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A Primer On Cloud Management

By now, the benefits and simplicity of cloud computing are well understood, and the promise of benefits like cost-savings, greater efficiency, and increased application agility have inspired companies of all sizes to kick start their journey to the cloud. In fact, it’s expected that the cloud infrastructure and platform market will grow by 19% annually from 2015 to 2018, reaching 43 billion dollars by 2018.

Ultimately, the question these days is not “if” businesses will move to the cloud, but rather “when.” At the same time, as cloud functionality becomes more complex and IT professionals are increasingly relied upon to manage and deploy cloud services, many organizations struggle to manage their cloud deployment of choice — public vs. private — in a manner that produces the most efficiency and ROI.

To that end, it’s helpful to understand the benefits and challenges — and accompanying management best practices — of each approach to better inform an organization’s cloud integration strategy.

The Private Cloud 

A private cloud — hosted on an organization’s proprietary architecture — provides a valuable benefit in today’s cloud landscape: the element of control, primarily, greater controlling governance over the services catalog. Businesses that stand up their own private clouds can offer a self-service portal for endusers in their organization that allows access only to IT-approved services, which in turn helps meet data compliance and security requirements.

There is also an element of cost control inherent to private cloud deployments. IT professionals familiar with the public cloud likely know that all too often an organization can be stuck contending with a cloud provider’s on-demand or spot pricing, meaning it’s difficult to accurately predict how much that service will cost per month or per quarter. Comparatively, a private cloud offers administrators the ability to control that spend by monitoring chargeback and showback records to quantify how efficient that infrastructure as a service (IaaS) is in serving the needs of its endusers.

Unfortunately, a major drawback of private cloud deployments is that organizations building a private cloud in many cases require the expertise of outside consultants to help get that infrastructure off the ground. When it comes time for those consultants to hand over the management reins to in-house teams, their skillsets and abilities to sustain that ecosystem are simply not there and the projects fall apart. Further, despite being propriety infrastructure, management and monitoring often proves challenging, as without a unified view to help bridge the resource siloes that arise in cloud ecosystems, IT professionals are tasked with juggling disparate vendor tools and management systems to ensure the private cloud remains an efficient and effective system.

The Public Cloud 

On the other hand, businesses looking for a pre-packaged and tidy cloud solution tend to gravitate towards public cloud providers. In fact, the industry as a whole anticipates the public cloud to be the most widely adopted option in the near future. That’s largely because public cloud providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Compute Engine, among others, deliver several significant benefits right out of the box: extreme ease of use — very important to organizations that are light on the talent required to run a private cloud; cost-effectiveness through scale; and a wide array of engineer tested, quality-assured services. All that aside, the public cloud is also much more agile when it comes to change management. Whereas in a private cloud environment there are specific processes and deployment strategies to be followed, public cloud providers either vet and push out new services or retire old ones regularly, meaning organizations are consistently getting the best experience.

Of course, it’s worth noting that one of the public cloud’s biggest benefits is also a major caveat — the ease of use associated with the public cloud is actually a double-edged sword in that its simplicity comes from handing over management and control to the provider. It’s certainly true that in many cases Amazon, Microsoft, and Google can help organizations operate more efficiently in the cloud, but were you ever to encounter service license agreement (SLA) difficulties (perhaps by not receiving the level of availability or service as outlined in the contract), a business is more often than not stuck with nowhere to turn for relief.

Fortunately, although not an absolute solution, the rise of other technology constructs like containers and microservices are helping IT departments avoid getting locked into any one cloud provider. By packaging workloads into containers, which can spin up very quickly on other vendor platforms if needed, IT professionals can gain some of that management and control element back.

Ultimately, whether an organization is currently leveraging the services of a public cloud provider or has chosen to build its own private cloud architecture, there are several management and monitoring techniques that apply to both types of deployments and can help maximize efficiency. Here are a few best practices to consider for a more effective cloud management strategy:

Know your assets. This starts with visibility and discovery. IT professionals should leverage tools that provide a unified view to establish a baseline of cloud ecosystem performance and health to not only identify any latencies that endusers may be experiencing for specific applications, but also identify any risks in terms of exposure or misconfigurations. In addition, administrators should proactively identify a list of resources and other entities in the cloud to better inform workload management and monitoring. Implement a smart alert system. Constant change is inherent to cloud ecosystems. Without the proper monitoring techniques, IT professionals will be buried in logs and performance metrics. For example, if monitoring with a traditional virtualization tool, an enduser may have released resources and repurposed or provisioned new VMs from the cloud before the IT professional is made aware of a change in workloads. Administrators should deploy a monitoring tool that can generate smart, custom alerts by tracking workloads and overall system performance to surface up a “single point of truth.” This approach helps IT professionals better predict, prioritize, and resolve issues before the enduser even notices there’s a problem. Reporting matters. A reporting function should stem from the tool you’ve implemented to monitor performance, health metrics, and workloads. With cloud systems, endusers come to IT with very specific requests for functionality that require comprehensive reporting. These reports ultimately will help IT professionals gain insight into the user management aspect of cloud services, relaying information like who is accessing and utilizing the infrastructure so as to more easily troubleshoot and remediate problems. Without a unified monitoring and reporting system, IT administrators are left to contend with disparate management consoles which fall short in helping to identify ecosystem-wide problem areas.

As IT professionals are increasingly required to manage the integration of cloud services, whether via a cloud service provider or by the organization itself, understanding the management and monitoring challenges of each type of deployment — public vs. private — is crucial. And while there are certainly noteworthy differences between the two cloud architectures and the services they provide, these overarching best practices will help IT professionals in their effort to deliver the highest quality of service to meet business performance needs for any given service.

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