Cloud control: Managing and monitoring service

The cloud offers enterprises advantages in capacity and capability, but things are moving so fast you’re no longer in an environment where you have control over your configuration, said Peter Loh, founder and CEO of Tap In Systems Inc.

“It’s a positive in that it enables you to react very quickly to changing loads, but it is a negative in the sense that you need to better manage that environment and make sure you have control,” he said.

What enterprises need, according to Loh, is more transparency. “They need to be able to make sure those services are running in a way that they expect them to. Because they don’t control the cloud, they need visibility into the cloud.”

The San-Francisco-based startup announced its Cloud Management Service (CMS) at the recent 2009 Under the Radar Conference.

The monitoring system aims to resolve the disconnect between the management capabilities enterprises are used to expecting from in-house systems and those they receive from cloud providers, Loh explained.

“While cloud vendors expose as much as they can from their perspective, customers usually want more. Corporations are used to having a deeper level and that’s the gap we try to fill,” he said.

Cameron Haight, research vice president of IT Operations Management at Gartner Inc., confirmed the disconnect. “There’s certainly a difference in terms of potential visibility … there’s also an issue of depth of relationship,” he said.

“A lot of these tools that go out and do discovery aren’t there yet, although there are some cloud vendors that talk about how they provide more capabilities in this area … There’s still a difference in terms of how much we actually know about what’s running inside those instances,” he said.

Tap In’s CMS includes an operator console that sends alerts to network operations staff, performance reports that show average utilization on an individual and aggregated basis, and billing reports that allow enterprises to audit their charges from vendors.

“Tap In validates the billing of the cloud vendor by monitoring the metrics that are used to compute the billing, then calculating an independent cost estimate … Tap In can track the type of system and when each system is running, and also monitor the data transfer amounts,” explained Loh.

“It then calculates its estimate based on our metrics, not Amazon’s,” he continued. “This gives the customer an independent audit of Amazon’s charges. Our report can also break down the charges by various categories, allowing the customer to modify his systems usage to optimize the total cost.”

Tools that go out and audit billings of cloud providers are rare, according to Haight.

Determining the potential cause behind serviceability issues is also important. “What’s old is new again. These are the same issues we had with monitoring virtualization in the enterprise,” he said.

“A lot of the existing processes aren’t tied in, just like the things we are trying to do today in the VMware world,” said Haight.

Tap In’s capabilities include monitoring internal and external systems, whether cloud-based or not. The CMS is built on the Amazon EC2 cloud and supports monitoring of Amazon, GoGrid and 3tera .

It also supports monitoring of in-house Linux and Windows systems, and interfaces to GroundWork, Nagios, Microsoft Systems Center Operations Manager, Qwest Big Brother and CA Spectrum management systems.

“Our open interface allows us to build interfaces to virtually any other management system, and our intention is to continue to expand this list,” said Loh.

Add-ons, which include agents, scripts, code samples, extensions and interface modules, are free and/or open source. “In the past, companies had to develop these agents. Now the intellectual property behind these monitoring capabilities is freely available … it doesn’t make sense to charge for that,” he explained.

Loh compared Tap In’s CMS to HP OpenView and IBM Tivoli. “What’s different about us is we’re taking this SaaS model and applying it to the systems management area,” he said.

The big question in Haight’s mind is whether or not traditional commercial management tools such as OpenView, Tivoli, BMC and CA will be used in the cloud.

“If I start to have issues, will alerts and other performance data be able to be integrated with what I’ve already established in my enterprise? The Tivolis and OpenViews might have an advantage in that case,” he said.

“The downside,” he continued, “especially with the Tivolis and OpenViews, as we’ve seen with the predecessor virtualization world, is sometimes the tools will just be too costly and too complex.”

Haight expects the evolution of the cloud to resemble the virtualization world. “What we’ve seen so far in the virtualization/VMware world is people have by and large opted for tools that have their genesis or origination in the virtualization world to manage it,” he said.

The issue rises when enterprises stop managing it as a silo and want to manage it as an end-to-end service, Haight pointed out.

“Do I take that environment-only tool virtualization cloud and integrate it with my existing management system or do I take my existing management system and perhaps move that agent or those technologies up into the cloud so I don’t have that integration problem?” he said.

But it this is a bridge yet to be crossed, Haight added. “We’re only now crossing that in the virtualization/VMware world today.”

Tomorrow: Enomaly and RightScale weigh in on cloud management.

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