Cloud Computing Management Tools: Buying Guide

Tips on selecting a cloud computing management system to maximize ROI and avoid the common problem of a poorly supervised cloud solution.

August 22, 2011 - In the rush to save money and boost organizational flexibility through cloud computing, many organizations abandon some of the basic IT fundamentals that have served them so well for so long. Security, of course, is a major one, warranting a separate article (check back here next week), but equally important is cloud visibility and management.

Once businesses outsource the management of various infrastructure, applications and services, many adopt a set-it-and-forget-it mindset. Just because an environment is outsourced doesn’t mean an organization should forgo visibility into that environment, or control over their assets within it.

Thus, many enterprises find that one of the drawbacks of status quo infrastructures – overprovisioning – is replicated in the cloud. Well, they don’t discover exactly that because few know what exactly is going on. All they know is that performance and reliability aren’t up to snuff and savings are underwhelming.

Enter cloud monitoring and management tools, which promise to deliver visibility and put control back into your hands. Here are five questions to ask when evaluating cloud monitoring and management tools:

1. Can it unify monitoring and management for all of my cloud engagements, in-house or outsourced?
Service provider Logicworks hosts and manages cloud solutions for mission-critical applications and content for such enterprise clients as Dow Jones, Starwood Hotels and the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. According to Steve Zeller, VP of Sales for Logicworks, the lack of visibility into – and control over – their cloud services was quickly becoming a problem, preventing them from attracting clients in heavily regulated sectors, such as health care and financial services.

“A few years ago when cloud computing started taking off, people were just happy that it worked,” Zeller said. “They were thrilled to spin up a server in minutes instead of taking weeks to provision one through IT.” As the cloud began to mature, though, the limitations of this approach were quickly evident.

“Now, clients ask, ‘is it safe to store medical records in your cloud?’ Or ‘can I safely connect to several different banks for trading purposes?’”

Logicworks had been using a hodge-podge of point solutions to manage their cloud offerings, and the labor involved with getting a view of what was happening when incidents occurred was unsustainable. Worse, the view was limited and always lagged behind the real-time status of the infrastructure, apps and network.

To solve this problem, Logicworks deployed ScienceLogic’s cloud monitoring and management solution, EM7. Now, Logicworks has a holistic view of performance across their entire hosting infrastructure, and they are alerted to the most critical performance issues facing their clients.

“If a SaaS client of ours serves 20 banks and manages 300 Virtual Machines (VMs), we can easily show them how processes are performing across all servers, without having an engineer reconfigure an agent and then wait for days to get information back,” Zeller said.

“We see what exactly is happening when it is happening.”

2. Can it integrate with other important tools?
IPR International, a private data protection and cloud service provider, adopted Nimsoft’s Unified Manager for many of the same reasons that Logicworks turned to ScienceLogic’s EM7. Gaining the ability to manage client infrastructure and services in a unified way was paramount.

Almost equally important, though, was the ability to integrate cloud management with other important tools. For instance, an effective cloud management solution will allow you to pull in alarms triggered by a Web application firewall, or integrate with access control systems so that user rights can be enforced.

“The ability to integrate with other tools is essential,” said Marcia Wasserman, Director of Solutions Marketing for IPR International. “For IT, simply integrating with our trouble ticketing system saves enormous amounts of time. It also delivers ease of use for clients, who are often able to resolve problems on their own through our self-service portal, which simply wouldn’t have been possible before.”

Wasserman added that clients are able to integrate Nimsoft with their own environments and tools. Thus, clients are able to apply advantages gained through the cloud to their legacy environments (or even ones hosted with other providers) in a cost-effective, manageable way.

3. Will you be able to use it to help you shift to service-based infrastructures?
Birmingham, UK-based Aston University began moving various university departments and other internal clients onto their private cloud in 2009. They managed billing through a SharePoint manual chargeback system. The service chargeback allowed them to fund the gradual expansion of the infrastructure.

The University then established a “cloud service first” directive in 2010, with all new services going automatically to their cloud environment unless there was a compelling reason not to. Now, all of the University’s schools of study and support departments utilize the service.

However, as their private cloud environment grew, the IT server team started to experience problems with capacity and with their manual chargeback system. To continue their cloud expansion, they needed help.

After examining a variety of different products from VMware and Veeam, the University settled on Embotics’ V-Commander, which provided out-of-the-box management and automation to help the University continue to build out its cloud initiatives.

V-Commander replaced Aston’s existing manual chargeback system, reducing errors and automating many manual tasks. V-Commander’s capacity management and resource optimization features identified existing VMs that were either sprawling out of control or were over or under resourced, while also automatically guiding new services to hosts with available capacity.

Today, Aston is closer to achieving a service-based, automated infrastructure, with many tasks that used to burden IT now resolved by clients through a simple self-service portal.

4. Will it deliver ROI quickly and can the vendor prove it based on the experience of other customers?
In a tight economy, everything is about ROI. Logicworks, IPR International and Aston University all cited ROI as a major benefit of unified cloud monitoring and management. However, none of them went into the engagements with ROI as the top concern. Of course, solid ROI was expected going in, since the status quo was unsustainable, but these solutions were deployed first and foremost to solve immediate, pressing problems.

Logicworks estimates that through ScienceLogic EM7 it boosted IT efficiency by 75 percent – and that’s a somewhat low and misleading number.

“A number of capabilities that we have now really weren’t possible to accomplish before,” Zeller said. “There was no way we could sustain what we were doing in the cloud. Monitoring was completely overloaded, and we typically had to purge and defrag servers as often as twice a week. Alerts would tell us we need to fix something, but it took a long time to figure out what that ‘something’ was.”

IPR International has been using Nimsoft for less than a year and hasn’t measured ROI so concretely. However, Wasserman notes that ROI is significant, with their highly trained operations team freed from a number of simple, time-consuming, manual tasks, such as report generation and low-level troubleshooting.

Aston University, meanwhile, says that it was able to justify the purchase of Embotics V-Commander through the day-one savings provided by the resource optimization features alone. The automated chargeback, self-service user portals, and the other management and automation features added additional value.

5. Can it serve as a platform for future business growth by enabling value-added services?
In a hyper-competitive global market, it’s not enough to strive for competitive advantages today. Smart organizations keep looking ahead, striving to build the foundation for future success.

A compelling side benefit -- especially over time -- is the ability to spin out value-added services based on cloud monitoring and management solutions.

“By default, we do all the hardware monitoring, network monitoring and return to service incidents for our customers. However, our customers then have the ability to engage additional services that allow them to do things specific to their businesses, such as monitoring unique performance metrics for business-critical apps or even to monitor various types of content,” Zeller said.

It’s often difficult enough to achieve ROI for the problem at hand. Having a solution that continues to yield benefits over time should move cloud monitoring and management to the top of the must-have list for any cloud-enabled organization.