Whether by design or by default, most organizations today are shifting toward mixed cloud environments.
For example, in hybrid cloud cases, IT relies on a unified control plane to connect resources between a private cloud and a hyperscaler. It presupposes the same management experience or interface, as well as the same administrative skill set for both on- and off-premises, where workloads don’t need to be refactored. Moving beyond hybrid is the multicloud scenario, where organizations leverage multiple public clouds in addition to managed service providers.
If well designed and managed, such hybrid multicloud environments can deliver a wide variety of business benefits. However, if they evolve haphazardly and lack strong oversight, these deployments can introduce more problems than they solve.
To sort through the pros and cons of hybrid multicloud solutions, we asked expert members of the IDG Influencer Network to identify the main benefits and challenges associated with these proliferating, multi-environment ecosystems. The Network is a community of industry analysts, IT professionals, and journalists who contribute their knowledge and expertise to the broader IDG community.
Here are some key takeaways from their responses.
The many (potential) benefits of hybrid multicloud
Almost all of the IDG influencers mentioned business benefits that these deployments can deliver.
Ryan Fay (@ryancfay), Head of High Tech and Global Enterprise, Gartner, summarized many of these advantages: “A multicloud environment allows your business to exploit best-of-market capabilities, reduce the effect of service changes and outages on your overall application portfolio, mitigate risks from vendor viability, and provider lock-in. You can also pivot your business as needed while enabling security-sensitive workloads by leveraging a public cloud without compromising regulatory and data residency requirements.”
The ability of organizations to select the best cloud platform for specific application and business needs was a common refrain:
“A multicloud environment gives businesses the option to select the best tools and services the market has to offer, without being limited to just one cloud service provider.” — Sridhar Iyengar (@iSridhar), managing director of Zoho Europe.
“Clouds products are optimized for specific business purposes, which makes a one-product-fits-all approach increasingly risky.” — Frank Cutitta (@fcutitta), CEO and founder of HealthTech Decision Lab, concurs.
One of the key reasons to turn to hybrid multicloud solutions, according to the IDG influencers, is to gain access to cutting-edge technologies that an organization may struggle to implement on its own. For example, says Isaac Sacolick (@nyike), president of StarCIO: “Businesses experimenting with large-scale machine learning and IoT capabilities may be able to deliver innovations faster and cheaper by selecting optimal cloud architectures.”
Other potential benefits range from capex and opex cost reductions to the ability to place data in nearby clouds to comply with countries’ data localization laws. Using multiple clouds to enhance business continuity is also a much-cited benefit. “The redundancy advantages of a multicloud approach can’t be overstated,” says Cutitta.
Multicloud environments are often paired with data center-based private clouds in hybrid solutions, which can make for a powerful combination.
“Hybrid multicloud environments are an option for organizations looking to have the best of both worlds — the choices offered by various public cloud vendors, their best-in-class microservices or new services, and the security and reliability of the private cloud,” Iyengar says.
No magic bullets
Despite the benefits, the IDG influencers cautioned organizations to temper any overinflated expectations. That’s especially true for organizations that have haphazardly found themselves with multiple cloud deployments that materialized with no pre-planning or direction.
“Is your multicloud an actual strategy, or just a patchwork quilt?” — Cutitta
“If multicloud isn’t managed properly, it just becomes a hodgepodge of environments.” — Arsalan Khan (@ArsalanAKhan), speaker and advisor
“Without a carefully managed strategy, costs can skyrocket and resources can become overwhelmed. That’s why it is important that organizations understand the real world benefits and tradeoffs before jumping into the hybrid multicloud.” — Scott Schober (@ScottBVS), president and CEO at Berkeley Varitronics Systems
Even when an organization develops a well-thought-out hybrid multicloud plan, “the benefits are situational,” cautions executive consultant and coach Joanna Young (@jcycio). “I see many IT shops that are lean – or even starved – with low opex,” she says. “If the leaders of those shops think hybrid multicloud will create savings, they are dreaming.”
Instead, Young says, “I advise not starting with ‘ROI’ thinking.” The core benefit of hybrid multicloud, she says, is to “speed up time-to-market via [increased] agility, in response to the ever-faster expectations of customers, whether employees or consumers.”
Along the same lines, Gartner’s Fay says: “It’s easy to get lost in ‘pie in the sky’ hybrid and multicloud conversations. Its paramount to tie back these technologies directly to business value, core competencies, and what your team is capable of from an execution perspective.”
As part of any hybrid multicloud strategy, organizations must decide between two architectural options, says transformational CIO Wayne Sadin (@waynesadin). They can maximize the flexibility of their multiclouds by adhering to industry standards in their development projects, or they can maximize performance by developing solutions that incorporate vendor-specific extensions. “Either choice is okay,” Sadin says, “but choose with your eyes wide open.”
When organizations consciously set out on a hybrid multicloud journey, one of the first challenges they face is a lack of in-house expertise.
“Each cloud environment requires specific understanding of services, APIs, security, release to production, and so forth. Having appropriately experienced staff, DevOps, and process standards in place is critical.” —Mark Thiele (@mthiele10), co-founder and CEO of Edgevana
However, expertise can be tough to attain. “Finding staff is like hunting a unicorn,” says Will Kelly, (@willkelly), technical marketing manager at a container security startup firm.
“First, create a platform or workflow layer that allows anyone on your development team to manage the software delivery process. With that, you can then open up your hiring funnel to access the global talent pool with simplified onboarding that isn’t limited by a tool-by-tool approach.” — Tristan Pollock (@pollock), head of community at CTO_ai
Also, “the migration team must ensure that users do not lose access to applications and data for an extended period,” says Jonathan Reichental, (@Reichental), author and technology leader.
Once solutions are in place, address the daunting challenge of the increased complexity that arises from interacting with and managing multiple IT environments.
“It’s imperative that organizations find a unified multicloud platform management and security function to manage multicloud. Failure to do so will mean a reduction in overall efficiency, increased costs, need for increased IT people/budgets and reduced security posture.” —Jack Gold (@jckgld), principal analyst and founder at J. Gold Associates
Different clouds use different security tools and protocols, so it can be challenging to ensure that no security or compliance gaps occur across them. In addition, “As applications become more complex, they provide a larger attack service when deployed on multiple clouds,” says Gene De Libero (@GeneDeLibero), chief strategy officer at GeekHive.com.
Learn more about how to realize the many benefits that hybrid multicloud deployments can deliver by managing the complexity, security, and other challenges inherent in these environments.