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From Cloud Sprawl to Smart Cloud Growth
by Diane Mueller

Diane Mueller, February 05, 2013

As our cities grow bigger, urban sprawl affects our quality of life, creating pollution, impacting health, destroying farmland, and reducing wildlife habitat. Enterprises also feel the negative impacts of sprawl, and it is not just because employees face long commutes.

Easy access to cloud services and a strong impetus for a more user-controlled technology environment have created a new phenomenon called “cloud sprawl.” According to a recent InformationWeek article describing cloud sprawl, “lured by easy-to-install cloud applications, individual business departments are deploying their own clouds and causing chaos for CIOs.”

One commenter noted, “there is no such thing as cloud sprawl, only bad management.” Perhaps he is in denial mode, but I also think he has a point here. After all, urban planners combat urban sprawl with smart growth. With the right tools, I believe that IT managers also have the opportunity to manage cloud sprawl to their advantage.

The Era of Cloud Sprawl

If enterprises had just a dozen applications to manage, life would be easy for IT departments. Unfortunately, the modern enterprise is faced with a diaspora of applications. Mobile apps of every kind find their way into the hearts and iphones of the corporate fleet while numerous custom applications run periodically on continuously to meet specialized business needs. Some of these apps are zombies and really have no place in the enterprise. Yet they are kept alive.

In the past, enterprise applications ran on mainframes or server farms. With the advent of cloud technologies, these apps are fast migrating to the cloud, creating sprawl. Easy access to public cloud computing resources facilitates the resurgence of shadow IT projects. As developers increasingly use services such as AWS, Rackspace, Heroku, or Engine Yard, they create an infrastructure diaspora.

Taming Cloud Sprawl

With good cloud management and configuration tools, cloud sprawl should not be viewed a problem, but rather the outcome of a well-run IT cloud cost management program that takes advantage of low cost cloud computing resources without risking security, compliance or effectiveness. Under a smart cloud growth regime, organizations recognize that different clouds serve different purposes. Low cost public clouds and secure private clouds can live side by side in the enterprise.

For small businesses or start-ups focused on delivering a single SaaS offering, cloud sprawl may be minimal. IT deploys the application onto a single cloud provider’s infrastructure, uses the provider’s dashboard to monitor it, insert an alert system, and only deals with one set of cloud resources spread out over a few regions to minimize outage risks.

For a PaaS evangelist like myself, it is a different story. I manage multiple deployments of private Paas clusters on multiple clouds, and I had always thought my problems were unique. But after seeing the InformationWeek article and the success of appsecute’s Cloud Foundry-centric PaaS Management Dashboard offering, I realized I touched a nerve.

Smart Management with Private Paas

Solving the cloud sprawl equation takes a few steps. First, IT can easily manage the application diaspora with a polyglot private PaaS. Applications depend on a multitude of frameworks, services, web servers, and databases that defy ordinary standardization practices. A polyglot-friendly PaaS architecture is the only way to maintain control and oversight. Private PaaS ensures that all libraries, languages, frameworks, and other stack components are staged, deployed, and controlled in the cloud from a single pane of glass. IT can enforce business rules, administer cloud resource allocation, track usage, uncover zombies, and determine where application usage bottlenecks are occurring.

Second, private PaaS gives developers the power of code to cloud deployment, easy access to computing resources and to new technologies including buildpacks, services, databases, web frameworks, and git hooks. In turn the C-level management team gets access to the latest technology that ensures compliance and competitive advantage.

Third, it is important to keep in mind cloud portability. A PaaS that can run on any cloud will allow the enterprise to take advantage of the best offerings from cloud hosting infrastructure vendors. With a cloud infrastructure-agnostic private PaaS, applications can run on any cloud that an enterprise chooses according to specific requirements in terms of cost, availability, security, regulatory compliance, or redundancy.

Finally, with private PaaS, IT gains complete oversight of applications through an advanced managed console, system level monitoring tools such as nagios and zenoss, application monitoring tools such as loggly, papertrail, and newrelic, and multiple PaaS cluster management tools such as Appsecute and CloudAbility.

The right management tools make the transition from cloud sprawl to smart cloud growth easy and provide a competitive cost cutting advantage to enterprises. Making more efficient use of resources than IT can manage, PaaS is like building high-density skyscrapers to counteract urban sprawl.

To learn more about private PaaS at ActiveState, visit the ActiveState’s Stackato page

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Diane Mueller is a Cloud Evangelist at ActiveState. She has been designing & implementing financial applications at Fortune 500 corporations for over 20 years. Diane has been actively involved in development efforts of XBRL Open Standard (http://www.xbrl.org) since 1999.