Traditionally, web and email hosting management tools have been mainly two platforms: Plesk and cPanel. Both tools offered the end user complete control over their email domains, DNS records, web server and lots of other goodies. Internet service providers and web hosters offered their customers rich toolsets based either on vanilla or heavily customized cPanel and Plesk environments.
Features offered from such platforms range from DNS record self management, email account and capacity configuration, web server management and database tools. At the end of the day, both address a concept which lies at the very heart of cloud computing: Software as a service. Indeed, the end user does not care about underlying storage, web server installation and tuning and all the “dirty bits”: All that is needed is access to the portal of the control panel of their web services.
So, could such tools inflate, get smarter and take over cloud automation as well? Well… Google already uses cpanel as the control panel of Google Apps and Plesk’s parent company have dipped their feet well into virtualization, but are these enough to use them as cloud provisioning and self management platforms?
Cloud automation goes well beyond service control panels. A cloud stack starts from hardware management (computing, storage nodes, network L2/L3 switching, load balancing, data and service replication), extends into the virtualization layer (VMware, HyperV, XEN and KVM stacks), takes over server and service template management, deals with metrics collection and billing interfaces, can burst your services to public clouds and finally provides a very comprehensive end user management tools. It’s simply much bigger than a web hosting management panel.
To name a few vendors of cloud automation products that offer all the features described above, AppLogic, Embotics, Cloudstack, Abiquo, OnApp, all of them more or less manage the entire cloud stack, bottom to top and top to bottom. What is the catch here? cPanel and Plesk are mature and usable after many years of evolution; cloud automation has been around for much less time and cloud mechanics (virtualization layer, APIs and the SaaS ecosystem) are still not concrete.