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Staying ahead of cloud complexity

Tools and techniques to help with the heavy lifting

By , Network World
August 08, 2011 12:06 AM ET

Network World - Managing cloud infrastructure and services is similar to traditional network management - only bigger, badder and more complex.

Where once you had to deal with maybe one or two strategic outsourcers, in the cloud world you're more likely contending with a dozen or more cloud service providers, be they software-as-a-service or infrastructure.

Read the other three parts to the Enterprise Cloud Services series.

Where application workloads once moved over private links inside your data center, now they're flitting across the Internet.

Where server and storage capacity once fell to IT exclusively, now anybody can grab the resources they need, as quickly as they can pull up and fill out a Web form and enter credit card numbers.

So how are enterprise IT managers supposed to handle the supersized management challenges the cloud throws their way? Here's some advice for managing the cloud.

Have consistent data models

Sounds simple, but don't be fooled, says Beth Cohen, senior architect and consultant at Cloud Technology Partners, a cloud consulting firm.

Most companies have standard terminology in data records and databases to which cloud applications should adhere. This can be as basic as storing data with a standard ID number and using the same naming convention across CRM instances.

This is easy enough to control when IT is guiding the purchasing and the deployment, but what happens when the marketing department turns to for its CRM needs, as does sales, but in a different project?

Business people bringing in applications via the SaaS model aren't necessarily going to be thinking on that level. And IT has got to get out in front of this issue, Cohen says.

"As long as the data models match when you want to orchestrate with other applications, either elsewhere in the cloud or internal to the enterprise, the integration process will be that much easier. And note, that is 'when' you want to do this, not 'if,' because this will be happening," Cohen says.

Integration, she adds, is a real struggle point. "It's not unsolvable; it's a technology problem. But IT had to be aware of it."

Plan for data integration

With integration of one sort or another all but inevitable as enterprise cloud use evolves, the smart IT department should be taking a lead on qualifying cloud providers with this tricky management issue in mind, Cohen says.

That could prove challenging, she says. "Most vendors haven't been too proactive about the integration piece. They're vertically focused and mostly concerned only about delivering their service and not about integrating with the 10 or 100 other applications a particular company might have."

At the American Hospital Association, in Chicago, no SaaS provider gets by IT's scrutiny - and IT does due diligence on all potential cloud service providers - without meeting a set of integration-related checklist items, says Karthik Chakkarapani, IT director, Technology Solutions & Operations.

Knowing how a potential provider will integrate with current and future SaaS applications, how it will work with the organization's hybrid cloud-based single sign-on (SSO) environment and how it provides database access are imperative, he says.

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