Article Cloud Management Portals(Publicatie)

Control rooms for the latest developments in IT In this article, Fred Teunissen (trade journal ICT Magazine), explains the importance op Cloud Management Portals, of which SURF's SURFcumulus service is an example.

24 APR 2017

Many IT departments do not have enough control over the cloud solutions that their employees have been using in recent years – often on their own initiative. Cloud Management Platforms offer a solution to this issue. SURFnet has set up a platform of this type for the education and research sector. Meanwhile, Cloudscanner has developed a Cloud Management Platform-as-a-Service.

Why should every connected institution reinvent the IT wheel?

Collaboration is a much smarter and more economical move. This, in a nutshell, is the basic philosophy of SURF, the collaborative ICT organisation for education and research in the Netherlands. SURF consists of three operating companies: SURFmarket, SURFnet and SURFsara. SURFmarket is the IT procurement organisation, which deals with licensing and contracts. SURFnet supplies the network with all of the IT services that run on it, while SURFsara focuses on supercomputing and fundamental research. More than 160 research universities, universities of applied sciences, university medical centres, research institutions and vocational education institutions are connected to SURFnet's network, which has an impressive 1,000,000 users in total. "The institutions connected to our network are increasingly focusing on the cloud," says Michel Wets, product manager cloud services at SURFnet. "We are seeing a definite move towards a multicloud strategy, with countless applications and services from a range of providers that are able to be purchased on demand. There is no doubt that institutions are moving in this direction – albeit at different speeds – and are therefore moving away from managing their own on-site IT resources. Our job is to help the institutions in this process and to develop suitable shared services that meet their requirements." Wets cites the example of Inholland, University of Applied Sciences, which will relinquish its own data centre at the end of the first quarter of 2017. From this point on, it will purchase its Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) resources exclusively from the SURF cloud.

A wide range of services

Over the course of 2014, six of the affiliated institutions made it clear that they were keen to be able to purchase IaaS resources from the cloud as a prelude to PaaS and SaaS services. It was determined that if a high-quality service was to be provided, a cloud management portal (CMP) that could run within SURF's hybrid IaaS cloud service structure (SURFcumulus) would be required.

Key requirements:

  1. guaranteeing compliance, privacy and security
  2. a good exit strategy
  3. a single sign-on.

SURFnet did some research and reached the conclusion that none of the CMPs in public cloud environments met all of the requirements and desires. "Not at the moment, at least," clarifies Wets. One of the main issues relating to major providers with US data centres appeared to be the required privacy guarantees. This is why CloudBolt was selected. It is a CMP that can also be hosted on the premises, i.e. in its own private cloud. This was in May 2016. After this, things moved quickly. By July 2016 the CMP was operational. Initially, it included SURFnet's VMware cloud services only. However, the services of KPN and Vancis have recently been added, and these will shortly be followed by those of Microsoft and Amazon, and thereafter by the services of four other providers, all of which were recruited through a European call for tenders: Dimension Data, CloudSigma, NTT Europe and Interoute Communications. This will enable the provision of a wide range of services that can be compared with one other in the CMP and purchased on demand from this interface.

Simplicity and overview

When asked about the advantages and disadvantages of the platform at the present time, Wets has the following to say: "One of the main benefits of this platform is the simplicity with which managers can create resources and assign rights. This is in addition to the fact that it offers an overview of all of the providers, thereby giving you the chance to make comparisons. This also makes the costs transparent and easier to manage. A potential disadvantage is that the connections to providers' services are based on APIs, so it may take a while for new developments to be incorporated into CloudBolt's releases." One of the main requests by the institutions was to have access to more financial functions and, in particular, the ability to set limits (in the case of provider X, a maximum of Y can be spent) and the issuing of an alert if a limit has almost been reached. "The institutions want to be able to budget precisely by means of assigning a budget to each lecturer and then dividing it again at student level, for example. This would enable it to be used as part of the curriculum." In principle, the new portal is a three-year solution," says Wets. "After that we will review the options. The market for CMPs is still in its infancy. But things will change. And we will be there every step of the way. We are keeping a close eye on developments."

Window and marketplace

"Many of the existing CMPs are tailored to the product of a specific cloud provider," says initiator and business developer Marcel Suërs from the startup Cloudscanner. "They do not offer any links to other providers." Cloudscanner is keen to change this and is positioning itself as the first independent cloud asset management platform in the Netherlands. The platform was launched on 7 October 2016. By mid-November 2016, it was already hosting 25,000 cloud services from thirty different providers, meaning that it is already well on the way to achieving its objective of being a non-provider-dependent portal. Cloudscanner offers a window on all these services and is therefore also a marketplace. The right-hand side of the application screen shows an overview of the available services. This allows you to select a service according to price and relevance. You specify the resources on the left-hand side: the amount of processor core capacity, storage and bandwidth. You can see the costs involved immediately. The resulting contracts that are signed are also managed and monitored here. Anyone who registers with Cloudscanner undergoes an initial intake process, explains Suërs. "Sometimes advice on a cloud strategy, method of migration, compliance, risk management, etc. is required first of all. We do not provide this service ourselves. In such cases we refer the client to OutsourceHub, an independent marketplace of more than a thousand organisations that offer consultancy services.

Interface on the cloud

If the client actually wants to attract and manage cloud assets, a project is created. Human resources are linked to the project, and roles and user rights are defined. Cloudscanner then identifies which cloud assets are required based on the different perspectives. This involves the use of procurement and compliance templates. All it takes after that is some fine-tuning and then you have your own interface, with a front-end to manage the back-end and the aforementioned 25,000 services. Cloudscanner's business model is based on subscriptions, plus a fee based on the amount billed for the services provided by the platform. This fee is included in the price of the services. The price for the use of the platform itself varies from 99 per month for simple installation to a maximum of 399 per month for a more complex installation process.

Cloudscanner is also a certified cloud service partner for IBM Cloud and Microsoft Azure. Does this mean that these two providers have priority over other providers? "No," replies Suërs. "They simply form part of the overall service portfolio. We believe in a fair cloud"

Eight CMPs compared

Choosing the right CMP can be difficult due to the fact that none of the dozens of providers has a dominant market position. This makes for uncertainty in terms of continuity. As a result, the inclination is to give preference to the CMP of an established provider with a good reputation. Equally however, it also means that opportunities for innovation or cost savings can be missed. IT service providers SIG and Weolcan have made the choice slightly easier by preselecting the products of eight providers: RightScale, ServiceNow, VMware, Scalr, CloudBolt, Redllat, IBM and BMC. They used existing research by Gartner and Forrester as the basis for this selection. These eight platforms are compared according to fourteen functional components and seventy performance indicators. The result is a brief summary of their strengths and weaknesses. The report is available on Weolcan's website, as is a management brief with notes.

This article was published (in Dutch) in the trade journal ICT Magazine

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Latest modifications 24 Apr 2017