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Don't toss data center best practices when managing cloud services

Cloud computing is different -- but it's not that different. Gartner analyst Mindy Cancila says you already do some of the most critical tasks.

It's a given -- you need to make changes when moving IT operations to the public cloud. There are new management tasks you need to emphasize, new processes you need to implement, new technologies you need to bring in. But you don't need to change everything.

"There's a whole set of things that you've been doing for decades in the data center that don't go away," said Mindy Cancila, an analyst at Gartner, at the recent Gartner Catalyst Conference in San Diego. "They look a little different with public cloud adoption, so you're going to have to evolve those traditional management procedures into a public cloud environment."

Mindy Cancila, analyst, GartnerMindy Cancila

Among those data center best practices are creating templates to determine how deployments should be carried out, development and test procedures and data governance polices.

Cancila illustrated her point with a case study involving a Gartner retail client that had Web servers in Microsoft Azure. A developer made some modifications to a development script on a Monday morning and sent it out to all the Web servers. Later that week, a second developer tweaked the same script and pushed it to just a few of the servers. The entire environment went offline, generating a huge loss of revenue and a jumble of questions.

Forensics of the mishap shed some light: In both instances, the script changes were not tested, and they weren't subjected to any kind of approval process. Those data center best practices are de rigueur in a traditional on-premises environment. Cancila used the gory details to illustrate the second half of her four-part plan to effectively manage public cloud services. (Part 1, "Track the cost of cloud-based services -- and don't fear your next bill," covers the need for cloud-adapted financial management processes, including tagging, and why it's important to invest in management tools that can accommodate more than one provider.)

Establish governance

First, you need rules that lay out who can do what with what information, which providers and in which world regions and time zones. Losing control of that is one of the biggest stumbling blocks organizations come across, Cancila said.

"You want to be able to position your organization to use cloud services effectively, but you have to retain some level of control so that you meet the requirements of the business," she said.

There's a whole set of things that you've been doing for decades in the data center that don't go away.
Mindy Cancila

Of course, organizations already use authentication mechanisms like Microsoft Active Directory so users and computers can access systems. If they're using Azure, they can manage users directly in the cloud by having them log in to the cloud version, Azure AD, a separate directory of users that lives in the cloud. They can even add Federation Services so users have single sign-on -- access to multiple systems by entering just one ID and password.

"Now you can have the same user credentials that you've always had, but they can extend in the public cloud," Cancila said.

Evolve traditional management procedures

In the case study, both developers were authorized to access the Azure environment, illustrating that access management is necessary but not sufficient for managing cloud services. Standardizing developer tasks, though, would have done the trick. In Azure, for example, the company could have created a template that would have ensured that any changes to the configuration script were transmitted to all Web servers.

"That's an example where you really want to take your configuration and deployment strategy and extend it into the cloud," Cancila said.

Processes that test system changes and approve them should also have been in place in the cloud environment -- good ol' data center best practices yet again.

In Azure, you can set up alerts and notifications that will let you know when something goes awry. You just have to know that you have to do it. And it doesn't stop there.

"What are you going to do when you trigger those alerts? Are you going to enable some level of automation? Is there going to be a manual process that gets executed?" Cancila asked. "All of these things need to be defined upfront."

Let us know what you think of the story; email Jason Sparapani, features writer, or find him on Twitter @jmsparapani.

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