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by Rich Bourdeau
In prior blog posts we discussed the challenges of building your own “as a service” cloud Fast and Flexible Cloud Automationframework, getting stuck with a prescriptive inflexible solution, and the opposite end of the spectrum, a solution that is so flexible that you basically have to assemble it yourself.   After six plus years in the cloud automation business I can safely assert that unless you have very simple needs, you will not likely find a cloud automation solution that matches 100% of your needs.  The reason is every business is a somewhat unique. They have their own infrastructure, tools and best practices.  Even in the same company often different groups have very different ways of doing things.

While you probably want to standardize and automate your process, you likely don’t want to be forced standardize them the way someone else thinks you should do business.  In order to deploy an on-demand cloud infrastructure which delivers business relevant cloud services, your goal should be to find a cloud automation solution that provides a balance between fast and flexible.

Here are capabilities you should look for to achieve an appropriate balance between function and flexibility:

Comprehensive Cloud Automation FunctionalityGeneric Cloud Automation SW
The quickest way to automate the delivery of cloud services is to find a solution that meets most of your needs with off the shelf functionality.  You will want to find software that is purpose built for the job.  Even though your vision may go well beyond the products current capabilities, limit your initial deployment to just standard product features.   This will give you a give you a better idea of how easily your cloud automation solution can be deployed and which features are standard and which require customization.  If you have the appropriate prerequisites in place your initial deployment should take no more than a couple of days.  Most  implementation should be provisioning resources by the end of the first day.   Here are some standard capabilities you should look for:

  • Personalization via policies – How easy is it to deliver personalized business relevant service just by modifying policies?  The easier it is to change behavior via policies, the less custom automation or scripting will be required.
  • Broad multi-vendor support – Regardless if you have a homogeneous environment today, you will want to protect your ability to adopt new technologies in the future.  Multi-vendor not only applies to infrastructure and cloud resources it also should apply to the management tools and applications that run your IT infrastructure.
  • More than just infrastructure, applications too – Many companies are initially focused on Infrastructure services.  While that lays the foundation for other services, don’t forget that becoming really agile means delivering applications and other IT service quicker and with better governance and control.
  • More than just provisioning, full lifecycle management – for most companies, the biggest payback is to automate the delivery of NEW infrastructure and application services. However, you will quickly learn that consumers need to be able to modify their applications and change resource allocations.  Cloud automation should cover full life cycle management including ongoing release automation of applications during the development, test and release process.

Extensible Automation FrameworkCloud Auto Customization
After you have completed your cloud automation proof of concept, hopefully the standard capabilities meet most of your needs.  If not you are going to need to augment those capabilities through customization.  How easily these changes can be made will impact the cost and risk of your production cloud deployment.

  • Ability to rapidly integrate with third party systems – Cloud automation solutions are not standalone systems.  They likely need to integrate with existing management tools and processes. How easily will it be to integrate your tools and processes into your cloud management framework?
  • Leverage an ecosystem of vendor and partner provided plug-ins – Does your cloud automation vendor have an ecosystem of partners that provide plug-in modules that make it easier to integrate them into your existing management systems?  While not exactly off the shelf, the plug-ins greatly simplify integration and reduce costs.
  • Supply of knowledgeable experts – Does the vendor have a sufficient supply of knowledgeable experts who can help with customization?  Are partners also able to deliver these services?  Does the solution have enough market share that skills in these tools are readily available on the open market?  Answers to these questions provide a good idea of the risk you will be taking to develop this skill set or be able to hire knowledgeable experts.
  • Rapidly deploy custom services or add actions to existing services – A vendor should provide robust capabilities on infrastructure and application services, but they can’t be expected to automate every IT service that you may want to deliver.  How easily can their system be extended to use cases for new services or add additional day-2 actions to existing services?
  • Call “as a Service” delivery from other applications – Does your cloud automation solution allow services to be called from other applications.  One common customization is to invoke cloud services from and existing service catalog or portal.  What APIs are available to enable this functionality?

In our next blog post I am going to look at how VMware’s vCloud Automation Center  delivers the fastest time to business relevant cloud value through comprehensive purpose built functionality combined with and extensible design.

Learn more about VMware’s Cloud Automation solution

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