Cloud service management and cloud monitoring for providers: A primer

In this primer, learn how providers can use cloud service management and cloud monitoring tools to maximize performance, reduce costs and differentiate their cloud services.

The delivery of dynamic, cloud-based infrastructure, platform and application services doesn't occur in a vacuum. In addition to best practices for effective administration of all the elements associated with cloud service delivery, cloud service management and cloud monitoring tools enable providers to keep up with the continually shifting capacity demands of a highly elastic environment.

Cloud monitoring and cloud service management tools allow cloud providers to ensure optimal performance, continuity and efficiency in virtualized, on-demand environments. These tools -- software that manages and monitors networks, systems and applications -- enable cloud providers not just to guarantee performance, but also to better orchestrate and automate provisioning of resources.

Cloud monitoring tools, specifically, enable cloud providers to track the performance, continuity and security of all of the components that support service delivery: the hardware, software and services in the data center and throughout the network infrastructure.

Through successful cloud service management and monitoring, cloud providers can use service quality to differentiate themselves in what remains a crowded and noisy marketplace.

Through successful cloud service management and monitoring, cloud providers can use service quality to differentiate themselves in what remains a crowded and noisy marketplace. Effective cloud service management also helps lower the risk of frequent cloud outages that can jeopardize security systems. Using these tools also supports greater operational efficiency, helping cloud providers minimize costs and maximize profit margins. However, achieving these goals can be difficult in a complex virtual delivery environment where visibility and control are limited.

What are the key processes associated with cloud service management?

Cloud service management shares some basic principles with traditional IT service management (ITSM). Cloud management tools help providers administrate the systems and applications that facilitate the on-demand service delivery model. The goal of these practices is to improve the efficiency of the cloud environment and achieve a high level of customer satisfaction.

Essentially, cloud service management takes the customer perspective as the measure of service assurance and manages all the individual IT resources in a way that will support that. This involves adjusting the operations and policies, as necessary, of all the assets in the virtual environment that support and affect the on-demand service delivery model. Such assets include servers, software and services that provide access and connectivity to these cloud services. 

The core elements of cloud service management mirror those of traditional ITSM -- including cloud service-level agreement (SLA) management, cloud capacity management, availability management and billing -- and are applied to administrate a cloud delivery environment in a systemic way. These processes are supported with tools that track provisioning and change management, configuration management, release management, incident management, performance management and service continuity. Customers are supported directly and indirectly through a help desk function. Cloud service management is complemented by monitoring software that tracks operational information and feeds that data to the appropriate management resource.

Given the elastic, highly virtualized nature of cloud environments, there are some key differences in approaches to cloud service management and conventional IT service management. The two disciplines have different objectives, requiring tools that emphasize their individual requirements. Whereas the goals of traditional ITSM are effective SLA management, improved performance and streamlined billing, the goal of cloud service management is to orchestrate resources for fast provisioning, effective capacity management and ongoing service stability. Automation is vital to ensure efficiency and reduce costs.

Cloud service management platforms: Build or buy?

Although vendors have developed many cloud service management and monitoring tools for enterprises that build and manage their own private clouds, there are far fewer tools that meet the scale, security and performance requirements of cloud providers. Beyond that, there are even fewer solutions that provide the comprehensive capabilities associated with the entire ITSM process for cloud providers, namely orchestration.

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However, the market hasn't been completely unresponsive. Some vendors have developed frameworks that meet the demands of managing and monitoring large-scale data center automation. These vendors include IBM, through its Cloud Services Provider Platform (CSP2), and HP, through the technology it acquired from Opsware

Cloud service management vendors that have addressed the cloud provider market haven't all done so independently. Many rely on tools and solutions from third-party vendor partners to fill out the capabilities of their frameworks with more specialized functions.

Well-resourced cloud providers may also opt to develop their own systems to support cloud service management. Verizon, which currently uses technology from HP to orchestrate the management of cloud services through its Terremark division, has publicly stated its interest in developing a custom cloud service management and monitoring platform to support future growth and cut costs. Each cloud provider must weigh the cost and effectiveness of building versus buying a cloud service management and monitoring platform.

Cloud service management has challenges, but is key to survival

Cloud service management shares all of the obstacles to managing any IT environment -- event correlation, incident prioritization, capacity management and performance management -- plus the unique challenges of a dynamic virtual environment. Visibility remains a common challenge in managing highly elastic and complex virtual systems that function at a tremendous scale. 

Despite the challenges, cloud providers must implement management processes and use best practices to optimize efficiency, improve performance and, ultimately, maximize customer satisfaction. The highly competitive nature of the cloud market requires providers to focus on delivery in order to not just survive, but to thrive.

Amy Larsen DeCarlo is a principal analyst at Current Analysis, where her research focuses on assessing managed and cloud-based data center and security services.

This was first published in October 2011

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