What You Should Know About Using Third-Party Cloud Management Tools

Here's what to look for in third-party tool sets and what to look out for

Bill Kleyman

October 9, 2015

6 Min Read
What You Should Know About Using Third-Party Cloud Management Tools
(Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

While cloud providers usually offer powerful tool sets for managing your cloud environment, third-party tools can truly expand that environment's capabilities. Oftentimes, highly dispersed cloud infrastructure requires a level of granular visibility native hypervisor and cloud monitoring tools cannot provide. Since every environment is unique, it’ll be up to the IT managers to decide which approach is best for them.

Third-party tools aim to provide a "single pane of glass” for cloud data center monitoring. These software packages look to unify cloud management tools to provide a global view of an entire infrastructure. Based on the location of the data center, administrators can to drill down to see all the necessary components to make sure their environments remain healthy.

What to Look for in Third-Party Tools

The idea behind acquiring third-party cloud management tools is to offset what native tools can’t manage or don’t see. Prior to going with any new tool set, administrators must examine and know what their existing environment has and what it is running. Based on the initial findings, IT managers are then able to make good decisions on what type of features they’ll need. Here are some of the features to look for when exploring third-party tools:

  • Distributed environment management: The biggest benefit of third-party tools is visibility into a distributed cloud environment. When an organization has multiple cloud points, administrators must be able to have granular visibility into the operations of all data center locations. Your tool must be able to see everything happening within each cloud location. This means monitoring and managing everything, from resources to application load-balancing, and even managing user count.

  • SLA management: A big feature of third-party cloud management tools is their ability to monitor SLA requirements. This can be QoS monitoring or even server-specific uptime metrics. By making sure an SLA is being met, administrators can make their environment operate to its fullest capacity.

  • Disaster recovery: One goal of obtaining a third-party tool set is to enhance disaster recovery functionality. As a pre-planned initiative, administrators must know what the tool set has to offer as far as DR features. By having a DR plan in place, administrators can make the right choices around their tool set, especially when high-availability and DR failover are concerned.

  • Workflow automation: A nice feature to use is the ability to automate some processes within the cloud environment. For example, if a cloud data center sees a spike in user count on a specific server, there can be a process in place to mitigate the additional user count issue. A software tool on the backend will automatically spin up new VMs to help offload the additional user count.

  • Global resource control: With multiple points, cloud environments can become difficult to manage. Carefully examining resources on a global scale can potentially exasperate the management issue. This is where third-party tools can really help. Setting up alerts, monitoring protocols, and even automated recovery procedures are all potential functions of a tool set. The ability to carefully manage resources on distributed level is powerful feature which some administrators may want to leverage.

  • Advanced alerting capabilities: Above and beyond sending out emails to the right administrator, some organizations are seeking even more from their alerting strategies. This means placing automated phone calls, sending a text message or even having an automated internal response system. Some third-party tools are built around this sort of advanced alerting mechanism and can really help out an IT environment seeking this type of detailed monitoring.

  • Security auditing: When working with third-party tools, creating a security audit trail may be required by some organizations. Companies with strict standards and even compliance protocols may require a tool set capable of very granular security logging and monitoring. This is where administrators can take advantage of tool sets geared towards a security conscious environment.

  • Application visibility: Some third-party cloud management tool sets have the ability to see how an application is performing, which is where many native tools fall short. This can be as granular as logging errors, securing access, and monitoring performance. Depending on the type of application being delivered, some administrators may find there to be a need for a software feature capable of monitoring over specific cloud-based applications.

  • Chargeback: These features are great for organizations attempting to place a dollar figure on various departments trying to access specific cloud workloads. Using this feature, administrators are able to forecast department-based growth and work with budgeting to best fit the IT teams’ needs.

Things to Look Out For

Although they come feature-packed, it’s easy to get lost in all the functionality. Just like native tools, these software packages are not all-encompassing and will have their drawbacks. However, with more planning and understanding of the environment, administrators are able to make better decisions to avoid purchasing tool sets with features they won’t use. Here are a few things to be cautious of:

  • Training: As with any new tool set, third-party tools will require additional training. Remember, just because the feature is there does not mean administrators will know how to use it. Take the time and learn your new tools since that is the best way to gain the most benefit from that software package.

  • Setup and configuration: As opposed to native tools, which usually install as part of a package, working with third-party tools will require additional configuration. Sometimes this can be as easy as running a wizard, while other times it will be a detailed process to integrate existing components into the third-party monitoring tool set. Skipping steps or misconfiguring a third-party tool set can be a waste of dollars and, even worse, can have detrimental effects on the cloud environment.

  • Testing and maintenance: It will be up to the administrator to ensure their third-party tool set is operating properly. Since third-party tools are installed on top of an existing environment, it’s very important to occasionally verify the metrics and results that this tool is providing. This means ensuring optimal performance out of the tool set and testing the various vital elements that this tool was brought in to accomplish.

  • Ongoing visibility: In a distributed cloud environment, maintaining ongoing visibility can become a challenge. This is where third-party tools can both help and hurt. By setting up administrative roles, IT managers can break up the duties that go into monitoring the sometimes expansive third-party tool set. If the team isn’t well prepared or trained, all of the information they are seeing or gathering may go unused. From there, faults and errors can start to take effect on an environment since data isn’t being correlated properly.

  • Alerting: Even with advanced alerting capabilities, the first step is to have the right setup. The second step is continuously maintaining this system. Just because a tool has the capabilities does not mean it will execute out of the box. This means making sure that all alerting is setup properly and regularly tested.

Your tools are the mechanisms which help your data center operate efficiently. Whether you’re working with native toolsets or are utilizing third-party solutions, always ensure proper alignment with your data center ecosystem. This means knowing where your business demands are growing, and which tools can be the drivers to get you there.

About the Author(s)

Bill Kleyman

Bill Kleyman has more than 15 years of experience in enterprise technology. He also enjoys writing, blogging, and educating colleagues about tech. His published and referenced work can be found on Data Center Knowledge, AFCOM, ITPro Today, InformationWeek, NetworkComputing, TechTarget, DarkReading, Forbes, CBS Interactive, Slashdot, and more.

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