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How to choose the right cloud management tool: 5 key focus areas

Christopher Null Freelance writer

Cloud computing is poised to continue its run as the platform of choice for just about every type of application. The catch: While enterprises are migrating from private clouds to public ones, they aren't standardizing on a single platform.

"Everybody seems to be moving to a multi-cloud architecture, leveraging more than one hyperscaler," said David Linthicum, chief cloud strategy officer for Deloitte Consulting.

The feature sets on the major cloud platforms—Amazon, Microsoft, and Google—are rapidly coalescing. This makes it easier to pick and choose the technologies you need to create a best-in-breed infrastructure, Linthicum said.

"But with that choice comes operational complexity. Instead of 3,000 services typically under management, now we’re seeing 10,000."
David Linthicum

Such cloud complexity has created the need for management tools that can deploy and orchestrate services across a multi-vendor landscape. But with as many as 20 multi-cloud management tools on the market, how does an enterprise go about choosing the right one?

Here are five key considerations experts say will make evaluating cloud management tools less complicated for your team.

1. Depth is more important than breadth

In her recent report about hybrid cloud management, Forrester senior analyst Tracy Woo wrote that the number of platforms a vendor supports is not important. "It only matters that it supports your platforms with depth," she said.

In other words, you don't need to waste time worrying if a cloud management tool supports your platforms of choice, because every major vendor supports them all. It's how they do it that's more important, and more difficult to determine.

Woo said that when considering a product's feature set, lifecycle management and discovery services are key and that the top tools offer visibility into performance, cost, and tag management.

Colin Dawes, chief solution architect for cloud ERP vendor Syntax, added these features to his wish list:

  • Support for development, testing, and production 
  • Risk management tools 
  • Cloudbursting (overdrafting for peak loads)

"Platform support means support not just for public cloud but for on-premises as well, with support across compute, storage, and database systems."
Tracy Woo

2. Automate all day, every day

The scale of today's typical cloud management role means that the less a human being has to deal with, the better. Artificial intelligence tools, in the form of AIOps, are trickling into cloud management systems, and while Deloitte's Linthicum said they're not yet fully baked, they're getting better all the time.

"We can't automate all of it yet, but we can automate most of it," he said. Automation routines are key, he added, because it's simply impossible to train enough humans fast enough to keep up with the proliferation of cloud services being deployed and to manage them directly.

"[The idea is that] instead of me personally experiencing different problems and solutions over time, the management system can experience the problems and solutions for me and automatically build the intelligence needed to deal with them. Without these tools, you have no chance of success."
—David Linthicum

3. Leveraging abstraction and flexibility

Related to automation is the concept of abstraction, the idea that a good hybrid cloud management tool relieves you from having to understand every last feature that's native to every cloud provider. A capable abstraction layer allows operators to deal with different systems using one interface, giving them the same view into domains, identity and access management, security and encryption, and so on.

Similarly, the best management tools are flexible and customizable, and while most solutions provide a similar collection of tools, the best give you a variety of options for how to use them.

Forrester's Woo said APIs allow enterprises to tease out functionality and put it into their own systems. 

"Leading solutions can get you to the same destination in different ways, with the functionality of the user interface also available through an API." 
—Tracy Woo

Deloitte's Linthicum said abstraction layers allow you to secure your cloud systems using the same interfaces and the same views of the domains, without having to have a deep understanding of the things that you're actually securing.

4. Not just insights, but fixes, too

Linthicum said that a key piece of the puzzle is the ability for these management tools not just to give you observability into your operations but to offer the ability to act upon those insights, too.

"Many of these tools can't do this, by the way," he said. A fix to a problem could be as easy as just rebooting a server automatically, but you need to have the ability to carry it out automatically.

It's one thing to gather the data, identify the problem, and figure out the root cause. If you can automatically execute the fix, "that's moving forward," Linthicum said.

Forrester's Woo wrote in her report:

"Leading solutions can trigger action based on a broad set of metrics, events, or log monitoring data. They can also filter through alerts to identify critical issues with automated operations capabilities." 

How does this work in practice? Woo said that if, for instance, there are two conflicting policies within a scenario, the system "should be able to determine which one will take precedent." Policy violations like this are common, she said, when moving workloads from one environment to another.

5. Don't forget the interface

The ultimate point of hybrid cloud management is to reduce complexity by consolidating the management of multiple cloud systems into a single dashboard. If a cloud management system is too complex, requires too many tools, or needs extensive training to operate, it simply won't be effective.

The more consolidated and streamlined the management system is, the more utility it will provide, said Matthew Clemente, executive vice president of global operations at Lemongrass Consulting.

"Interface is everything."
Matthew Clemente

Keep your eye on the real goal

Deloitte's Linthicum summed up the state of the market by emphasizing that the cloud platform that an enterprise chooses is becoming less critical as the various platforms become commoditized and standardized.

"We're entering an interesting space where the software between the clouds is more important than the clouds themselves."
—David Linthicum

He said he was not necessarily worried about whether a client uses AWS or Google Compute Engine, for example. He's worried about the ability for his client to automate and abstract the various systems in between these hyperscalers.

"The ability to do that is, in essence, the fastest way to success."

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