The move to multi-cloud environments accelerated at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020 as organisations around the world mobilised new, hybrid work environments.
Companies are using multiple cloud service providers to support their remote workforces while retaining an increasingly smaller portion of their on-premise estate. The absolute majority (90 percent) of enterprises are now operating in hybrid and multi-cloud environments, and 25 percent of all IT workloads are now in the cloud.
Senior technologies executives gathered for a conversation recently around how they are making multi-cloud environments work for their organisations. The discussion was hosted by CIO Australia and sponsored by Google Cloud and Accenture.
A key question was how CIOs decide which cloud service is right for which workloads so they can create efficiencies, cut costs and drive business value.
Rob James, Group Chief Digital and Information Officer at TPG Telecom, says that when looking for the right cloud, the telco assesses the requirement from a capability perspective. That often means that a SaaS [software-as-a-service] offering may be best placed to deliver on a business capability, he says.
“If the capability goes down to a bespoke development or application that IT needs to host for the business, then we will select an IaaS (infrastructure-as-a-service) or PaaS (platform as a service) offering. This will typically be strategic and driven by many levers such as cost, availability and functionality.
“This important aspect here is that we have an environment that we are able to control and manage but in a true cloud format that is using as much digitisation and automation that makes sense,” he says.
Peter Brusco, Chief Information Officer at Kangan Institute, says the government-funded tertiary institution is very fortunate to access large-scale government cloud agreements that can be deployed quickly, saving time and money.
“They also provide high levels of certainty from commercial, technical and security standpoints,” he says.
“However, there are still choices to be made and so it’s very important to understand near and far-term requirements as much as possible to select the best outcomes. We don’t have a crystal ball to understand, with precision, our future needs, I like to engage in some basic scenario based on our best forecasts and then do a ‘what if’ [analysis] based only a quarter, or alternatively, four times our projections.”
Andrew Haschka, Asia-Pacific Head of Application Modernisation at Google Cloud, advises CIOs to ensure their cloud services are portable and flexible enough for long-term, dynamic growth.
By elevating applications beyond specific cloud, empowered by open-source software, CIOs can reduce vendor lock-in, he says.
“Production support and enterprise security should also be priorities when considering the future of applications, and implementing a common security standard across platforms for security. Google provides Anthos for example to manage modern application portfolios for multi and hybrid cloud environments, based on Open Source technologies such as Kubernetes.
Cultural transformation in managing a microservices architecture requires benchmarking and SRE skill uplift too. Google have pioneered DevOps cultural benchmarking and transformation with the Cloud Application Modernization Platform (CAMP) driven by DevOps Research & Assessment (DORA)”
Al Auda, managing director, Accenture Technology, Cloud Infrastructure Engineering, Australia and New Zealand, suggests CIOs think about their ‘cloud north star’ first and the different treatment types for applications before mapping those to specific workloads.
“We are seeing companies move their commodity enterprise applications – such as HR and payroll – to SaaS, rehosting/re-platforming existing legacy core systems to IaaS and building new digital platforms on PaaS.
“In highly regulated industries, designing applications that can support multi-cloud providers is becoming a need with a shift to lightweight containerised cloud-agnostic applications. Many clients are splitting their workloads across multiple clouds for healthy competitive tension and to use the strengths of specific cloud providers for their industry and application portfolio,” he says.
The modernisation challenge
A big challenge for many organisations moving to multi-cloud environments is deciding what to do with legacy systems and applications. Should they be modernised, left alone or replaced?
TPG’s recent merger with Vodafone created a lot of legacy and duplication, which is expected, says TPG’s James.
“The legacy platforms provide an extra level of complexity as they are never architected for the cloud and there is very little to no benefit of ‘lifting and shifting’ so the typical conversation becomes whether we modernise, retire, refactor or repurchase the application. After a merger, like the one we experienced, there may be a need to consolidate where you have a number of legacy applications doing the same thing.”
Effectively modernising applications across a multi-cloud infrastructure is becoming a very real issue, potentially eroding some of the simplification which CIOs are always looking for, says Kangan Institute’s Brusco.
He says that while ‘single pane of glass’ solutions have been spoken about for some time, the completeness of solutions available as well as their cost are still not sufficiently attractive for many organisations.
“The other key issue is that internal technology teams are not transforming the skills and approaches required to match the migration from data centre to the cloud. When large-scale technology transformation takes place as it is occurring at Bendigo Kangan Institute, the way of thinking in this new multi-cloud environment requires significant change on the part of both users and the internal technology team,” he says.
Meanwhile, Stuart Bromiley, Accenture Google Cloud Practice Lead, Australia & New Zealand adds that one of the main challenges the company’s customers are dealing with when it comes to modernisation is how to treat their old legacy systems. Many of these are running on decades-old platforms and operating systems that are no longer supported and have a ‘high bar’ security compliance and to put these apps in the cloud requires significant security and upgrade/re-platform remediation, he says.
“If a data centre exit is imminent and an app needs to move to the cloud, then we would recommend a ‘move and improve’ approach. As part of the move, organisations should have a pattern to minimise re-platforming for old apps that will be retired soon through emulation/virtualisation techniques,” he says.
Bromiley says Accenture has worked with many clients on using a ‘digital decoupling’ approach when modernising a legacy app. He advises that organisations start by decoupling read-only data with change data capture to build a digital experience on top, and application programming interfaces (APIs) on top of the legacy platform before gradually replacing the functionality of the legacy monolith with a new digital application.
One or many cloud providers?
Some organisations have moved the absolute majority of their IT systems and applications to one cloud provider, while others prefer to put their eggs in more than one basket.
Like many other organisations, TPG runs a multi-cloud environment with its primary cloud provider being AWS. Google is providing some more unique services and the company’s Office 365 and Active Directory services hosted by Microsoft Azure.
“We see that there may be some benefit in being able to move applications that have been architecture for portability to different cloud providers – for example, when utilising containerisation – but there is very little commercial benefit in trying to do that as a strategic imperative,” says TPG’s James.
“The other challenges when trying to move workloads around is that you dilute your spend with any one cloud provider, which then encroaches into any discounts or investments that you can negotiate from a single provider.”
A single cloud environment can be easier to manage for smaller and simpler environments that may not have the technical resources required internally, says Kangan Institute’s Brusco.
“It is simpler to move workloads to and from a single cloud and it can still provide good cost benefits,” he says.
“The downside is that while it’s simpler to manage a single cloud provider, it can be more difficult when things turn sour with the cloud provider. Most organisations migrating a workload to the cloud usually find themselves moving into multi-cloud environments.
“This is driven by the different offerings and costs of the various cloud providers. It is also driven by organisations wanting the risk diversity that comes with multi-cloud environments even if there is a higher management overhead,” he says.