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4 essential open-source tools for cloud management

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David Linthicum, Chief Cloud Strategy Officer, Deloitte Consulting

The cloud has pushed open source in a different direction. As a result, open source is no longer the only value option. Cloud computing gives you the ability to leverage both open-source and closed-source technology on demand, which turns the ROI model for open source on its head. 

At the very least, you need to analyze the new value metrics.

It's a new world as enterprises consider how to leverage open-source cloud management. Here are several tools you can download today for free to use inside or outside of a public cloud platform. But first, you need to understand the new environment in which cloud management tools must operate.

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What's changed—and what comes next  

The term "cloud management" has a wide range of definitions. One might include open-source container orchestration tools, such as Kubernetes and Mesos, or DevOps-oriented tools such as Ansible. But here the focus is on pure-play cloud management tools that provide most implementations with useful tools to manage single or plural public and private clouds. 

These tools include open-source IaaS clouds, such as OpenStack and CloudStack, that many use with public clouds to create DIY cloud management that is private-cloud-centered. 

This pattern continues to rise as a preferred native cloud management system because enterprises can deploy workloads on public clouds, yet still run their private and public clouds using private-cloud-based cloud management. 

Today the stakes are higher than ever for cloud management tools that will provide solid performance, open source or not.

451 Research expects 60% of workloads to be running in some form of hosted cloud service by the end of the year, up from 45% today. This represents a pivot away from DIY, and toward cloud or hosted third-party IT services.

However, RightScale's recent "State of the Cloud Report" asserts that enterprises continue to invest in multiple private or public cloud platforms. According to the survey, 84% of enterprises use more than four private or public cloud platforms.

Complexity is the enemy

The core issue is the fact that most cloud-based offerings, either net-new applications or migrated applications, are built in short, decoupled sprints by different teams, using different cloud platforms, tools, databases, and approaches. 

There is a clear lack of defined common cloud services, so you end up with a hodgepodge of security, governance, databases, and compute platforms. All are one-off, with "best of breed" being the battle cry. 

After deployment, the burden is on the CloudOps team to operate a complex array of technologies that run on numerous public and private cloud platforms. The result is more cost to operate or change than originally modeled. In many cases, the use of cloud computing actually brings negative value to enterprises. 

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Why open-source cloud management?

While you would think that the advent of public clouds would make all software a commodity, especially open source, there are reasons why this model remains popular. Yes, you can get your team in a circle and talk about the evils of proprietary software, and there are those who look at open source as a quasi-religion. 

However, a couple of compelling value-oriented reasons emerge, as related to enterprise requirements, and enterprises should really care about them.

Control equals less risk

Most enterprises won't contribute to the code tree of open-source software—and that's okay. The fact that the open-source software is not in the hands of a single company that can be purchased, go out of business, or move in the wrong direction means open-source systems come with some measure of control over the software's destiny. 

In the case of cloud management, open-source software systems (in or out of a cloud) are likely to be the most important systems that support cloud deployment. Therefore, any disruption means risk, and control of the software via open-source licenses should reduce that risk. 

The option of forking

What if you choose an open-source cloud management software product because its features are strategic to your business, and then it goes off in directions that diminish the value of your use cases? 

Again, most enterprises don't want to get into the product development business. However, open source provides the option to fork the code tree (either as a whole system or just subsystems) in directions where the features/functions can support your specific needs. That option has a value for most enterprises. 

Open-source cloud management solutions

The four open-source cloud management platforms that follow all do cloud management differently, but all have the same objective: To provide both abstraction and automation as a path to remove the development and operations teams from having to deal with increased cloud complexity.

Keep in mind that these open-source cloud management platforms are also part of a larger array that includes proprietary players. These players have the same objective, but do not offer the advantages of open source. (In some cases, it may be better to use closed-source cloud management, depending upon your needs and whether there's an absence of open-source religious fervor in your organization.)

That said, here are the four open-source solutions.

Apache CloudStack

CloudStack was initially pitched as an open-source IaaS cloud platform for both private and public clouds, but today it is a true cloud management platform. It offers compute orchestration, network as a service, user and account management, resource auditing, and security. It includes comprehensive services management and different types of storage, as well as resource provisioning.  

The software supports the greatest number of hypervisors of any tool out there currently. The list of supported hypervisors includes VMware, KVM, Citrix XenServer, Xen Cloud Platform (XCP), Oracle VM server and Microsoft Hyper-V. It communicates with users via a web interface, command-line tools, or a full-featured RESTful API.

So, how is this a multi-cloud tool? CloudStack also provides an API that's compatible with AWS EC2 and S3 for organizations that want to deploy hybrid clouds. This typically means CloudStack is the private cloud and AWS is the public cloud. 

The bottom line is that enterprises have the option to drive cloud management from the open-source CloudStack platform. While it doesn’t really support more than a single public cloud brand, CloudStack is a good jumping-off point for those who want to use a DIY private-cloud-centered approach to cloud management. 

OpenStack

You can't mention CloudStack without talking about OpenStack, with the focus on its native cloud management capabilities. Like CloudStack, OpenStack is an IaaS private or public cloud. It can control a large pool of compute, storage, and network resources either within a data center as a private cloud or outside as a public cloud. 

However, many of the OpenStack public cloud deployments have fallen behind in terms of the features and functions offered by the big three public cloud providers. 

OpenStack works and plays well with popular enterprise and open-source technologies, making it ideal for heterogeneous infrastructures, both within OpenStack and on external public clouds. 

One potential advantage of going with OpenStack is its ecosystem, which is a thriving marketplace. Moreover, OpenStack has more interest than CloudStack, from a larger population of developers that support the base code. 

The approach to cloud management is exactly the same as that in CloudStack. It's all about running a multi-cloud deployment from the OpenStack private cloud using native open-source cloud management tools. 

Again, this is an approach that more and more enterprises find attractive, considering the influence of public clouds, and the enterprise's need to keep cloud management in an open-source domain, running on its own hardware platforms. 

ManageIQ

ManageIQ is an open-source management platform for hybrid IT, meaning for a mix of legacy and public and private clouds. The tools can manage small and large environments, as well as support multiple technologies such as virtual machines, public clouds, and containers.

The ManageIQ tool allows you to understand the current state of your environment, provide self-service for end users, and enforce compliance policies. Performance optimization and utilization are carried out using management and monitoring.

Cloudify

Cloudify is an open-source, model-driven cloud management tool that's directed at multi-cloud orchestration, including automation and abstraction. If I were to point at one tool listed here as a single-purpose, open-source cloud management tool, this would be it. 

Cloudify is designed to automate the deployment, configuration, and remediation of application and network services across heterogeneous clouds. It uses an approach based on the TOSCA (Topology and Orchestration Specification for Cloud Applications) specifications. 

This means you can concentrate on defining the desired state of an application workload using a policy creation engine. Then you can monitor the workloads to assure that it stays within the desired SLAs as defined by the policies. You can model your workloads using TOSCA files that your dev and ops teams can then share. These can be governed by the production team and deployed to production.

Expect changes to continue

Open-source cloud management tools will likely change a great deal in the near future, given the importance of cloud management in an increasingly complex world and the nature of how organizations are building cloud-based systems. While there are many cloud management options, if you're moving down open-source paths today, the four tools above are your primary contenders. 

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