As enterprises continue to open up to the idea of hosting applications in the cloud, a slew of companies are looking to optimize how they're managed in the new cloud environment.

Experts say cloud application management could be an area ripe for further innovation. Cloud users want to more easily be able to move legacy applications to the cloud or be able to transfer applications from one cloud provider to another. A Silicon Valley startup named Appcara is hoping its tools, which migrate away from a server-template model and toward an application-database setup, are one way for easier application lifecycle management.

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Traditionally cloud applications -- including anything from software-as-a-service enterprise resource management tools (SaaS-based ERP) to applications that run entire data centers -- use server-template technology to configure the underlying compute hardware to run the application. The problem with that approach, says Appcara founder and CEO John Young, is that applications are inevitably dynamic and the resources they require change. Creating new server template models for each new iteration of an application is time-consuming and prone to human error.

Appcara instead uses a database approach to managing cloud applications. Appcara's cloud-based software creates an application layer above either public or private clouds to capture information about what the application needs to run on the server. Specific application needs related to the components, configurations and dependencies and any changes of those are stored in real-time and automatically updated to a database. When changes are made to the application's resource needs, the database is updated automatically, allowing the application to configure the hardware that's needed on its own. Doing so eliminates the need for new server templates to be created, and removes the step of manual configuration of servers for application deployments.

So far it's worked for American Internet Services (AIS), a San Diego cloud service provider that focuses on cloud offerings in Southern California and specifically for life sciences companies. AIS is one of Appcara's earliest commercial deployments and CTO Steve Wallace says he was looking for a way to more efficiently manage the large number of applications the service provider hosts for clients.

"You may not realize the true potential of this until you really try to scale up," he says. The traditional server-template model, he says, requires manual configuration of the hardware to the specifications of the application. "If you're working with 80 Web servers that all need to be configured, you're talking about not only a time-consuming, error-prone process," he says. AIS is using the Appcara platform to manage its applications that run its cloud offering and those for customers.

Appcara announced last week it would be releasing the second version of its software, AppStack 2, in July, which will incorporate a marketplace where dozens of applications will already be pre-configured for use in the Appcara software. Other applications can be integrated to work on the software as well.

William Fellows, an analyst at The 451 Group's 451 Research, says Appcara's offering is unique in its use of a database model, without having server templates be the main tool for application management. But, he says, Appcara has a crowded field it's going up against.

"Enterprises are looking for ways to extend on-premises environments into the cloud," he says, validating the level of interest seen by players managing cloud applications. Competitors Fellows cites include RightScale, AppZero, rPath, CohesiveFT, Racemi, Arago, VMware through its WaveMaker product, DynamicOps, OutSystems, Makara, Mendix and Verizon/Terremark, with the company's CloudSwitch technology. Appcara, according to Fellows, says that other offerings still require "extensive scripting" of the application, which Appcara claims to automate.

The emerging platform-as-a-service market could also help enterprises better manage application management. In a PaaS environment, the application is built and lives in the cloud, creating some native level of cloud optimization. "Appcara says its dynamic approach trumps template approaches, provides workload portability and enables service providers to onboard multi-tenant clouds such as CloudStack," Fellows wrote in a recent report on the company.

The company is young though, and still only has about 50 customers. It has raised about $2 million in venture capital financing, including a funding round in the past few weeks. But application management, Fellows and Wallace agree, will continue to be an emerging area as enterprises continue to use SaaS-based services in the cloud.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at [email protected] and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.