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Hybrid cloud management software: Keeping up with the complexity

To keep pace with their customers' increasingly complicated, hybridized environments, service providers employ a range of new and developing tools.

Channel partners have used a variety of tools to keep tabs on their customers' technology, and now they are assembling yet another piece of the management puzzle: tools for managing hybrid clouds.

More enterprises today tap the public cloud to augment in-house computing resources. For example, a company may rely on internal data centers and private clouds for many functions, but reach out to one or more public cloud service providers for additional computing and storage capacity. As a result, service providers find that their traditional monitoring and management role must keep pace with their customers' expanding adoption of increasingly complicated, hybridized environments. Accordingly, they are deploying hybrid cloud management software to provide a unified view of their clients' on-premises technology and cloud-based services.

"We have been dealing with a ton of change with the hybrid clouds," said Doug Syer, vice president of managed services at NWN Corp., a Waltham, Mass.-based managed IT services company. "There are a lot of people who are definitely struggling to support them."

The reason we had to dump a lot of the previous providers was that they could not keep up with the pace of change.
Doug Syervice president of managed services, NWN Corp.

Managed services providers (MSPs) and cloud consultants employ a combination of commercial and open source tools to get a grip on hybrid clouds, in some cases contributing to open source projects. Unsurprisingly, some tool providers are targeting channel companies as a key market for their wares.

The hybrid cloud management offerings currently available to the channel integrate with a number of public clouds, so service providers can conduct their management and monitoring activities on a single platform. Companies using such tools, however, can encounter a gap in coverage when a cloud service provider launches a new service but doesn't make an API connector to that service immediately available. Some observers, however, expect to see the industry take on that challenge this year.

Channel adoption

NWN once used a combination of home-grown and traditional remote monitoring and management tools. The company, however, jettisoned those platforms, selecting Zenoss Inc.'s software for monitoring physical, virtual and cloud-based infrastructure.

"The reason we had to dump a lot of the previous providers was that they could not keep up with the pace of change," Syer explained.

Zenoss gives NWN the speed and flexibility to deal with customers' rapidly changing demands, according to Syer. The ability to manage a range of IT infrastructures and devices is a key benefit, but Syer also pointed to Zenoss' event management system. He said that component lets NWN filter the millions of alerts that Zenoss delivers each day. Those alerts are winnowed down to 1,000 to 2,000 events that the company's network operations center reviews on a given day.

"We can filter things at scale very quickly," Syer said.

NWN uses Zenoss to support customers who outsource device monitoring and management to the company. He said customers include traditional enterprises such as banks along with cloud providers. The former are becoming more comfortable with the public cloud and are building hybrid clouds, while the latter are moving toward mixed environments that may involve the use of several clouds, he added.

The MSP also uses Zenoss to support its Cisco-based hosted communications platform. That platform is inherently hybrid in that it spans both cloud-based services and on-premises customer equipment such as routers, switches, servers and phones, Syer said.

Booz Allen Hamilton, meanwhile, is also incorporating hybrid cloud management software. The McLean, Va.-based consulting and technology services company has been working with ManageIQ, which monitors hybrid cloud environments. The technology originated in a start-up company that Red Hat acquired in 2012. Red Hat released ManageIQ as an open source project last year. ManageIQ serves as the underpinning for Red Hat's CloudForms hybrid cloud management product.

Booz Allen began experimenting with ManageIQ in the technology's start-up days, running the software in its lab and demonstrating the technology to its clients. The company has since built its Jellyfish cloud broker software on top of ManageIQ, which provides orchestration, automation and API connections to cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services and infrastructure providers such as VMware. Booz Allen recast Jellyfish as an open source project last year.

Jarid Cottrell, a senior associate with Booz Allen who works in that company's Strategic Innovation Group, noted that Jellyfish, which is also API driven, can directly connect to other cloud management platforms, although ManageIQ is the primary platform.

The Jellyfish/ManageIQ combo is finding its way into customers. In one example, Booz Allen plans to make Jellyfish/ManageIQ part of the first release of a cloud broker the company will deploy under a General Services Administration contract. A cloud broker application facilitates the distribution of work among different cloud services.

Cottrell suggested that the key benefit of the emerging crop of hybrid cloud management tools is the ability to provide better integration and communication among different clouds and on-premises data center resources. The approach saves customers from having to grapple with disjointed, multi-cloud environments.

"It is going to be a big year for this kind of technology," Cottrell said.

 Vendor moves

The channel's interest in managing their customers' hybrid cloud environments hasn't been lost on tool vendors. Ian Finlay, vice president of products at Abiquo, which provides hybrid cloud management software, describes MSPs as the company's "key target market," although the company has enterprise customers as well.

Finlay said some MSPs are looking to Abiquo's technology as a way to deliver a one-stop-shop approach in multi-cloud environments. He said Easynet, a European MSP, fits that profile. Easynet selected Abiquo's cloud management platform to simplify the control of its hybrid cloud products. Easynet's cloud offerings span private, private-shared and public clouds.

Richard Rustean, product engineer at Easynet, said one of the key drivers behind the company’s selection of Abiquo was the ability to unify cloud management through a "single pane of glass" approach. He said Easynet had been dealing with a variety of management interfaces across the various geographic regions where the company does business.

Zenoss reaches out to channel allies, as well. In December 2014, the company launched its Zenoss Partner Network, which lets channel participants access products for development and testing. The program provides training and reseller discounts as well.

The company also aims to work with MSPs to tailor the software-as-a-service (SaaS) version of its flagship Zenoss Service Dynamics suite for a number of MSP-oriented use cases. The projected use cases include managing private clouds, virtual private clouds, on-premises equipment, public clouds or some combination of those platforms. Zenoss' SaaS product will provide a blueprint of sorts to help MSPs create their own public cloud, multi-tenant deployments of Zenoss.

"MSPs are seeking best practices input ... in terms of what is the Zenoss way for deploying Zenoss cost effectively in a managed service environment," said Matt Maloney, senior technical product manager at the company.

He said discussions with MSPs regarding those best practices are in early stage.

Technology roadmap for hybrid cloud management software

Hybrid cloud management tools will see some changes in the coming months as vendors and open source communities seek to bolster the technology.

In one thrust, API connectors, which link a tool to cloud service providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft and Google, are set for improvement. Cottrell said current connectors are good, but need to get better. For example, when a cloud service provider creates a new service, a customer using a hybrid cloud management tool will typically face delays in accessing that service for want of the proper connector.

With that in mind, Booz Allen and the Jellyfish project plan to work with cloud service providers in building out API connectors and establishing programs to make sure new services are quickly added to the hybrid cloud management software, Cottrell said. That collaboration is expected to take place during 2015.

Channel partners can also look for Docker Inc.'s application virtualization technology to play a bigger role in hybrid cloud management. Docker lets organizations virtualize applications in lightweight containers, which, unlike traditional virtual machines, don't require a hypervisor. Docker containers, according to the company, are highly portable: they can operate on physical servers, virtual machines or in the cloud.

Maloney said the next release of Zenoss -- version 5.0 slated for February -- will support containerization via Docker. This addition will help improve Zenoss' alignment with the hybrid cloud model, he noted. He said Docker will let Zenoss significantly reduce the friction of cloud-to-cloud deployment and migration.

Zenoss Control Center, an application management and orchestration system, also incorporates Docker technology for deploying and managing containers.

"With Control Center, management is centralized and standardized, so pushing out Zenoss to private/public clouds or a combination of both is a much simpler task," Maloney said.

Abiquo also plans to leverage Docker in its hybrid cloud management software, Finlay said. Among the objectives: using Docker to help customers make their workloads more mobile among different clouds.

Next Steps

Read about third-party and open source AWS management tools

Find out what partners had to say about Azure management tools

Also, learn about the limitations of cloud migration tools

Dig Deeper on Managed hybrid cloud computing providers