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Cloud management tool strategies: Channel weighs hybrid options

Automation is a must for managing a hybrid cloud environment. Channel partners are tapping commercially available products and homegrown capabilities to get the job done.

When it comes to a hybrid cloud management tool strategy, enabling visibility and a consistent customer experience are key factors on the minds of some providers.

But while recognizing that companies want to mix and match infrastructure from a variety of different vendors, "connectivity is spottier, and visibility becomes murkier," according to Colm Keegan, senior analyst at the Enterprise Strategy Group. Effective management requires integrated tools that will enable a single-pane-of-glass view across public and private clouds, but some vendors' hybrid cloud management tool offerings, like Microsoft's, are still mostly proprietary, Keegan said.

That issue is front and center for IT infrastructure provider Peak 10, whose customers tend to be small to midsize companies that require more consultative services with respect to IT operations, noted Ronnie Frames, vice president of Cloud and Network Infrastructure.

"From a tools perspective, we have written some things on our own leveraging some off-the-shelf products," he said. "We look for tools with extensive API capabilities, so when it comes to what a customer actually sees, feels and touches, it is a consistent experience for them."

We know in the industry enterprises utilize multiple clouds; it's definitely an industry trend.
Ronnie FramesPeak 10, vice president, Cloud and Network Infrastructure

For hybrid cloud management, Peak 10 is using Embotics vCommander, which works with VMware and Hyper-V infrastructures and has been integrated into the company's custom-built portal, Frames said. This allows customers to manage their infrastructures from the same common interface. The other hybrid cloud management tool Peak 10 uses is EM7 from ScienceLogic, "which is a pretty common monitoring platform used by a number of MSPs and service providers," Frames said. Peak 10 takes commercial, off-the-shelf tools and wraps some of its own look and feel around it, he said.

Peak 10 has also developed its own tool for consuming data and measuring for overages in its Microsoft Dynamics GP -- formerly Great Plains software -- billing system.

Tools with extensive API capabilities are important, Frames said, because every manufacturer has its own interface, and it becomes a challenge to present all of those to the customer in a consistent manner. "To keep a consistent presentation to the customer we like to abstract, if we can, and those tools' APIs allow us to abstract. If you have a good API on the front end of your tool set, you can basically perform the same graphical user functions … and you can put whatever graphical interface in front of it."

Ease of use

Peak 10 also looks at whether a tool will be easy and intuitive to use from the customer perspective. "We're continuously improving on the tool sets, so a few big things for us are … the ability to define an instruction set" inside some of the automated delivery tools the company uses to give a customer the ability to automatically install and configure a virtual machine, for example. Peak 10 uses Chef, a configuration management tool, because whenever software is installed and someone is following a script, "there's room for human error and misreading something -- so this allows for consistency in terms of deployment from a service provider perspective," Frames said. "It's all about consistency."

The strategy cloud provider Venyu takes is to adopt or develop tools that allow the company to consolidate management tasks into one or two products, said William Sellers, senior data center engineer and VMware Certified Professional. The company standardizes on primarily commercial products, Sellers said.

"However, if there is no product that works for us in the marketplace, Venyu will build our own," he said. "Venyu utilizes best-of-breed RMM (remote monitoring and management) software for remotely managing our MSP customer's infrastructure/cloud. We are also evaluating several cloud-management applications."

Managed IT services provider uses a unified cloud monitoring tool called Unigma and Kaseya for hybrid cloud management. "Unigma provides the multicloud visibility, alerting and reporting, and Kaseya does the on-prem and RMM component inside the OS," explained Kirill Bensonoff, managing partner. started working on development of Unigma in tandem with the company in 2015 "because we realized there is not a great commercial tool for MSPs to address the cloud component," he said. The Unigma tool is in beta.

Plans for future cloud management tool iterations

Sellers said Venyu sees a benefit in having a single pane of glass for managing its customers' on-premises and off-premises infrastructure and cloud. "Having a single interface … allows our staff to manage multiple tenant infrastructures in the most efficient way," he said.

Bensonoff, too, said they are building Unigma with features that MSPs can use to give their customers single-pane-of-glass views, as well as policy-driven alerting, Multi-tenancy, client reporting and cost management.

Peak 10 is going to start targeting what it calls multicloud management on a Peak 10 platform, Frames said, which will mean utilizing the Peak 10 platform interface to manage workloads that live within Amazon Web Services, Rackspace or Microsoft Azure. "It goes back to consistency … being able to help customers," he said. "You could do that today but you'd be using three different tool sets, and when you look at that from scale it doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

"Instead of it just being within the walls of our cloud offering it would be … across anywhere," Frames said. "That's the goal." As a result, Peak 10 wants to have a common tool set that will provide help to customers in terms of managing workloads that go beyond the borders of its cloud service offerings.

"We know in the industry enterprises utilize multiple clouds," Frames said. "It's definitely an industry trend."

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