How to Choose the Best Cloud Management Platform

A lot of consideration and experimentation is needed for a secure, scalable, and end-to-end cloud deployment.

By Dipti Parmar

By Dipti Parmar November 10, 2020

Cloud adoption is no longer a question to be analyzed with opinions and surveys in 2020. Real consumption and usage has increased in the mainstream even as technology continues to evolve in the space.

While 2020 has been an extraordinary year that radically changed everyday organizational processes and operations, and in many cases the very definition of normal life in the face of COVID-19, cloud computing as a domain has come out stronger. A survey by O’Reilly with over 1,000 responses found that 88% of companies today use cloud in one form or another. What’s more, most respondents said their organizations would increase usage over the next 12 months.

The question arises as to why the remaining 12% do not use cloud computing yet. With the growth in cloud usage, operations, tasks, and the applications used to carry them out have grown increasingly complex. The resources needed are by no means small or easy to handle. The O’Reilly study also asked respondents why their companies hadn’t implemented cloud computing yet.

Source: O’Reilly

The reasons give further insights to those who are considering deployment or expansion into the challenges of choosing a public, private, or hybrid cloud, integrating cloud apps with their current IT infrastructure, and managing the movement of data and information between their data centers and external networks.

With the increased use of hybrid and multi-cloud infrastructures in the enterprise, workloads are being run across multiple environments, making it difficult to automate, optimize, or manage them. This is where a cloud management platform comes in.

What is a Cloud Management Platform (CMP)?

Basically, a CMP is a solution or tool suite that helps an organization manage and optimize their cloud infrastructure and operations for cost, security, speed, scale, and reliability. Gartner defines it as follows:

“Cloud management platforms are integrated products that provide for the management of public, private and hybrid cloud environments. The minimum requirements to be included in this category are products that incorporate self-service interfaces, provision system images, enable metering and billing, and provide for some degree of workload optimization through established policies.”

A good CMP, therefore, will help organizations control three key components of a dynamic cloud environment:

  1. Cost
  2. Security & Compliance
  3. Automation & Performance Management

Source: Botmetric

Why do businesses or organizations need a CMP?

Cloud is now mainstream. Findings from both the Nutanix Cloud Usage Report 2020 clearly indicates that the adoption and use of public, private, and hybrid cloud systems has reached an advanced maturity level, at least in the enterprise and commercial business segments, with SMBs not far behind.

Source: Nutanix Cloud Usage Report 2020

In the early days of cloud computing, migration – from datacenters to the cloud and from private cloud to public – was considered a far bigger challenge than resource optimization, scale, or cost savings that the cloud offers. Today, the problem of availability of skilled IT staff, hardware resources, or multifunctional cloud apps does not exist.

The Flexera 2020 State of the Cloud Report found that as enterprises gain experience with the cloud, their perceived challenges in terms of resources and skills decrease. Therefore, issues such as cloud migration and managing multi-cloud environments become more manageable. However, in the face of increasing numbers and complexity of workloads and the constant evolution of hybrid and multi-cloud environments, enterprises continue to face significant challenges around security, cloud spend, and governance.

Source: Flexera 2020 State of the Cloud Report

"If you don't have a proper function to manage it, complexity will come back again," said Atish Banerjea, CIO of Facebook. Unsurprisingly, the burning question for organizations has changed from how to manage the cloud to how to choose the right cloud management platform?

Capabilities of a Cloud Management Platform

Staying organized with a CMP allows organizations to scale up their operations and services, improve productivity, and focus more resources on innovation and key objectives. The advances in infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) have enabled companies and providers to develop immense virtual computing resources, while only paying only for the compute, network, and storage resources they actually use.

As a result, key workloads and business functions are managed better using a CMP that incorporates components and features beyond the minimum requirements outlined by Gartner:

  • A defined set of cloud environment services to which users in various roles have access, which they can configure as and when needed
  • Discovery and monitoring of resources across cloud environments and inventory management based on tags, geography, or function
  • Provisioning and de-provisioning of cloud resources
  • Orchestration and automation of hybrid cloud apps, APIs, and infrastructure using defined rules
  • Migration and shifting of workloads from private to public cloud or within hybrid cloud systems
  • Cost management by rating, metering, and billing and invoicing of services consumed, and chargeback reports, along with analysis, reporting, and forecasting via predictive analytics
  • Integration with multiple cloud providers and on-premises systems, acting as an aggregator across environments
  • Security management with role-based access control, user authentication and authorization, and encryption management for security keys and certificates

Source: Jamcracker

How to Evaluate Candidate Cloud Management Platforms

Most CMPs perform the same set of core functions but the way they’re designed to operate in private, public, and hybrid cloud environments vary significantly. They also evolve with an emphasis on specific technical features or operational processes. Thus, CMPs should be evaluated on the basis of their suitability to the operating environment and business objectives of the organization where they’ll be deployed.

Here is an extensive list of questions that CTOs, CIOs, and other decision makers can ask – and answer – themselves in order to zero in on the cloud management platform that’s right for the organization. These questions can be divided into three categories according to the needs of the organization:

Business requirements:

  • Which teams and customers will be served better by implementing the CMP?
  • What will be the extent of disruption during the deployment? What operational or process changes are needed?
  • How quickly will the product generate ROI?

Product requirements:

  • Is the existing cloud implementation of the organization mature enough to warrant a CMP?
  • Is the platform consistent with the organization’s cloud strategy? Will it simplify management of the IT infrastructure as a whole?
  • How easy is it to use? Can it be deployed and automated out of the box?
  • What are the management functions it covers, especially in terms of resources, spend, and security?
  • Does it enable the right compute, network, and storage capabilities?
  • How fast does it detect usage of resources? How does it determine their necessity?
  • Are there specific hardware requirements for the platform? Can existing hardware investments be leveraged?
  • How actionable and customizable are the dashboards and reports?
  • How extensible is the CMP? Does it allow for seamless integration with existing services? Are the APIs future-ready?
  • Will it grow and mature in terms of features and capabilities as the market continues to undergo significant technological evolution?

Support requirements:

  • Are there enough skilled people available to administer it in-house or does it need to be set up and managed by a third party or MSP?
  • How long and steep is the learning curve?
  • To what extent would the organization be vendor-dependent after full implementation?
  • How often does the platform need to be updated or patched? Would these be difficult to install?

Package solutions don’t exist in this segment – no single off-the-shelf product would satisfactorily answer these questions. However, there are vendors and service providers who would happily customize the platform in a way that is consistent with the organization’s, stakeholders’ and cloud tenants’ strategic objectives.

Thus, it would be simpler for decision makers to group their evaluation criteria into three broad categories, based on their requirements

Technology and Architecture

Perhaps the most important capability to consider is the CMP’s ability to provide a ‘single pane of glass’ view to monitor every service and workload deployed across all your private, public, and hybrid cloud environments alike. It should provide seamless abstraction for these. Good CMPs enhance interoperability and overcome vendor differences by conforming to standards such as DMTF’s Cloud Infrastructure Management Interface.

Source: Distributed Management Task Force

Typically, the CMP is only a piece of an overarching enterprise cloud solution. The level of integration with existing IT configuration software, DevOps, analytics, and financial tools should be a primary consideration for any CMP. More often than not, organizations will need additional development using the CMP’s API to support tasks like workflow automation, cloud instance management, logging and reporting, and user administration.

Another small consideration is that some CMPs require the installation of an agent on the managed VM or cloud to facilitate certain services or management features. This might impact the network and control policies of the organization.

Finally, a security and risk assessment is paramount. It is important to gauge the CMP vendor’s approach to security design and how closely it aligns with the organization’s practices. All interfaces and capabilities need to be meticulously vetted to ensure they meet policy and compliance requirements.

Operational Needs

There is an overlap between the technology and operational details of CMPs, depending on the environment. Organizations need to choose between a CMPs that is installed on-premises or one that is deployed within a cloud itself as a SaaS. This influences a lot of things from TCO to network connectivity and control, to SLAs.

The extent of control and provisioning capabilities that admins get for each function, including operational visibility, workload automation, tracking and reporting, and delegating resource to tenants (a set of software, compute, storage, and networking resources contained in an instance to support the needs of a single or multiple customers) is a critical consideration.

Cost management based on cloud resource consumption is one of the key benefits of a CMP. Real-time cost modeling and chargebacks ensure that the metrics and data needed to support billing keep flowing to the appropriate applications.

Further, the CMP should be able to effectively analyze the cost footprint of the cloud resources deployed and optimize further deployments and migrations accordingly.

Business and Strategic Goals

Even as cloud costs continue to rise, a full 30% of the spend is wasted, according to self-estimates reported by respondents to the Flexera study.
 

Source: Flexera 2020 State of the Cloud Report

The Total Cost of Ownership is easily the primary criterion for judging and justifying the business’s investment in a CMP. Recurring costs, as well as those for additional development and integrations, should be adequately estimated and anticipated, with room for the costs of potential exit strategies.

A significant part of TCO would be product, service, or software licensing costs, depending on whether the CMP is installed on-premises or subscribed as a SaaS. The terms and conditions of the license and support will also impact business objectives and operations, so they need to be scrutinized just as closely as pricing.

Additionally, skilling up of IT staff and vendor support is crucial, at least in the selection and early into the implementation stages. It’s not enough to get the CMP up and running quickly; there needs to be commitment of continued support for a minimum viable period from the vendor. The cloud solutions market is changing at breakneck speed every day and vendors that lead today might be acquired tomorrow.

Rainmaking with the Cloud

Choosing the right vendor and platform for managing today’s hybrid and multicloud environments boils down to more than just technical capabilities. The market is in a constant state of consolidation and flux.

Add to it the uncertainties and complexities within the organization, and the cloud is always being pushed in various directions. "Complexity grows over time," said Bryson Koehler, CTO of Equifax. "Systems are built to do one thing, and then they're modified, morphed and bastardized to do things they were never meant to do."

At any stage or scale – whether it’s proof of concept, pilot, or full-scale enterprise deployment – most of the principles of hybrid cloud implementation with convergence apply to a CMP deployment too. Success depends on a shared vision and team effort involving internal IT staff, vendors, users, and tenants.

CIOs and CTOs need to fully understand the role of the CMP within the cloud environment and its integration with other tools in the ecosystem. This helps set reasonable expectations, define and current and future use cases in line with strategic objectives, incrementally enhancing capabilities, identifying risks early, improving operational agility, and continuously optimizing cloud costs.

Featured Image: Pexels.com

Dipti Parmar is a marketing consultant and contributing writer to Nutanix. She writes columns on major tech and business publications such as IDG’s CIO.com, CMO.com, Entrepreneur Mag and Inc. Follow her on Twitter @dipTparmar or connect with her on LinkedIn.

© 2020 Nutanix, Inc. All rights reserved. For additional legal information, please go here.

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