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Q&A: Interview with Appcara Talking about the Cloud and AppStack

VMblog:  What was the original idea behind Appcara?

Appcara:  We started Appcara to remove the barriers involved in deploying and managing enterprise applications in the cloud. Our team experienced this problem directly in our previous endeavor, where we built the entire software orchestration layer for a major public cloud service. That effort involved repeated provisioning of our complex software layer consisting of multiple servers, application components and related elements - and managing the lifecycle of that software over the development, test and production cycle. We saw first hand that launching applications in the cloud, then managing them as they evolved was a painfully manual and error-prone effort.   We quickly realized it had consumed lots of extra time that could have been spent more productively. Appcara is therefore focused on automating and simplifying this process -making cloud app deployment and management much faster and easier. With our solution AppStack, it is possible to deploy and manage applications in the cloud in just a few clicks.

VMblog:  Can you distinguish cloud application management from cloud management?

Appcara:  Modern clouds consist of multiple layers, including the infrastructure (or IaaS) layer consisting of physical and virtual infrastructure components, as well as the orchestration software layer. Cloud management at this IaaS or orchestration layer is centered on managing virtual servers, storage, networks and shared resources such as firewalls and load balancers.

In contrast, Cloud application management focuses on the next layer up: application packages, configuration files and the complex dependencies between multiple application components. This is an entirely different set of tasks than cloud infrastructure management - and arguably just as complex, if not more so -especially for multi-tier Enterprise apps and distributed apps. Applications are critical to running businesses, so managing them efficiently is key to making the cloud productive.

VMblog:  Can you tell us who uses cloud application management solutions?  And why are they needed?

Appcara:  The initial users have been in two areas:

1) Service Providers who have offered a public cloud service to their customers, and now want to provide a richer set of application services on top of these IaaS services. End-users can be granted self-service access to application deployment through the AppStack Portal.

2) Large enterprises with private clouds that would like to increase the productivity of application deployment and management for internal apps running on that cloud. Enterprises users should view cloud application management solutions as an enabler to move beyond simple dev/test apps in their cloud, and toward the ability to run more of their business apps in an on-demand manner. Removing the error-prone and time-consuming tasks of manual software installation, configuration and provisioning is extremely appealing to this community of IT managers, as it can reduce hours of work down to just a few minutes and free up the IT team for far more strategic and revenue-impactful tasks.

VMblog:  Appcara's main product is AppStack software.  Talk to us about some of its main benefits?

Appcara:  We've focused on a few key mantras: keep the user experience very simple, automate as many management tasks as possible, and allow users freedom of choice to run against their choice of clouds.

We accomplished the first task through a user portal that presents applications at a simple, abstract level to allow the user to deploy applications in just a few clicks, but still provides the administrator with powerful control.

The automation aspect is handled by AppStack's patent-pending data model-driven architecture. We essentially capture knowledge of the user's entire application Workload, and manage it in a dynamic database repository. This allows us to capture all of the application components, and the complex interdependencies, so we can automate complex tasks - for example, cloning a complex Workload consisting of a dozen servers can be done in a few clicks.

Finally, AppStack is multi-cloud enabled with most popular public and private clouds, to eliminate cloud orchestration layer lock-in.

VMblog:  What are the complications of deploying these applications manually?

Appcara:  An IT manager could lose half a day with mundane do-it-yourself deployment tasks for just one server:  creating virtual servers, then connecting to them to install software packages, checking for omitted dependent packages, setting configuration parameters, firewalls, load balancers, storage, etc.  That doesn't event get to the monitoring, event logging and alerting requirements. And that is just for one server! To stand up all of the other servers required to run the databases, app servers and web servers that are dependent on the first server, the team has to do it all again. It's a real time-consuming job, and it's the reason people have turned to scripting to automate as much as possible. The problem with scripting is it still requires very specialized skill sets, and even then, the scripts have to be modified and managed - further complication the process. In the end, it boils down to spending lots of unproductive time doing these tasks, time that can be better spent on value added efforts.

VMblog:  You talk about the importance of managing cloud applications throughout their life cycle.  What do you mean and how do applications change through time?

Appcara:  Enterprise apps are rarely static - business rules change, requirements change, the user base can scale up from a few people to thousands, security rules, storage increases - all of these business influences will require changes to the application. Moreover, there is a process involved in developing apps, where the application environment moves from developers to testing and QA, and finally to production. That often requires re-provisioning the whole Workload again to let other people or groups work against it.

By automating not only the first deployment, but this frequent update/change cycle - we can further increase productivity and in many cases accelerate time-to-market.

VMblog:  You recently debuted a turnkey appliance approach to cloud application management.  Why an appliance - are cloud ‘stacks' too difficult to set up or use?

Appcara:  The advantages of private clouds are very compelling to businesses of all size, as they can provide agility and productivity benefits for IT operations. Some smaller businesses don't have the in-house skills sets to easily install and manage private cloud implementations, and then to install and manage the needed applications on top of their cloud.  So we offer the AppStack Express Appliance - a turnkey solution that integrates all the needed components for a private cloud, plus the AppStack Express management software. Users only have to power up and connect a network port to the system. They immediately gain access to over 85 pre-packaged applications in the AppStack Express App Marketplace - including databases, content managers such as Wordpress and Drupal, CRM software such as SugarCRM and many others. This can enable small businesses with an agile IT infrastructure for a wide range of use cases, without requiring them to bring on specialized IT skills.

VMblog:  There's been some interesting M&A activity in the sector lately.   Why is that, and does it point to a unique need that Appcara also solves?

Appcara:  Recent acquisitions in the cloud app management space include Enstratius (acquired by Dell) and AppFog, a PaaS vendor acquired by CenturyLink / Savvis. These acquisitions indicate that there is indeed demand for richer and more capable application services on top of clouds, and that a new category of tools are required to fulfill that need. Traditional approaches such as server templates have worked well for the past five years or so when Web applications consisted primarily of simple Web sites, but as multi-tier, complex enterprise applications continue to move to the cloud,  IT managers are forced to work in counterproductive ways - and they are seeking solutions that enable greater automation and ongoing lifecycle management.   We believe that as enterprises continue to move more of their application workloads to the cloud, there will be continued demand for Appcara's solutions.
Published Monday, July 22, 2013 7:03 AM by David Marshall
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