[caption id="attachment_814" align="aligncenter" width="618" caption="Choosing the right cloud-management system can spare an IT pro's blood pressure."] [/caption] When considering a third-party management solution for your public or private cloud, it’s easy to get lost in all the marketing material. Each vendor wants your business, and will do everything it can to show their product is best: Websites packed full of marketing claims, white papers, case studies, and even (in the case of Scalr) an online comic strip. So I examined the actual nuts and bolts of three major vendors: RightScale, Scalr, and enStratus. Aside from age and number of available tools, members of this trio have a good deal in common with each other—including difficulty comparing their respective features to those of the competition. The first thing I noticed: all three make odd claims that really shouldn’t impact a decision to use (or not use) them. For example, some have pages devoted to “available” software such as MySQL, SQL Server, MongoDB, Joomla and even WordPress. That’s all marketing fluff: Once you provision a server, you can put whatever software you want on it. Instead of digging through every claim, I decided to start with my own list of questions, and then try to get answers. This is only a start, but it should give you an idea of other questions you can ask about management solutions for cloud. What clouds does the solution support? All three of the solutions I reviewed support the big cloud vendors—Amazon, RackSpace, and Windows Azure—along with some additional ones (RightScale supports several in Asia, for example). As for the details of which public clouds the vendors support, here are the respective lists: Rightscale offers a list of supported clouds, as does Scalr, and enStratus. Is there a rock-solid management console? In all three cases, the answer was “yes.” They all support provisioning, configuring, and monitoring. The question, however, is how these consoles work simultaneously on multiple vendors. That takes me to the next question: Do they support multiple cloud vendors within a single management system? Can the solutions, although they support different clouds, still manage multiple cloud vendors and even install images between them? For some users, this simply isn’t an issue: you’ve picked a single cloud vendor, such as Rackspace, and you’re sticking with them. If you move, you take everything with you. (Generally, moving is manageable if you consider two aspects of what you’re moving: The servers themselves, which is certainly doable, and any API scripts you have written. If you stick to a management vendor's processes, it can be done. This can be easy or difficult depending on how closely you follow their processes, and how closely you stick to the management vendor's APIs.) However, if it is an issue, here’s where the three companies stand: All three provide a single management console for monitoring multiple clouds. RightScale has its own images, known as RightImages, which serve as a map to vendor-specific images. Pick a single RightImage, and a corresponding image will be deployed to any of the supported vendors. Are scripting and APIs available? For the purpose of this discussion, I’ll define an Application Programming Interface (API) as something you call from your own programs, which can be written in any number of languages. Scripts are coding languages provided by management systems, which run on their servers. RightScale, Scalr, and enStratus all provide APIs. Since they support multiple cloud vendors, you only need to write one set of code, which talks to the management system, which in turn translates the calls into the native calls of the hosted cloud. For example, you could write one set of code to communicate with RightScale. Then RightScale will translate the calls as necessary to manage either Rackspace or Amazon. RightScale supports scripts (they call them macros), and the language is JavaScript. Scalr is set up so that you can use any installed scripting interpreter, specifying it in the first line of the script (as you do in Unix, such as #!/bin/bash). Similarly, enStratus supports several different languages, and they seem to place emphasis on python. Do they support private clouds? Again, in all three cases the answer is yes. But let me be clear here: “private cloud” has different meanings to different people. In this case, the term refers to a cloud system hosted in your own IT center—one where you’re using hypervisors, and there’s a need to provision and manage servers, instances, images, and so on. enStratus: Yes. They let you deploy their software on-premise, and it works with Eucalyptus, VMWare, Nimbula, EMC2, OpenStack, and CloudStack. Scalr: Yes. They have an open-source version that you can install locally. There’s also a premium version. RightScale: Yes—but in order to make this work, you need to install an open-source component called RightLink, which communicates back with RightScale’s servers. Do they use any cloud standards? RightScale and enStratus support OpenStack and OpenCloud. As of this writing, Scalr says it will support OpenStack “shortly.” I was unable to determine if Scalr supports OpenCloud, so for now I’m going to say no. And finally: How much will it cost me? First, low-budget options: RightScale has a “free” version, but it’s quite limited and mainly intended for developers and evaluation purposes. Scalr includes low-end options at $99 and $199 for 5-10 servers respectively, while enStratus offers a free edition (but does include fees for usage charges and other fees—read the fine print), as well as $50 per month edition (also with fees). For the bigger shops, RightScale and enStratus have plans ranging from $500 on up. Scalr is the only one with mid-level plans, ranging from $199 to $399. Scalr also includes an open-source version that you can install for your private cloud, and, of course, they encourage you to purchase a support plan. (You have to fill out an online signup form before you get it, however.) Conclusion When it comes to cloud, everyone’s requirements (and thus the questions they need to ask) are different. I recommend making a list of those requirements, then examining vendors’ offerings to see if they can fulfill them, rather than simply looking at feature lists. Image: Centurion Studio/Shutterstock.com