Management Plane-as-a-Service: Moving Functions to the Cloud

Looking back on the last 12 to 18 months of product announcements from incumbent vendors highlights a trend for management services. Offering existing management services with a hosted option or new cloud-based management options are coming to market that can manage existing products.

The management plane is moving from its traditional location of an on-prem data center to cloud hosted environments. Before going further, I want you to ask yourself, what differentiates data centers from remote POPS?

AWS Outpost and Azure stack are arguably two of the best examples of products that move infrastructure management to the cloud. Details of AWS Outposts are not available in full, but there is enough information to make a reasonable comparison in this area.

The abovementioned products offer a predefined or tightly controlled hardware stack that the customer deploys at a specified location. Scaling for positive and negative growth is controlled by the vendor. The cloud management portal is used to manage and configure the deployed solution, making the solution an extension of the public cloud services you’re already consuming.

Managing a hardware solution as another zone within an existing cloud environment has several advantages, the primary use case is creating a unified management plane for infrastructure and workloads regardless of location. Developers can use the same code to deploy a workload regardless of the location.

Software-define infrastructure management

In the age of software-defined everything, infrastructure is not limited to bare metal solutions such as those mentioned above, and it can be a software platform. Software-defined infrastructure requires management just like its physical counterpart.

Often an opensource software-defined infrastructure solution can be managed by multiple different products, providing a range of options. Some of these management options are only available as a cloud service. Others provide options for the method of consumption. Kubernetes is a prime example of a project with many management solutions available. Kubernetes has an architecture that is well suited from management by a remote or cloud hosted solution.

There are two key areas that are helping push the management plane from the on-prem data center to cloud solutions; Trust and cheap redundant connections. Cloud service providers are maturing and proving themselves when it comes to security and reliability. Platform reliability and security are visible to the public and have been continually proven over time, providing tangible evidence. Businesses are seeing this evidence and trust is growing in the capabilities of cloud providers.

Vendors are using infrastructure from cloud providers to host their services for customers to consume. For this to occur, the vendors also must be trusting the capabilities of cloud providers more.

The role of SD-WAN

When planning remote data centers or POPs a consistent concern is how to operate the services if the connection to the primary data center fails. Some services require constant connectivity to a primary management service to function, and a service interruption can cause significant outages.

Reducing the risk of a link interruption between remote and primary sites is often an expensive task. Ideally, the solution involves redundant links from different providers where each link is either on a different media or different path. In the real world, this can be a challenge. What if there is only one provider or one path available?

SD-WAN solutions help address price and complexity issues for providing a site with redundant links. One of the core use cases for an SD-WAN solution is to create a secure tunnel between sites using multiple cheap internet links, translating to increased bandwidth with higher link redundancy and a lower price than a private circuit.

Another common feature provided by SD-WAN vendors is selecting the best path to hosted services, resulting in traffic between the management service and the infrastructure taking the most efficient path.

As time goes on, we are only going to see more management services offered as or with a hosted option. Businesses see the inherent complexity of managing management services, as their trust in cloud services increases so will their appetite to offload that complexity back onto the vendor.