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Cloud computing presents new challenges for management software

By , Network World
July 06, 2011 01:15 PM ET

Network World - The cloud is revolutionizing networking, and this overhaul presents enormous challenges for IT managers who are used to being able to see, monitor and control their networks and systems.

Network and systems management software has been heading in this general direction for years and is better positioned than you might think to take this next step - but there are several areas that require more work by the industry.

IN DEPTH: Guide to cloud management software

To understand the size of the problem, let’s take a look at what cloud computing is. There are many definitions, but at its heart, cloud computing is an abstraction of things that have not been abstracted before. Instead of having servers, software, applications and storage dedicated to certain tasks, all of that is abstracted to the user and even the IT manager.

Instead of being concerned about individual servers, the focus is on the services they provide – services like email or a sales application. Under the covers, resources (like servers, network devices, storage and operating systems) are shared for these services. Automation software can set up and tear down resources as needed – provisioning a virtual machine with an operating system and an application, for instance, and then tearing it down later. But the person using the service is unaware of the resources being used underneath, and they can be changing all the time.

There are two major divisions of cloud computing – public clouds and private clouds. In a private cloud, IT departments build their own clouds in their own data centers. They set up the automation, they provide all of the hardware and software to support the service, and they provide the abstraction through virtualization and automation techniques.

In a public cloud setup, a company uses an outside firm to provide the service. The most abstract type of public cloud is software-as-a-service (SaaS), where the software is hosted by the outside firm on an Internet site, and the client company usually accesses it through a Web browser. One step down in abstraction is platform-as-a-service (PaaS), where customers can create the applications to run on the platform, but all of the software and hardware is managed by the outside firm, and the applications are tied to the application platform provided. Another step down in abstraction and you get infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), where the hardware and the operating system are still managed by the provider, but the applications are completely determined by the client.

You can imagine how these developments could throw enterprise management software for a loop. Management software’s roots are in the physical world, providing visibility and control into all of the hardware and software components of a network. Now, that visibility is being deliberately taken away.

Past is prologue

Cloud computing, however, did not arise out of nothing, and management software vendors have not stood still for the past decade. Although management software still has much to do to keep up with the changes, two key developments have helped prepare management software for the cloud.

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