With enterprises opting for multi-cloud solutions, and fearing cloud vendor lock-in, cloud management platforms (CMPs) have become an increasingly lucrative market. In fact, it is also pretty crowded now, with over 20 players fighting for that top CMP spot.
Gartner has reported that the IaaS market grew by over 30% in 2016, resulting in a $22.6 billion market. The interesting part is that almost 50% of that revenue share was accounted for by players other than AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Alibaba. This validated that the market is increasingly looking to use cloud IaaS from an assortment of providers. Gartner also predicts the demand for CMP tools will grow by 6% compounded annually through 2021, as the market drifts into this multi-cloud adoption phase.
A bit about the problem space
The public cloud is a unique beast. It’s great for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) looking to get their software out the door quickly and cheaply. It’s also great for certain workloads that need to leverage machine learning constructs off the bat. It’s great for Netflix when they’re about to release the next season of House of Cards. But what it does present, on the flip-side, to enterprises that are not solely using one public cloud for all their needs, is operational complexity.
System administrators struggle when dealing with multiple different consoles controlling various infrastructure platforms that the business runs its workloads on. Cloud architects struggle with long migration tasks from one platform to another – think about what it would take to migrate all of your VMware virtual machines (VMs) to Azure Cloud in a non-disruptive way. Businesses struggle to find cloud architects and system admins who are specialized in operating on the various available platforms. What’s worse – the platforms themselves are continuously changing and evolving, so there is really no end to the operational complexity involved from a user-perspective.
The solution: A unified experience
Cloud management platforms, generally speaking, are overlay platforms that abstract away the complexities involved in setting up and managing enterprise infrastructure that spans over multiple cloud providers. There are several CMP offerings in the market today, each with their own value propositions and differentiators. One does get the feeling though, that multiple “good” CMP options are not going to survive in the long run, since that could potentially create an operational complexity of its own. So for now, our prediction is: for a specific class of CMP, the winner will take all.
Must-have traits of the ideal CMP
Since this race is open-ended, it seems important that product owners, both in the CMP-offering business as well as in the market, be strongly opinionated about what the ideal CMP should look like. What are some of the basic traits that the ideal CMP would come with, out of the box?
Unified control plane and UX
Multiple different management interfaces only add to the complexity of multi-cloud management. vSphere UI and APIs are very different from those of AWS and Azure. Having to learn how to interact with all of the various offerings is hard. CMPs can provide a unified interface and mode of interaction to their consumers, since, architecturally, they sit on top of the interfaces of the individual provider offerings.
Ease of deployment
Infrastructure deployment and configuration was, in the old days, a menial task for the system administrator. The sys-admin needs to deploy VMs, storage, and network infrastructure in accordance with the possibly changing needs of the business and of the application developers. Modern cloud platforms make it easy to deploy infrastructure, by automating most of the work and creating fewer decision points for the user to go through. The ideal CMP would also need to provide a seamless deployment experience, only across clouds.
Metering, monitoring, and cost analysis
As enterprises start running their workloads on diversified infrastructure, metering and monitoring is a task that becomes harder and harder. With edge devices being added to the mix, the “hosts” in your datacenter will be too large in number and too distributed for them to be monitored manually. Having a good insight into your cloud resources is crucial in being able to find a balance between optimizing for cost and meeting SLAs.
Policy-driven automation and governance
As private cloud technologies such as VMware vSphere continue to make policy-driven management easier for the system administrator, CMPs are expected to provide the same level of policy-based decision making capabilities to admins of a multi-cloud setup. The CMP would form the control plane, governing the multi-cloud infrastructure based on policies and rules set by the user. This is a big-ticket item, since the market is increasingly expecting all things cloud to be automated.
Cloud specific feature integration
Does the CMP allow me to use AWS Greengrass for my edge computing needs, while allowing me to manage my on-premises vSphere infrastructure? The very reason for the market adopting this multi-cloud usage pattern is that each cloud provider or cloud technology has a trade-off. Cost, unique features, and overall fit into the enterprise’s architecture all need to be carefully evaluated for each application that the enterprise is running. The ideal CMP should not only automate the menial steps in cloud management, but should also make it easy to leverage cloud-specific features when it is desired.
Migration and DR
Enterprises want the freedom to move from cloud to cloud. They want to be able to seamlessly migrate workloads from their current infrastructure to any preferred infrastructure offering, as the needs of the business change or as the offerings themselves change. Disaster recovery seems to be emerging as a big use-case of public clouds – a model in which hot data lives on-premises and is backed up regularly to a public cloud. The market will prefer a CMP that will make non-disruptive inter-cloud migration seamless and disaster recovery easy to set up and manage.
Cloud management platforms abstract away the details of the cloud or infrastructure provider, making it easier for SMBs and enterprises to configure, monitor, and manage their multi-cloud resources. This is becoming increasingly important, as businesses are rushing into multi-cloud setups, given diverse nature of offerings. In a future post, we’ll discuss the current state of affairs and make a prediction on who we think will win this race. Stay tuned!