Monday, 21st September 2020

Managing multiple cloud providers from a single pane of glass

By Richard Blanford, managing director, Fordway.

For most organisations moving services to cloud, the optimum solution for the next few years will be hybrid. Their IT services will be provisioned through a combination of in-house, third party and cloud services chosen based on cost, SLAs and whether the organisation has the in-house skills to manage a particular service.

Organisations then face the challenge of how best to manage this portfolio and monitor performance against the agreed SLAs to ensure their users receive the contracted service. The skills needed are much more service orientated than technically driven.IT teams need to be fully conversant with service level management, strong in IT contract negotiation and development and have a good understanding of risk and their organisation’s appetite for risk. They also have to consider inter-supplier relationships, supplier dependencies (on each other as well as the organisation’s dependence on them), inter-supplier SLAs and back-to-back SLA management.

Encourage supplier partnerships

Step one in managing multiple cloud providers is to clarify the objectives for each cloud service. Why are you moving a particular service to cloud? What are the measurable indicators of success? How will this model complement your business strategy and goals?

Step two is to decide on a strategic procurement strategy. In other words, organisations need to consider whether to form a long term or short term partnership with each chosen provider, and to find ways to ensure suppliers commit to a partnership approach with each other. There are risks in ownership of issues where there are indeterminate indicators of where responsibility lies, which can lead to a blame culture between suppliers.

The business needs to challenge its suppliers to work closely together, implement efficiencies and nurture a culture of continual improvement where the expectation is that it will happen and that each and every supplier will participate in the process.

We recommend a service management approach: either a light touch which allows the suppliers to deliver the contracted services while the organisation concentrates on the business improvements, or a more structured approach to ensure supplier management at a more granular level. With the latter, we recommend developing an operational agreement whereby suppliers commit to a code of conduct designed to remove any barriers to effective relationships and interworking and which operates alongside SLAs across the service supply chain. This provides a framework which helps suppliers to work together and removes any gaps or overlaps between contracted boundaries of responsibility, with mechanisms to resolve disputes in a collaborative and effective manner. It can be formalised in a Customer Service Charter.

Managing from a single pane of glass

Having set up contractual relationships with your suppliers, you then need to monitor their performance. You will want to know:

•how well are my providers performing against contractually agreed SLAs?

•if they are not performing, where is the problem? This is particularly important in a multi-provider scenario

•is the aggregated service delivering the required performance to our user community?

This is leading to a growth in new services (Cloud Monitoring as a Service, or CMaaS) to monitor the performance of multiple suppliers, all of whom will claim ‘it’s not their fault” when a problem arises. These services aim to provide organisations with full visibility of how well both each individual provider and the overall IT service are performing.

An effective monitoring service needs to pull together service availability and other performance information from a wide range of sources and suppliers. It should have the ability to carry out synthetic transactions against defined services and applications, show overall system health, and monitor response times and latency. It should also consolidate events and other performance statistics across the multiple suppliers that comprise your IT service supply chain.

The challenge is to obtain all the required back-end data from the various systems. Some APIs can be queried directly, such as AWS’s Elastic Beanstalk PaaS and Amazon’s CloudWatch services.There are also cloud management tools that already do this querying for you. For example, they can take CloudWatch data and use an AWS integration tool based on Microsoft Systems Centre to integrate that data with its own toolset. The same can be done for other public cloud services such as Azure, Office 365, Service Now and Salesforce. Services such as Fordway’s Cloud Monitoring as a Service (CMaaS) can also be used to monitor traditional in-house environments, plus hosted and private cloud services where agents can be deployed or gateways installed into the monitored environment. For public sector organisations, this can include PSN specific instances with OFFICIAL separations.

How single pane monitoring works

A monitoring service provides an overview of performance and enables an organisation to drill down into each of the elements to identify where an issue resides and the potential causes of any issues. For example, in the Fordway solution all information is built up into customised service views which are presented in a portal customised to each customer.The primary view is a high-level overview of the defined service, showing system status against agreed parameters such as SLA, presented in a simple RAG (red, amber, green) basis. Network monitoring is also provided and the results integrated into event correlation, then displayed on custom HTML5 dashboards which offer policy-based SLA measurement.

From here, customers can drill down into each of the elements, allowing more in-depth information to be presented. This enables them to identify exactly where an issue resides and the potential causes of performance issues.Where it is possible to do so, the system can interface directly with operational management tools in order to undertake detailed troubleshooting and problem analysis.

The advantages of a single pane of glass solution are:

·A unified view for multi-source IT supply chains

·SLA adherence and compliance instantly visible

·Flexibility - as suppliers change, service monitoring can be moved to the new suppliers and the overall services views maintained

·Supplier independent performance reporting – the organisation is not solely reliant on the information its suppliers provide

·Drill down capability for troubleshooting and problem resolution

·Works across all technologies, vendors and operating systems

·The ability to create and forward events to create and manage incidents into a large variety of ITSM applications.

Integrated cloud management

Management might on first thought be perceived as something that is not required for cloud services, as they are all designed to be commodity services, primarily with user self-service through web portals. However, most organisations prefer, and in many cases need, a human voice and face plus organisation specific information from their services – particularly in a hybrid cloud environment, and for organisations that require a true Service Integration and Management (SIAM) capability.

Thus we are seeing the introduction of cloud management services which provide service integration, management and monitoring for all cloud services contracted by an organisation. They offer major incident and problem management, with escalation to third parties if required, and may also include asset management of devices and infrastructure.

The features to look for in a third party cloud management service include:

•customisable services and reporting

•cross supplier service consolidation and reporting against defined service levels

•independent review and reporting on third party supplier performance

•service on-boarding and service management for multiple partners

•ability to work with other organisations e.g. network providers for WAN links

•24 x 7 monitoring and support.

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