Cloud management platforms -- they're a little bit like those desktop search and indexing applications that gained brief popularity in the 1990s and early 2000s, and which had to be updated each time a new application or file format appeared.
Why might you want one? The problem with cloud computing is that, unless you are a small company with relatively limited IT requirements -- just office productivity, web browsing and email, for example -- moving to some form of cloud computing model is complex and therefore expensive.
Let's assume for a moment that going cloud is, all things considered, a positive thing. If so, then you'll need to find a cloud provider who does it all. But if you're a company of any size, you're unlikely to find one that meets all your needs.
Maybe they don't have the geographical spread. Maybe they can't support the particular application that generates your company's secret sauce. Maybe they just can't do it all. Whatever the reason, it is likely that you'll end up in a relationship with more than one cloud provider.
This makes sense. Not only might the internal IT department in future become a private cloud provider, external providers specialise in areas such as disaster recovery. If best of breed floats your boat -- and why not? -- then you might want to go with them. The same might apply to virtual desktop provision -- though that technology is still a tad immature -- or to more established enterprise software providers such as SAP and Salesforce.
Either way, you'll want to integrate those services to provide a seamless experience for end users. The end result will be what the cloud industry likes to call a hybrid cloud, where some services are kept in-house, while others are outsourced, a situation which all acknowledge is complex and potentially very messy -- especially as there are no standards between cloud providers.
This is where a cloud management platform comes in. Much like those search and indexing applications I mentioned, such a system needs to understand and keep up to date with the management APIs of a range of cloud providers. This will allow you to tailor those services to your needs while automating as much as possible.
There's a few of these around: a Famous Search Engine brings up RightScale, Enstratus and ScaleUp Technologies, for example, and the market for them is growing at around 40 percent annually, according one research report, which also cites IBM, HP, Microsoft, and Symantec as market leaders in cloud management.
Whether you buy all or any of this depends of course on your attitude towards cloud computing. If you take the view that it's all a load of hype just like application service provision (ASP) and the whole outsourcing movement of the 1980s and 1990s, then this will be of no interest.
It seems clear to me though that CEOs and CIOs are taking cloud computing seriously so maybe it's time to think about how all this stuff can be made to work harmoniously. Otherwise, consider a straw poll at a recent analyst conference: IT staff's worries about their jobs, not security, constituted the biggest barrier to cloud adoption.
Time for the strategic beanie?