How to Manage Multiple Cloud Resource Providers

How to Manage Multiple Cloud Resource Providers
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Managing Multiple Cloud Resource ProvidersManaging Multiple Cloud Resource Providers

There are many reasons to work with multiple cloud resource providers.

You might want to ensure you will have access to computing resources if one of your providers has an outage at one of its data centers. You might decide you want to have backup copies of your critical data on two different storage services. You might even have groups within your company choosing one service provider over others because it offers the best combination of functionality and services for their requirements. Whatever the reason for working with multiple cloud service providers, you’ll need to plan for managing them.

When working with multiple providers keep in mind several management tasks, including: administration, reporting and billing, access controls, and automation.

Administering multiple cloud providers can mean duplication of effort. There will be multiple accounts to manage, multiple sets of access controls to maintain, and multiple administration portals to learn and use.  Even a relatively simple task, like checking to see which machine instances are running, can become a multi-step process.  If you are using multiple clouds to ensure redundancy for your critical applications you will also need to plan how to maintain the consistency your applications versions across multiple providers.

Administering cloud resources can be a distributed function. When centralized IT departments manage servers and related infrastructure we would have a pretty good idea of who is responsible for maintaining systems operations.  Public cloud providers are changing that. Now line of business managers, analysts and developers may be tacking on the role of system administrator and launching machine instances and allocating storage for their work.  This is not necessarily a problem in itself; however, when a large number of employees are doing this, tracking aggregate usage can be a challenge.

Consider a marketing department with several analysts making use of cloud resources. They may be working with a few different cloud providers, which means the department has to manage multiple accounts. They may be billing their cloud charges to the same credit card account.  Without adequate monitoring, the department manager might find at the end of the month that the department had gone over its budget on it cloud expenditures.

There are a few ways to deal with this kind of potential problem. You could implement fine grained budgets allocating a portion of the total budget to each analyst. This may work in cases where their computing and storage needs are known ahead of time, but how likely is that? This approach also runs counter to one of the key benefits of the cloud-  the ability to adapt to varying needs.  You could write a script to pull usage information from all of your cloud providers and produce a consolidated report. It may be simple at first but it could quickly become more complex if you want to break down details and track every different kind of service, e.g. computing, storage, messages, workflows, etc.  Alternatively, you could use a cloud management service, such as RightScale or enStratus.

These services allow you to deploy and manage applications and services across multiple clouds while providing a single point for management and reporting.

Managed cloud services can help with other requirements as well. The key is to find a managed cloud provider that can provide a single point of management for multiple clouds. This requires applications that hide the implementation details of key functionality, like account management and access control enforcement. For example, a managed cloud provider that can integrate with your on premise Active Directory or LDAP service and apply that to applications running in multiple clouds can save you a significant amount of management.  

Authentication and data encryption depend on users having and managing encryption keys. A managed cloud provider can help maintain security and reduce the risk of losing data with key management support.  emember, if you encrypt your data and lose the encryption key then your data is essentially inaccessible.  If a number of different employees share responsibility for storing encrypted data then a centralized key management service can help maintain consistent practices with regards to protecting encryption keys.

Dan SulivanDan SulivanDan Sullivan is an author, systems architect, and consultant with over 20 years of IT experience with engagements in systems architecture, enterprise security, advanced analytics and business intelligence. He has worked in a broad range of industries, including financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, software development, government, retail, gas and oil production, power generation, life sciences, and education.  Dan has written 16 books and numerous articles and white papers about topics ranging from data warehousing, Cloud Computing and advanced analytics to security management, collaboration, and text mining.

See here for all of Dan's Tom's IT Pro articles.

(Shutterstock cover image credit: Cloud Jigsaw)

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