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Third-party, open source AWS management tools offer unique benefits

Amazon boasts a broad range of tools for managing an EC2 instance, but partners say third-party and open source tools expand on Amazon's offerings.

Viewing Amazon Web Services' console looks like the cloud provider is shipping you a kit for building a car. All the pieces are there, but someone has to be able to network them together, according to Seth Bostock, CEO of software developer IndependenceIT. If an IT admin is using the native tools for AWS, you need to be an expert in how to manage them.

Like anything, partners also need to have the time and resources, Bostock added.

AWS, like other public cloud platforms, has its own front-end management panel, but it's a complicated one, he said. There are a number of tools AWS offers for managing an EC2 instance, such as CloudWatch for monitoring; AWS Elastic Beanstalk for deploying and scaling Web applications and services; AWS CloudFormation for creating a collection of related AWS resources and provisioning them; AWS Data Pipeline for processing and moving data between different AWS compute and storage services and on-premises data sources; and AWS CloudTrail, which records account-specific AWS API calls and delivers log files.

There are also AWS management tools offered by third-party providers and the open source community. Third-party providers like Scalr, CloudMGR and Enstratius all offer strong management platforms for AWS, said Terry Hedden, CEO of cloud advisory firm CloudGuru. "Like many things, what is best for a client depends on their unique infrastructure … and business needs," he said.

These tools differ from AWS' offerings in that they come with additional features and benefits, such as the ability to work with other cloud providers, Hedden said. This may be appealing to some companies that want different types of cloud models. "Increasingly, firms are leveraging multiple cloud providers, so external tools allow them the potential of managing many providers from a single console," he said. "In the near future, you will see providers that make switching cloud providers so easy and painless that firms will switch providers every year, month, week or even day, based on the cost. IaaS [Infrasture as a Service] is a commodity; stickiness [has] much more to do with the pain of switching than the features, benefits or costs of each."

In the near future, you will see providers that make switching cloud providers so easy and painless that firms will switch providers every year, month, week or even day, based on the cost.
Terry HeddenCEO of CloudGuru

Cloudnexa, a managed services provider specializing in cloud deployments for AWS, also offers an AWS management tool to clients, vNOC, which augments the AWS console for automation and global management of all AWS environments, said CTO MJ DiBerardino. The company, a premier AWS partner, is also planning to release a limited free version to AWS users sometime soon.

In DiBerardino's experience, clients tend to have multiple AWS accounts, but if they are in the management console, they can view only one account and one region at a time, he said. "Our tool allows you to have a global view of all your AWS accounts in all your AWS regions." This comes in handy, since it can be "a big guess" for clients where their resources are, DiBerardino said.

The tool does not replace the AWS console, he added, it just makes it easier for clients to use AWS. Native AWS services, such as Elastic Beanstalk and CloudFormation, are accessible through vNOC, DiBerardino said.

Before Amazon had a management console -- and even after it had deployed one -- the open source community was involved in a project called Elastic Fox, used to spin up an EC2 instance without needing to use a command line or API, he said. Elastic Wolf -- a fork, or spinoff, of the Elastic Fox project -- DiBerardino said, was originally geared at the GovCloud Region, for government agencies to adopt clouds.

Since then, Amazon has released a management console specifically for GovCloud, and Elastic Wolf ended up moving in-house to AWS, which still manages it from an open source perspective, he said.

Echoing Hedden, Bostock said third-party AWS management tools tend to be very feature-oriented, while the native tools allow for limited functions. "In our world, we create the base infrastructure like an Amazon tool would, but then we take that further and build the servers and install the apps and create a whole local area network in the cloud." Third-party tools take a function and pick up where the native tools stop and hone in on a more granular process -- whether it be for a desktop server or disaster recovery -- and create workflow and automation around that, he said. "This is true of any third-party product because we're focused on one area we do really, really well versus cloud platforms that give you all the base parts and pieces you need to build a finished product."

DiBerardino said there are "tons of [third-party] tools focused on the cost aspect of your Amazon spend," for example. "At the end of the day, it's really up to the client to decide, 'Is this valuable to be paying extra for because Amazon provides costing tools?' They may not be as granular as another company's, but it's all what they feel is valuable at that time."

On the flip side, in the case of one very popular third-party management tool that works with different cloud providers, it "has really been falling to the side when it comes to Amazon, specifically," because all of the features it offers are now being offered by AWS, according to DiBerardino. It can be confusing to a client who is trying to move to AWS, but is looking at third-party AWS management tools that work on different cloud platforms, he said. They'll work, but they come with different approaches.

Next Steps

Learn how cloud management consoles ease cloud security management

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This was last published in October 2014

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Which AWS management tools are most valuable to your company's success?
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A few that I really like:

Cloudability (Cost management)
Loggly (Log Management)
PagerDuty (external Ops)
DataDog (Monitoring)
Evident.io (Security)
New Relic (App Monitoring)

We've had discussions with a number of these company's on our weekly podcast recently - http://thecloudcast.net
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Also, the NetFlix team has open-sourced a ton of tools they created to run their environment on AWS - http://netflix.github.io/
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