Using Service Providers' Native Cloud Management Tools
A symbolic data cloud is seen at the IBM stand at the 2014 CeBIT technology Trade fair on March 10, 2014 in Hanover, Germany. CeBIT is the world’s largest technology fair and the year’s partner nation was Great Britain. (Photo by Nigel Treblin/Getty Images)

Using Service Providers' Native Cloud Management Tools

Here's what to look for and what to watch out for with cloud management tools offered by cloud providers themselves

As we said last week in our guide to selecting cloud management tools, there are multiple sources for those tools, and one of them is the cloud service provider itself. Today we dig deeper into this option.

When working with a provider tool set, it’s important to take into consideration the type of provider you are working with. Hosting solutions offer a variety of benefits and options. Many times an organization will want the provider to manage their entire environment, from the hardware to hypervisor, and even up through the applications themselves. Other times, hosting providers will only manage the hardware and stop at the hypervisor level. Picking the right solution will depend on what your goals are.

What to Look for in Provider Tools

Provider tools for cloud management can be powerful additions into an already existing monitoring and management system. Look to try and leverage the following:

  • Hardware-level visibility: Depending on the type of cloud agreement, provider tools should have good visibility into the hardware layer. Cloud data centers live off of shared resources. Having visibility into how these resources are being used is important to maintaining cloud health.
  • Hypervisor management: Oftentimes, provider tools will give the administrator the ability to see and manage their hypervisor. Again, depending on the type of agreement, hypervisor management can be an involved process or a fairly simple one. If the provider environment is only partially managed, look for tools that have visibility into each hypervisor on all physical hosts.
  • Application control: With a provider-based design, some contracts ask for control over application sets being delivered over the cloud. In very specific designs, some provider tools will look at applications and help manage them. This is often true for Software-as-a-Service applications hosted in the cloud. Look for tools that give granular visibility into the application. This includes user count, licensing, and even updating or patching specific application modules.
  • Automation: Application development lifecycle automation is a great feature that can be offered by a provider. This helps with application development and other parts of the lifecycle. Other automation features include spinning up additional VMs to help offset user workload count. Look for tools which fit your specific cloud model and ensure that they are able to meet the needs of your automation procedures.
  • User load-balancing: As a part of the contract, tools concentrating on the “economies of scale” methodology will help organizations spin up new VMs only as required. This means there will not be any dormant resources. Look for tools which help monitor your existing management tools and allow an administrator to adjust to user count dynamically.
  • WAN utilization: When using a provider, monitoring WAN usage is always important. Most of the time, WAN utilization is monitored by the provider. Still, working with provider tools to gain visibility into bandwidth usage in the cloud can be powerful. If WAN optimization is part of the IT function, ensure that there is a provider feature capable of this type of visibility.
  • Environment health metrics: Spanning multiple data centers, cloud environments create a truly distributed infrastructure which can become challenging to manage. When these environments are hosted, provider tools can be used to monitor the health of multiple end points, as long as they’re all under the same provider.

Provider Tool Cautions

Service provider cloud management tools, for the most part, should act as a strong supplement to an existing tool set. Depending on the size and complexity of the environment, provider tools can only provide a limited view into an environment, since the provider's ultimate goal is to manage the majority. With provider tools, administrators can have an extra layer of visibility, but it may not always be enough. Here are a few things to look out for:

  • Over-reliance: Provider tools can be limited. Administrators should be aware of their functionality and where they fall short. In many cases, they should be used to complement existing tools already monitoring the cloud environment.
  • Training: Just like third-party cloud management tools, a provider-native tool set is a new software package for administrators to learn. The better you understand the tool set, the better it can be leveraged.
  • Limited visibility: As mentioned earlier, provider tools can be limited. It’s in these cases where understanding the full capabilities of that tool set can really help.
  • Accessibility: There will be times where provider tools are only accessible through a portal or a web link. This may reduce their effectiveness if the data must be seen locally or outside of the cloud environment.
  • Management and configuration: Depending on the contract, providers may very well limit the extent to which administrators are able to manage and configure the monitoring tools. Provided as a service, additional configuration settings and customization may come at a price.

Regardless of the type of cloud infrastructure, administrators must always be prepared to manage their data center resources. As environments continue to evolve, it will be up to the IT managers to know and understand the type of visibility that is required to keep their organization functioning properly. There are many types of tools out there. Planning around an environment and having a granular understanding of what that cloud infrastructure is trying to deliver will help dictate the right monitoring and management tool set to use. With unique needs and business drivers, tool sets must be able to adapt to the needs of the IT and business unit.

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