his office to do this," he said.

Spalding had no interest in following that route; aside from the cost of buying equipment, he'd end up sinking valuable time into networking, operating and managing all those systems. Cloud computing seemed like an ideal answer.

"I'd read about GoGrid in some of our trade magazines as a way to approach this," he said. Experimenting with GoGrid made it clear that while Spalding was trading out onsite IT chores for easy access to virtual machines, managing it by hand was still clunky.

"Say I start 50 machines," he said. "I still have to go to each one, put in my password, upload the data and set them to run."

Spalding is experimenting with a new breed of management tools expressly designed around the Infrastructure as a Service paradigm; he uses enStratus to automate the jobs he pushes out to the cloud. And because he has essentially unlimited capacity at his fingertips, rush jobs are now possible.

Eventually, Spalding would like to break out the cost of data processing on client invoices as a courtesy. It's a functionality that enStratus is working on; like most cloud management tools, it started out focusing on the ability to automate basic commands to multiple cloud services from a single interface.

For those in the online world, services like RightScale and Cloudkick (now owned by Rackspace) have had time to develop those sophisticated features, whereas software tools like EnStratus are developing alongside cloud interest from the enterprise perspective.

The next level of cloud management
Some services come at it from the other direction. Eric Gauthier, an IT administrator for Washington state credit union BECU (originally the Boeing Employees Credit Union), has got a full plate; financial systems, business systems, office systems and outside services, like the vendors BECU uses for secure online banking for its customers. All of that needs managing, and since the bank's IT infrastructure is about as virtualized as it gets, he's looking at cloud computing techniques that are on the next level. Mostly, he'd like to get rid of the manual chores or managing demand.

"The middle of the month and the end of month can get very heavy for us in terms of usage," he said.

Gauthier said it's not a question of immediate need for something new, like Chuck Spalding's situation; it's about squeezing more and more automation into existing infrastructure. BECU uses workload automation tools from UC4 to manage some of its important financial systems, and Gauthier said that a new release (Automation Platform v9) from the vendor is a step in that direction.

The new software includes job scheduling, policy-based automation, analytics, support to run commands from VMware's vCenter for his virtual machines, and other features that bump it up past ground-level systems management. More streamlined operations mean less time spent hovering over a console around the middle of every month and more time innovating.

"This is what will eventually get us to private cloud," he said.

As cloud grows, management concerns heighten
"From a 'how do I acquire and deploy systems' perspective, management has become a rapidly accelerating concern," said Dennis Drogseth, analyst at Enterprise Management Associates, "especially in terms of the those involved in the role of IT and priority changes in how services are delivered."

Drogseth recently completed new research that backs up this trend. Where the rubber meets the road for cloud in the enterprise is exactly at the level cloud computing is supposed to improve: actual day-to-day operations. EMA surveyed a swath of IT decision-makers and found that not only was cloud top of mind, it was complex and changing operational norms.

Almost 80% of the respondents said they were in the process of building hybrid models for IT services that would mix and match private infrastructure with outside services and public clouds. Almost half said that they expected cloud to bring significant changes to process flow, along with how they looked at and adopted systems management tools.

Drogseth said that this is par for the course in technology adoption. Many business users have waited out or been oblivious to the hype around cloud, but now we're beginning to see technologies appear that are relevant to the real world and not just the online marketplace.

"Cloud seems to be accelerating the need for intelligent, top-down service management both politically and technologically, even if much of the initial hype had a sixties flavor of 'tune in, drop out and put it in the cloud' behind it," Drogseth wrote in his report "Operationalizing cloud: The move towards a cross-domain service management strategy."

Drogseth anticipates that cloud computing is going to be a robust part of the systems management marketplace in two to five years, with vendors stratifying out small and medium-sized business users with one-size fits-all point services and larger vendors willing to engage in cross platform, cross-cloud customization. Early efforts are certainly underway: Microsoft has pitched its new System Center Operations Manager (SCOM) as a central, single tool for everything Microsoft sells into the data center, including Hyper-V, Azure deployments and regular server management.

Meanwhile, IBM has expanded its venerable Tivoli management platform to cover VMware and other platforms and HP claims that it will deliver OpenView/Opsware-based cloud platforms. Of course, none of that is fully baked yet, with all the major vendors pointing to the end of the year and beyond for fulfillment and startups and smaller cloud management suites busily maturing. The change will be gradual but ultimately undeniable.

Carl Brooks is the Senior Technology Writer for SearchCloudComputing.com. Contact him at cbrooks@techtarget.com.