10 cloud management companies to watch

Managing the cloud is a tricky endeavor. Here are 10 tools and services that can help

As enterprise IT organizations consider how to approach the cloud - public, private, hybrid - there's no shortage of challenges to sort through.

As enterprise IT organizations consider how to approach the cloud -- public, private, hybrid -- there's no shortage of challenges to sort through.

The cost for on-demand instances needs tracking, and application performance needs monitoring. Capacity needs planning, and cloud-based websites need optimizing.

Cloud complexity

As IT managers grapple with these and other considerations, a slew of companies are offering up products aimed at easing the challenge of managing this new environment. Dennis Callaghan, a senior analyst with The 451 Group, says it best: "Every time you turn around, somebody has a new cloud management or IT management in the cloud offering to tell you about." Here's a sampling: (read our cloud companies to watch from 2010.)

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Alfabet

Headquarters: Cambridge, Mass.

What it offers: PlanningIT, an integrated IT planning and business IT management software suite.

How it works: PlanningIT is a suite of modules, each covering a specific aspect of architecture-based strategic IT planning. Application architecture, business demand management, enterprise architecture, program portfolio and value management modules are available, for example. All information and functionality is provided from a single interface.

How much it costs: Pricing depends on scope, breadth and type of user.

Why it's worth watching: IT organizations today are making decisions about cloud as a delivery model -- a far different scenario from 12 to 18 months ago when the cloud was more of an "end-around IT" for the business, says Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research at Nucleus Research. With this shift has come the recognition that traditional IT governance processes, including asset management, inventory, metering and service-level agreements (SLA), apply to the cloud. But as they go through their decision-making processes, many IT organizations are realizing how much they don't know about how they're managing applications and infrastructure internally, she adds. And that's where PlanningIT can help, because "whether in the cloud or on premises, it provides a central source of truth and knowledge about what's happening with the investments companies have made in IT," she says.

Apica

Headquarters: Palo Alto, Calif.

What it offers: Apica WebExcellence, a suite of load testing and performance monitoring tools for cloud applications.

How it works: Apica says it uses a four-part, cloud-based methodology to help ensure a website performs at its best. For load testing, it simulates real-world load conditions in a cloud-based test environment using scripts to define custom user scenarios aligned with performance and business goals. External cloud agents measure all browsers and geographical profiles, and Apica identifies capacity and load thresholds and pinpoints problem spots. Customizable performance monitoring provides constant awareness, from any browser and location and through SMS or email alerts, about uptime and response time. The suite also leverages tuning technology combined with static caching to increase Web throughput by up to 40 times current levels, and an overload function protects performance and systems during unexpected high-load scenarios. With the additional Apica ServerMonitor, IT organizations can compare performance data and integrate system data from behind the firewall with load test data.

How much it costs: Starting price for premium monitoring services is $80 per month. This allows customers the use of Selenium scripts, for open source testing, and monitoring from hundreds of global locations

Why it's worth watching: Apica opened its U.S. headquarters in June, [2011] but this Swedish company is no stranger to multinational enterprises seeking to strengthen performance across cloud infrastructures. The company has amassed a sizable portfolio of global customers, including TransGaming. This company recently reported using Apica LoadTest, part of the WebExcellence suite, to improve performance of a new cloud-based on-demand gaming service by more than 400% in a three-week load testing period. As Audrey Rasmussen, an analyst with Ptak Noel points out in a post-announcement blog, "Apica enters the U.S. with well-established services, experience, expertise, a critical mass of customers, and some partnerships. That sounds like a strong start to me. This could be a company to watch."

Embotics

Headquarters: Ottawa, Ontario

What is offers: V-Commander, private cloud management.

How it works: Embotics has taken an all-in-one approach with V-Commander, says Jason Cowie, vice president of product management at the company. In less than an hour, IT can install the software and be ready to use its self-service provisioning and service request management functions, as well as the service catalog and wizard-driven rapid provisioning capabilities.

How much it costs: Pricing starts at $399 per socket per year.

Why it's worth watching: As enterprise IT organizations move beyond the virtual data center and into full-fledged cloud infrastructure, they need their management tools to evolve with them. Embotics is doing just that. Its latest iteration, the 4.0 version, features enhanced self-service portal features and automation capabilities, as well as integrated IT cost visibility and chargeback and a slew of service request management functions. Such capabilities have made V-Commander critical to Aston University as it builds out its private cloud, says Steve Goodman, senior server engineer with the Birmingham, England, institution. The self-service portal has been particularly useful for Aston's tech-savvy users, while IT has benefited from the cost visibility, which eases the chargeback process, he says. And with the capacity management capabilities, Goodman adds, Aston has gotten a lot more intelligent about how and when to make infrastructure improvements.

Jamcracker

Headquarters: Santa Clara, Calif.

What it offers: Jamcracker Platform, cloud services delivery and life cycle management.

How it works: Using the Jamcracker Platform, enterprise IT can integrate user provisioning, administration and single sign-on functions for private or public infrastructure. Once that's completed, IT can provide users a catalog of services and then centrally and consistently manage provisioning, access, administration, security, audit and chargeback, the company says.

How much it costs: Jamcracker offers an on-premises licensing model, a hosted offering and a quick-start pilot program, for organizations that want to operate as cloud services brokerages.

Why it's worth watching: As enterprises pick a cloud services provider here and another there, and build up a private cloud or two, IT organizations face the challenge of "managing all this stuff," says Jeff Kaplan, managing director of ThinkStrategies. Increasingly, they'd like that management from a single dashboard, he adds. A variety of third parties, Jamcracker among them, has risen to the challenge of providing a central point of control for cloud services. Gartner says the number of such providers is limited today but will grow rapidly in the next few years. "Providers that are early to market have an opportunity to capitalize on the inherent complexities of proliferating cloud services adoption at the same time as they help companies more quickly and easily incorporate cloud computing into their IT portfolio," Gartner said in its "Cool Vendors in Cloud Services Brokerage, 2011" report.

Jitterbit

Headquarters: Oakland, Calif.

What it offers: Jitterbit 4.0, a data integration suite.

How it works: The Jitterbit platform, which comprises a scalable run-time engine and an integration app, is downloadable for use on Windows, Linux and Solaris servers. The run-time engine, called the Jitterbit Integration Server, orchestrates integration processes, receives and sends messages, connects to systems, records activities, and validates, cleanses and transforms data. Using the integration application, called Jitterbit Application, users can configure, test, deploy and manage Jitterbit integration projects. An organization can install Jitterbit Application on multiple user computers for collaborative integration work, the company says. Jitterbit is available in a Cloud version, for connecting data and applications residing in different clouds; a Professional version, for integrating between on-premises and cloud-based systems; and an Enterprise version, which features additional management capabilities

How much it costs: Pricing starts at $10,000 per year.

Why it's worth watching: The data integration challenge is among the most pressing for enterprises using multiple cloud service providers as well as looking to connect legacy and cloud systems, says Julie Smith David, director of the Center for Advancing Business through IT at Arizona State University. Jitterbit offers point-and-click integration for CRM applications, databases, ERP systems, major SaaS applications, project management applications and XML. "Integration is a hot topic, and Jitterbit is trying to fill the void," says ThinkStrategies' Kaplan.

Netuitive

Headquarters: Reston, Va.

What it offers: Netuitive, a predictive analytics platform for physical, virtual and cloud infrastructure.

How it works: A patented behavior-learning engine powers the company's predictive analytics platform. The engine continuously analyzes, correlates and normalizes thousands of simultaneous performance variables from dozens of enterprise sub-systems, and builds a behavior profile for each data stream that, the company says, reflects "the unique rhythms and trends of each performance metric — by the hour, month and season." Monitoring the contextual relationships between each performance metric, Netuitive applies real-time analysis and correlation to identify statistically significant anomalies and deliver actionable intelligence via alerts and to dashboards.

How much it costs: Undisclosed.

Why it's worth watching: Netuitive has been beating the predictive IT analytics drum for a number of years. Now as IT gets more cloud friendly and Netuitive's platform more cloud-capable, the company is gaining big notice. Dell, for instance, recently integrated the company's predictive IT technology into its Virtual Integrated System architecture for cloud management and Morgan Stanley awarded Netuitive its prestigious IT Innovation Award for 2011. In the latter case, Netuitive gained recognition for its role in a massive private cloud -- 130,000 virtual machines -- build-out. The growing interest in Netuitive signals that behavioral analysis is the next major innovation for infrastructure and cloud management, says Rob Illsley, an Ovum analyst, in a recent column.

New Relic

Headquarters: San Francisco

What it offers: Application performance management SaaS, with real user monitoring (RUM).

How it works: Small, lightweight agents on production servers send data about an application's activity to New Relic's data center for instantaneous processing by analytics and reporting engines. From the New Relic Web application dashboard, IT can customize views, drill into slow transactions and get immediate insight from the end user's behavior down to the line of code, the company says. New Relic handles performance monitoring for Java, .Net, PHP, Python and Ruby Web applications.

How much it costs: Annual pricing for the standard, professional and business additions are $24, $149 and $119 per month per server, respectively. A Lite version is available for free download, and the RUM capability is included in all editions at no extra cost; users need simply upgrade their agents to the latest release

Why it's worth watching: Assuring end users have a great application experience, no matter that the backend servers run in complex, highly dynamic cloud environments, can be a heavy burden for modern IT operations. But if you are running applications across a cloud infrastructure, using a cloud-based performance management service can help, says 451 Group's Callaghan. "Ultimately the model of monitoring what's running in the cloud with what is itself running in the cloud is going to be easier, more effective and more cost effective," he says. "When you require more resources based on performance, you can detect that and automate the provisioning of new resources and respond." The SaaS model has worked well for IGN Entertainment, the pre-eminent gaming site for guys, says David Ting, vice president of engineering at the San Francisco company. Using New Relic has enabled the company to diagnosis and solve problems in record time. As Ting says in this case study, with New Relic, "we're a lot more agile than ever before." New Relic, Callaghan says, "has cornered the application performance management SaaS market."

Opscode

Headquarters: Seattle

What it offers: Opscode Chef, an open source systems integration framework; Opscode Private Chef, an on-premises cloud infrastructure automation hardware appliance; Opscode Hosted Chef, cloud infrastructure automation software delivered as a service.

How it works: A Ruby on Rails-based server provisioning tool, Opscode Chef allows infrastructure management via code. It relies on reusable, shareable Recipes and Cookbooks for describing and integrating infrastructure components behind the enterprise firewall or within the hosted Opscode cloud for accelerated deployment and configuration management and ready scalability.

How much it costs: Hosted Chef monthly pricing starts at $5 per managed server for 20 servers and scales up to $10 per server for 1,000 managed servers; custom pricing kicks in when the number of servers exceeds 1,000. Private Chef pricing starts at $80,000; pricing for managed Private Chef includes a one-time deployment fee, an annually recurring service contract fee for maintenance and an annually recurring technical support fee

Why it's worth watching: With application developers gravitating toward quick-and-easy cloud resources, IT organizations are adapting by building out internal cloud resources that will let them be as nimble as Amazon with its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2). Opscode has a great value proposition for such IT operations, says Rachel Chalmers, an analyst with The 451 Group. "It has multitenancy and agility in its DNA, is responsive and lives and breathes DevOps so is already talking to and has the loyalty of the developers who hold the keys to the kingdom," she says. Opscode can either host a solution or provide an appliance that lets IT operations get to rapid-scale provisioning. "All it does is rapidly spin up and document what it's done so IT ends up with a set of Recipes and can participate in the community, sharing Recipes and best practices," she adds. Chalmers says she's quite bullish on Opsware, as well as a competitive approach from Puppet Labs, which has a Ruby on Rails reimplementation of cfengine. "Both have loyal followings and each is slightly better at slightly different things."

Enterprise Cloud Services series archive

Strangeloop Networks

Headquarters: Vancouver, B.C.

What it offers: Strangeloop Site Optimizer, software delivered via the cloud and providing scalable, on-demand optimization for cloud-based websites; also available as a hardware network device or virtual appliance.

How it works: Strangeloop Site Optimizer is an expert system that learns the resource usage patterns of a site and dynamically applies best practice coding techniques by rewriting pages, without requiring any source code modifications. It analyzes usage patterns and page content, and develops a dynamic repository of rules and cached resources. This technology can reduce the number of round trips required to render Web page content, execute client-side code in the most efficient order, preload resources that are likely to be needed for future requests, and tailor behavior to exploit the capabilities of the user's browser, the company says.

How much it costs: Undisclosed.

Why it's worth watching: IT organizations that want to run their Web operations from cloud infrastructure aren't necessarily going to have the resources to devote to fine-tuning performance. Yet, they know that optimizing the site can help improve customer response time. Such was the case at Artbeads.com, an Internet-based bead and jewelry supplier, says Michael Hervieux, COO at the Gig Harbor, Wash., company. "We recognized our site could use optimization and speed boosting, but felt the cost to achieve that wasn't justifiable given our sales and revenue," he says. But with the SaaS model, site optimization became worth pursuing, Hervieux says. Artbeads.com conducted a trial of Strangeloop Site Optimizer on half its visitors and found that revenue per visitor and revenue per visit each jumped 8% for visitors who enjoyed the accelerated site experience. Now Artbeads.com runs all traffic through the Site Optimizer, he says.

Uptime Software

Headquarters: Toronto

What it offers: UptimeCloud, cloud cost and capacity management SaaS.

How it works: Once an IT organization signs up for the service through the UptimeCloud portal, Uptime begins monitoring its cloud infrastructure. Initially available for cloud infrastructure from Amazon Web Services (AWS), UptimeCloud talks to the AWS open API, capturing pricing information in real time and feeding it into its rating and pricing engine, says Uptime CTO Alex Bewley. Uptime also applies historical data collection, trending and prediction functions.

How much it costs: Undisclosed at the time of this writing, but Uptime executives say they plan on charging a monthly fee.

Why it's worth watching: For many IT organizations, the cloud decision can be fraught with paralyzing uncertainties regarding the monthly infrastructure bill. Uptime aims to eliminate the mystery by providing visibility into how much cloud computing costs in real time, across applications, services, line of business, user location and instance. Uptime's ability to correlate the performance of a cloud workload with how much it's costing an organization is pretty innovative, says 451 Group's Callaghan. "This whole concept of ERP for IT is really going to take off."

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