Cloud computing may still be in its infancy, but those who are wading in are coming to the realization that, in at least one area, it shares a lot of commonality with preceding technologies: the need for robust management.
In fact, because the nature of the cloud is so free-wheeling and it exists across such a distributed architecture, it can be argued that establishing a solid management regime is even more crucial than in standard data center environments, even virtual ones.
But while a number of cloud management software systems have turned up over the past few months, it's becoming clear that, for the moment at least, cloud users will have to get used to a world that is lacking the in-depth control they may be used to. After all, how can you possibly manage something when no one is really sure what it is?
Still, work is moving forward on the subject. Last month, the Distributed Management Task Force launched an effort to establish a set of open standards for cloud management, with a particular eye toward bridging the gap between internal, private clouds and public ones. The "Open Cloud Standards Incubator" group is charged with first formulating a series of management protocols, packaging formats and security tools to foster interoperability between clouds, followed by specifications that will foster cloud service portability and cross-cloud management consistency.
It's certainly a worthy goal, but the obstacles to creating a working solution are enormous, according to CIO.com's Kevin Fogarty, who likens it to nailing Jell-O to a wall. The problem of a cloud definition is a major one, with any number of schemes kicking around encompassing some or all of the previous SOA, SaaS, IaaS and other models, with a wide variety of pricing, terms of service and basic application offerings thrown in. He added, though, that the DMTF did such a good job at defining virtualization standards that hopes are high that it will do the same for the cloud.
Among the available cloud management platforms, many are service-specific, which makes it difficult to establish a truly universal cloud environment. Tap In Systems, for example, recently tailored its Cloud Management Service for 3Tera's AppLogic platform, allowing users to extend Tap In's monitoring and alert capabilities to 3Tera's virtual appliances. The system provides things like high availability and instant failover for multiple internal and external cloud environments, but only if they use Tap In's proprietary technology.
Another provider is Crescendo Networks, which recently added new control and management sets to its AppBeat DC system. Key upgrades include Virtual ADC, which provides for partitioning of management resources, and Elastic Resource Control, designed to maintain service levels while cutting energy usage up to 30 percent. However, the system is designed specifically for the company's new Maestro CN-7000 appliance, which does bring in multi-gigabit acceleration, compression, TCP multiplexing and SSL offload, as well as local and global balancing, but is not a universal platform.
The lack of broad-based management systems is one of the reasons most experts are advising enterprises to tread lightly when it comes to the cloud. Internal clouds are probably the best way to get your feet wet before venturing onto the public sphere. But be forewarned, until a more universal approach arises, the chance of cloud vendor lock-in is high. And that will diminish one of the chief benefits of cloud computing in the first place: flexibility.