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7 Modeling Tools To Help Assess Cloud ROI

Cloud services promise faster deployment and more flexibility, but if you want your CFO to back your cloud gambit, show her a solid financial analysis–preferably one with a good ROI. Here are 7 tools that can help.

Gone are the days when the cloud meant simply a hosted virtual instance or resource on some provider's network. We're seeing all sorts of new variants and twists emerge. I'm not just referring to the use of storage or compute resources or those that allow for elastic computing, such as Amazon's Reserved Instances.

We're likely to see industry-specific community clouds emerge. These clouds are built to address the security and compliance needs within specific industries. Examples of community clouds may well be Verizon's Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) cloud service, which targets the healthcare community; and Metal Lynx, a cloud community targeting buyers and sellers of precious metals.

Other options include private clouds that are managed by a third party off premises, according to Chris Morris, associate VP for Asia/Pacific cloud services and computing at IDC. Morris's prediction is detailed by writer Joe McKendrik in a Fortune Magazine post, "7 Predictions for Cloud Computing in 2013 That Make Perfect Sense."

These variants can sound like just the ticket for certain verticals, but do they make financial sense? That can be harder to judge. And before IT can adopt and/or take responsibility for these cloud services, the same sort of rational, fiscal arguments that have been made for any service or equipment will have to be made with cloud services.

This requirement marks another stage of cloud development, as IT can't simply assume that "going to the cloud" equates to savings. This is a point made by James Staten, Forrester Research's principal analyst serving infrastructure and operations professionals, in a blog post where he notes that many applications are more expensive to run in the cloud.

This is particularly the case when evaluating the use of Reserved Instances, where determining break-even points can be so difficult. There are so many factors to consider--usage patterns, costs, preferences around utilization level, commitment term, and more. The good news: Seven vendors are already offering cloud modeling and costing tools for determining the true cost of cloud services and how best to use on-demand resources.

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6Fusion allows IT to benchmark existing cloud operations against public services. Its Workload Allocation Cube (WAC) measures the critical compute resources required to operate an x86-based software application. 6Fusion introduced the Cloud Resource Meter for VMware vSphere during the summer. The company also meters resources running on Linux and Windows environments.

Apptio expanded its line of IT monitoring and costing tools in December with Cloud Express, a free, cloud-costing tool. Cloud Express lets you enter your costing information and receive recommendations for managing your reserved instances across any cloud platform today.

Cloudyn added a tool in the fall that that lets an organization calculate the number, type and duration of Reserved Instances a company should purchase to meet its operational requirements. Cloudyn says it has seen the number of companies using Reserved Instances jump from 29% to 48% in nine months. Supported services are Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Amazon Elastic Block Store (EBS) and Amazon Relational Database Service (RDS).

Cloud Cruiser is offering tools for chargeback in enterprises and, more recently, service providers. Dashboards let individuals monitor their personal cloud usage. Products are provided for the enterprise (Cloud Cruiser Enterprise Edition) and the Service Provider (Cloud Service Provider Edition), which was announced in December. Cloud Cruiser collects information from Amazon, Microsoft Windows Azure and leading hypervisors.

Cloudability lets you track a wide range of key performance indicators (KPIs) and lets you see whether you're saving money with Reserved Instances. Cloudability works across a wide variety of cloud platforms, including AWS, Google Apps and HP Cloud.

Newvem baselines and tracks the assets, costs and risks of using a cloud service. The platform is available for Amazon EC2 and Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) services, and in November the company announced 30 new partnerships with Amazon Partnership Network members. Newvem's Cloud Smart Meter for AWS is a native iPad and iPhone application that lets IT track AWS costs and assets.

Rightscale simulates a cloud deployment to identify costs. You model the deployment and then identify the cost of elasticity and three-year costing. You can also run what-if scenarios. Platforms supported include AWS, Google Compute Engine, Microsoft Azure, Rackspace, and SoftLayer.

The cloud as a term may not be here forever (see point seven of the Forbes article), but whatever you call them, cloud services will not disappear anytime soon and are increasingly viable. The potential savings and agility gains offered by cloud services are too important to IT, but only if IT can get buy-in from management. Demonstrating the real fiscal value--not just the promise--of going to the cloud is best way to secure that purchase order for more cloud services.

David Greenfield is a long-time technology analyst. He currently works in product marketing for Silver Peak.

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