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Need visibility into the cloud value chain? There's an API for that

In a complex cloud value chain, the key to transparency is a standard way, via an API, to exchange management information among all entities involved.

Whether we're talking about consumers whose digital music is hosted by iTunes or Amazon, or businesses running hosted software, just about everyone is incorporating the cloud in some way in their daily lives. And the claim that everything that can be in the cloud will be is certainly looking like a prediction come true -- and one that will only accelerate as businesses and service providers experience the cost savings and efficiencies of moving to a cloud-based model.

But while enterprises may have previously worked with one or two cloud service providers, today that number is much higher, with some firms contracting with different organizations for cloud-based storage, applications, infrastructure and processing. On the consumer side, users may be receiving content from dozens of companies a day in an extremely complex cloud value chain, yet the end consumer doesn't know nor care that this is actually the case. Everything has to be completely seamless behind the scenes for both kinds of customers, and it's this level of complexity that's causing concern among service providers.

With so many players in this new world of digital services, the key to creating a level of transparency is a standard way, via an application programming interface (API), to exchange management information among every entity involved.

Complex value chains reduce cloud visibility

If widely used within multicloud environments, The TM Forum's Simple Management API would allow any player in the value chain to quickly see a snapshot of how all service components are operating.

In the not-too-distant past, service providers owned every aspect of service delivery; they owned the infrastructure, of course, but also the content in a walled-garden scenario. Those walls have come down, however, and in their place are complex delivery value chains that reduce visibility into the entire service delivery process.

This is a natural evolution of the "layer cake" model, in which you have many different parties that play a role in delivering a service to the end customer. The service provider controls the customer-facing piece of the service, but it doesn't own or directly control the entire value chain that supports it.

The service itself is likely being hosted on multiple, different cloud environments. For example, there might be an assortment of application providers and cloud computing service providers, along with a variety of access, transport and network providers, with app stores and aggregators all contributing components to a composite service.

The problem is that service providers -- which most customers have a direct and ongoing relationship with -- are able to manage their own systems and gain a certain amount of insight into what's being delivered to the customer, but they simply don't have sufficient visibility into what's happening outside of their own environments and in the rest of the cloud value chain.

And if you're a service provider with service-level agreements that apply to your customers, you need a way to gain a full view, end-to-end, of all of the different cloud platforms and cloud-hosted environments that are being used in the delivery of services.

Taking a standard view of cloud services

The TM Forum has taken a key step to making this a reality with our Digital Services Initiative, launched in fall 2012 to promote openness throughout the cloud value chain and improve end-to-end management of digital services. The first outcome from this initiative is the Multi Cloud Management Packs, part of the TM Forum's newly released Frameworx 12.5 suite of standards and best practices.

The contents of the Multi-Cloud Management Packs are based on collaborative work by TM Forum members, including Alcatel-Lucent, AT&T, CA Technologies, France Telecom-Orange, Huawei, Microsoft Corp., NetCracker Technology, Oracle, Progress, PT SAPO, Syntologica and Tech Mahindra. In addition, members such as AT&T, BaseN, Ericsson, IBM, Microsoft and PT SAPO developed and implemented some of the packs' components as part of TM Forum's Catalyst program.

A critical feature of the packs is partner management, or as I like to think about it, the relationship piece of the puzzle. It's more important than ever to form partnerships and foster openness in order to be successful in the digital world. Traditionally, service providers haven't needed to spend a lot of time on developing partnerships, focusing instead on tight management of vendor relations. But the market is changing very quickly, and the need to build productive, long-term strategic partnerships is becoming an importance core competency.

A more technical piece of the packs is the Simple Management API, which, if widely used within multicloud environments, would allow any player along the cloud value chain to quickly see a snapshot of how all of its service components are operating. This means a network provider could see the state of a provider delivering content such as data or applications over its infrastructure and vice versa.

Our Multi Cloud Management Packs is a huge step forward in reducing the complexity of delivering cloud-based services. It is a real-world solution to bringing multiple types of service providers together to give the customer the best possible service, no matter where it comes from.

About the author
Aileen Smith is chief operating officer of the TM Forum, where she is responsible for all collaboration and research and development activities.

This was last published in February 2013

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