Cloud Computing: Tools Give IT Direct Access

Talk to IT leaders about cloud computing and two big worries come through loud and clear: security and management. As noted by many respondents to CIO's recent survey of IT leaders on cloud computing, IT departments fear losing too much control over their data and application service levels. Sounds a lot like IT's concerns during the early days of virtualization, doesn't it?

"It's almost a repeat of what we saw with virtualization," says Javier Soltero, CEO of Hyperic, one of the early entrants in the race to help IT groups manage data and applications residing in the cloud. "Companies are looking for the right on-ramps. Until there are robust management tools, it's going to stay the land of experimentation."

As IT groups working with virtualization know, the past two years have spawned an ever-increasing number of startup vendors pitching virtualization management tools. It's unclear yet whether the same phenomenon will happen around cloud computing, analysts say. RightScale, one of Hyperic's early rivals, also offers monitoring and management tools for Amazon EC2.

Hyperic aims its tools at companies managing highly-dynamic environments that utilize virtualization, cloud computing, or both; its 400 or so current cutomers include SaaS and technology providers (such as Rackspace), media companies (such as CNet) and financial institutions, Soltero says.

Such companies have been early movers on virtualization and cloud because the economics of their businesses demand it. At the same time, these companies must ensure that application performance to users and customers does not suffer, clouds or no clouds.

Hyperic's latest offering, Hyperic HQ 4.0, being released today, aims to help IT manage application performance in internal data centers or in cloud services. The tool allows a company that wants to use Amazon's EC2 cloud services, for example, have a detailed window into how its apps are running in Amazon's cloud.

Customers using the Hyperic tools can look at every layer of the equation, say a Web server, database, OS and end-user application. Data is sent back to a central dashboard where IT can examine it alongside other performance measures, Soltero says.

This kind of transparency is important for security and capacity planning as enterprises begin to move into the cloud, especially in instances where they want to "burst up" and tap into the cloud only at times of peak need.

But shouldn't Amazon already offer this kind of service directly to its customers? Enterprises must think of Amazon as the utility company, Soltero contends. Asking Amazon to track performance issues like this would be like expecting your local electric company to diagnose what was wrong with your clothes washer or dryer at home, he says.

Hyperic's technology draws on lessons learned from the four-year-old company's roots, automating management of highly virtualized datacenters, Soltero says.

Part of the 4.0 release will be available as a fully configured system on Amazon's Web Services; an Amazon Machine Image preconfigured for Amazon's elastic Block Storage will be available later this month. This new offering will be available with a low initiation fee and a pay-as-you-consume pricing model, according to Hyperic. This is the first such enterprise-level cloud management offering customers can deploy and pay for directly via Amazon Web Services, according to Hyperic.

For those interested in learning more about managing performance of cloud services, Hyperic's free site CloudStatus offers insight into how Amazon and Google's cloud offerings are running at any time. "People need to have a strong assurance that the platform is stable and reliable," Soltero says. "We wanted to shine a bright light on the performance of these services."

In the future, Soltero says, look for Hyperic to deliver more IT management information that's subscription-based on top of that free data, Soltero says.

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