Product and service reviews are conducted independently by our editorial team, but we sometimes make money when you click on links. Learn more.

How To Manage Multiple Cloud Resource Providers

How To Manage 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.

Benefits Of Multiple Cloud Providers

In addition to security controls, a managed cloud provider should also support financial management and automation.

The consolidated billing report described earlier is one of the most basic requirements for financially managing your cloud resources. It is also deficient in one key aspect: it simply provides you with information about what has happened rather than helping you control what happens.  Ideally, you would be able to define a budget that could be used across multiple providers. 

Those who make decisions about what machine instances to run and how much storage to allocate can choose based on the cloud provider features and on the budget allocated to different providers. A managed cloud provider that supports financial controls across multiple cloud providers can help to maintain flexibility in how you use cloud resources.

Even when you use multiple cloud providers there are probably functions you will want to have in place wherever you run your machine instances. For example, you may want to implement automatic backups according to a policy as well as verify that instances are running and, if not, restart them.  For customer facing applications you may want to monitor transaction times and scale up the number of servers when transaction times exceed some predefined threshold. 

Managed cloud providers that offer orchestration services can help streamline these tasks.

An additional benefit of working with a managed cloud provider is reducing the adverse effects of vendor lock in.  Since you are not working with a single vendor’s API there is less risk that the scripts and procedures you implement will be specific to that provider.

Of course using a managed cloud provider will introduce new costs but they may also reduce costs associated with administration, reporting and billing, security, financial management, and application administration.

Cloud Services: Video

Moving to the cloud seems inevitable to many organizations and the cloud offers a number of advantages and opportunities. But the process of moving to the cloud is not easy. Here's what you need to know and take into considerations as you look at the different cloud services options like Infrastrucutre-as-a-Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

VIDEO: Cloud Services: No Buzz, No Bull