Cloud infrastructure is just like any virtual infrastructure except it has a greater capacity for distribution across a wide area. But from an operational standpoint, the same management and control issues are present, and in fact, there is an added dimension in that the environment you are running is not completely your own.
The need for visibility into the cloud is an underlying factor in the ongoing reluctance to push more critical workloads out of the traditional data center. After all, you cannot trust what you cannot see, and simply telling the CEO that the cloud provider is responsible for ensuring service is not likely to win you any points in the front office.
So in addition to providing a cloud that is low-cost and flexible, the enterprise must also ensure that it can be viewed and managed to the same degree as the local data center.
According to IT consultant Bill Kleyman, proper cloud management relies on several key capabilities that must be implemented across the distributed architecture and then maintained proactively. These include the ability to monitor not just the number of active users at any one point in time, but the servers they are accessing and even what workloads they are using. As well, resource management on both the virtual and physical levels is necessary to ensure proper utilization and cost control, while a full set of alerts and alarms that are targeted to the appropriate administrator will ensure that problems can be nipped in the bud before they impact the user experience.
The question, though, is, how is this visibility to be implemented, and who is responsible for it? According to InfoWorld’s David Linthicum, enterprise executives rely greatly on cloud providers for pertinent information on the environments under their care, and yet, many fail to get basic feedback on performance, operations, usage and workloads. Most providers do, in fact, have robust sets of APIs to gather this kind of information, but the enterprise will likely need a third-party monitoring solution if it hopes to gain a clear view of what is going on. This drives up the complexity of the cloud environment, of course, but that is the price to pay for broad visibility.
Even the security concerns that most organizations cite as impediments to broader cloud utilization stem mostly from a lack of visibility. As tech writer Elizabeth Montalbano notes on The VAR Guy, recent IDG research indicates that more than three quarters of IT executives say they lack the visibility into cloud-based attacks when using conventional network security solutions, while nearly half say that upgrading these capabilities to suit the cloud will make for a more complex management environment. This could prove to be increasingly problematic for both the enterprise and the cloud provider when you consider that most organizations intend to increase their reliance on the cloud nonetheless.
There is also the issue of integrating both cloud-based and local visibility solutions as the enterprise pursues hybrid cloud strategies. This is where most of the third-party development is taking place, because it allows the enterprise to deploy a visibility solution in-house that can then track data and infrastructure no matter where it goes. One example is Ixia’s Net Tool Optimizer, which utilizes physical and virtual taps to enable real-time visibility into distributed, abstract architectures. In this way, organizations can not only guard against potential trouble, but they also optimize network and resource configurations to improve service and lower costs.
It is important to remember that when it comes to visibility, monitoring, automation or any other aspect of data management going forward, the need for constant attention is paramount. These are highly complex, highly dynamic environments in the making, so the old “set it and forget it” approach is no longer valid – if indeed it ever was.
And perhaps most importantly of all, this broad visibility must be built into the cloud environment at the start in order to avoid significant cost and complexity on the back end.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.