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Cloud Expo: Article

Avoiding the Hidden Costs That Derail Cloud Projects

The Challenge: Making Your Private Cloud Fit Your IT Infrastructure Puzzle

Most companies that have embarked on a private cloud journey find themselves in one of two unfortunate positions: they've already spent much more than they had planned or they're struggling with how to make sure costs don't get out of hand. These are typically companies with sophisticated IT organizations - organizations that ask tough questions and put detailed plans in place. For example, an international bank spent millions of dollars and six months of professional services time before scrapping their existing cloud project and restarting it with a completely new approach and toolset.

The Challenge: Making Your Private Cloud Fit Your IT Infrastructure Puzzle
Cloud automation vendors make deploying a private cloud sound easy. If you take their basic out-of-the-box capability, the good ones will probably take you anywhere from a few hours to a few days to get a simple self-service private cloud working. While that may make a nice proof-of-concept demo, will that actually meet the needs of how you manage your infrastructure or will you need to replace prior technology and best practice investments to make your cloud work?

Cloud management is not a standalone entity. For your cloud to be successful, it needs to integrate and work with your existing management infrastructure and best practices. As you evaluate cloud management platforms, you need to assess how each tool works with your current and future management ecosystem. Your cloud management choice will not only impact prior investments, it can also limit your future choices. In order to avoid some of the hidden private cloud costs, evaluate how cloud management options will fit with your existing IT ecosystem.

  • Deployment Technologies
    Does your cloud management plaform work with the current technologies used to deploy your infrastructure? This includes both the private resources in your data centers and public cloud resources. Does it support the operating system, server virtualization tools, and desktop technologies being used today as well as the ones you may want to use in the future?
  • Management Infrastructure
    Typically, the delivery of a private cloud service requires a work order ticket to be generated, an internal database accessed, and that specific tools be used to deploy software, monitor the environment and take corrective action. How easily does your cloud management platform work with your current management tools and processess? Will you need to replace these tools or pay for extensive customization to make your cloud management solution work?
  • Best Practices
    As part of continuous process improvement, companies should always be looking to streamline and improve their processess. Deploying a private cloud is a large paradigm shift and some process changes will likely be needed to facilitate end-to-end automation. However, your cloud management software should not force changes on you that don't make sense within the guidelines established for your company. Remember that substantial changes required by the vendor are likely to be costly in terms of time and effort, if not also technology.
  • Custom Self-Service Portal
    All cloud management products provide some level of self-service capabilities. An out-of-the-box self-service portal simplifies initial deployment. However, what if your company already has a self-service portal or existing work order ticketing system? The last thing you will need is yet another portal. How easily can your existing portal be integrated with your cloud management services and will you need to spend time and money reproducing all the security in the custom portal?

Cloud Management Extensibility
Extensibility is also a critical factor in private cloud costs. Wikipedia defines extensibility as: "In systems architecture, extensibility means the system is designed to include hooks and mechanisms for expanding and enhancing the capabilities without having to make major changes to the system infrastructure." Often this means making modifications at runtime without requiring changes to the original source code.

Most cloud automation products will only automate a portion of your provisioning, ongoing management, or decommissioning processes. Therefore, an extensible architecture, combined with multi-vendor support, are fundamental components of cloud management platforms as they're needed to facilitate integration with the current IT infrastructure and management ecosystem.

With regard to extensibility, cloud management software products typically fall into one of the following two categories:

  • Prescriptive Tools
    Many cloud management solutions were built for a specific problem, like lab management, and have prescribed processes, limited interoperability, and lack the extensibility features needed to adapt to more broad-scale deployment requirements.

Any tool that requires drastic changes to existing management tools, infrastructure components, or operational processes will result in additional capital costs required to replace existing technology as well as additional investment in people who can use this new technology and processes.

The other challenge is that your company will likely be unable to achieve the savings you have envisioned because the automation solution will not meet the needs of the various business units. These business groups will either stay with their current manual process, reducing the percentage of your infrastructure that can be moved to an on-demand cloud, or they will implement a different cloud solution that does not provide your company with the operational scalability and savings you could have had with a single integrated solution.

  • Automation Toolkits
    Some vendors provide very basic cloud management capabilities and augment their cloud management offering by providing separate run book toolkits or "orchestration" products. This option allows companies to completely customize their cloud solution. However, there are multiple hidden costs associated with this implementation choice:

Initial services costs outweigh the software costs
These solutions tend to require lengthy and expensive custom services projects where services typically cost three times as much as the software.

Customized solutions are not easily extended to other business
In addition to the higher upfront costs, cloud automation solutions built with an automation toolkit tend to be built specifically for the needs of a single business. When companies try and expand the use of the highly customized solutions, they either have further customization costs or suffer from limited adoption across the enterprise.

Customized solutions make upgrades to newer release difficult
Many customizations strand the implementation at a specific release, making upgrades to newer versions difficult and costly.

Mitigating Private Cloud's Hidden Costs
Hopefully you now have a better understanding of some of the hidden cloud deployment costs and how your automation choice can not only affect costs but also impact your actual savings. It's important that you can adapt and expand automation with tools targeted at both IT operations as well as developers. In order to enable the quickest time-to-cloud value, companies should consider the following capabilities when evaluating cloud management platform software:

  • Comprehensive out-of-the-box functionality
    First and foremost, you will want a cloud management solution with a comprehensive set of out-of-the-box cloud management features. Many vendors only focus on initial provisioning capabilities. Make sure your cloud management platform automates the complete life cycle including ongoing management, resource reclamation, and decommissioning including archiving. The more features available out-of-the-box, the less need for costly custom services to extend the product's core functionality.
  • Broad multi-vendor support
    When evaluating cloud management options, make sure that the tool you choose can orchestrate end-to-end delivery across all the technology and management components that make up your implementation. Most vendors only support components from their own offerings. Unless you're a single-vendor shop, that means you may need to discard your prior investments and be locked into that vendor's technology in the future. Multi-vendor support includes technologies used in your private cloud as well as public cloud resources.
  • Policy enabled extensibility
    How extensible is your cloud management platform by just changing configuration parameters? Can you select different provisioning workflows, collect custom data, define resource limits and service levels, or create custom approvals or reclamation workflows? These are just a few of the many customizations you should be able to make via policies. The more you can customize your cloud deployment via policies, the quicker and more cost-effectively you will be able to deploy a private cloud infrastructure that meets company's specific needs.
  • Business-aware governance
    Being able to modify the behavior of your cloud via policies is important, but just as important is the granularity of the policies that can be configured. They must be granular enough to allow different business groups to have different services that are built and constructed using different processes, resources and service levels. For example, the way you provision and manage IT resources can be quite different for dev/test vs. production vs. desktops. Business-aware governance and control is fundamental to meeting the unique needs of each business and driving broader cross-group adoption of cloud services.
  • Modify out-of-the-box automation
    Can you easily add tasks or call scripts at various states in the machine's life cycle? Is there a visual workflow editing tool and a library of predefined activities that simplify the customization process? For example: How easily can you add a self-service command to perform a specific function, access/retrieve information from a custom DB as part of the provisioning process, or execute a script to customize a machine configuration? Are you modifying the workflows that ship with the product or is this a separate run book automation or "orchestration" tool that you need to bolt onto the cloud management tool?
  • Automate additional tasks
    Can the cloud automation platform be used to automate additional tasks that go well beyond simple modifications to out-of-the-box processes? For example, one company extended the process used to provision new desktops to also automate the process of onboarding new employees. If you need this level of extensibility, one factor that should be considered is the availability of developers with this skill set. Automation tools based on de facto standards like Visual Studio and .NET will be much easier to find developers for than a vendor-specific automation tool.

Implementing and managing a private or hybrid cloud doesn't have to be so expensive. Make sure you're armed with the knowledge needed to fully evaluate your cloud vendor's offerings for potential hidden costs. Otherwise your business may find itself putting cloud projects on hold or having to justify a much-increased budget.

More Stories By Rich Bourdeau

Rich Bourdeau is VP of Marketing at DynamicOps. He has over 20 years of experience in developing, managing and marketing IT infrastructure management solutions for enterprises. Rich has spent the last four years at DynamicOps helping companies deploy and manage their private cloud infrastructures. He is a regular contributor to the DynamicOps blog and has authored papers on Must Have Cloud Management Capabilities as well as Building the Business Case for Private Cloud. Rich can be reached at [email protected] if you want to learn more about cloud management.

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