Avoiding Vendor Lock-In Carries a Variety of Benefits and Challenges

Multi-cloud strategies reduce reliance on any single CSP, but companies may face additional challenges. Here’s how to realize the benefits—and solve the issues.

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IBM and IDG Content

Smart business is all about managing risk. That same principle is the guiding force behind enterprise cloud strategies, which are shifting to a multi-cloud environment as companies try to mitigate dependence on any one cloud service provider (CSP).

A recent RightScale survey found that 85% of enterprises have embraced a multi-cloud strategy in 2017—a bump of 3% over last year. On average, the survey found that companies are running applications in 1.8 public clouds and 2.3 private clouds.

While there are many reasons to bring multiple cloud service providers (CSPs) into the mix, fear of vendor lock-in can be a major driver. A StratoScale survey found that over 80% of enterprises show moderate to high levels of concern about public cloud lock-in.

By embracing a multi-cloud strategy and avoiding dependence on any single CSP, organizations can improve their overall enterprise performance by mapping unique workloads to different cloud offerings based on requirements. They can also diversify their landscape so they are less vulnerable to data breaches or service interruption—spurred on, perhaps, by high-profile outages, including Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3), which was down for nearly four hours last February.

In addition to leveraging multiple clouds to create redundancy and increase reliability and uptime, there are other benefits to avoiding vendor lock-in. With innovation a top priority for CIOs, multi-cloud puts enterprises in a much better position to take advantage of new capabilities or to keep their costs in check simply by shifting workloads around to different vendors.  This model delivers a level of agility and flexibility simply not possible when aligned with a single cloud provider.

Creating an infrastructure served by multiple CSPs also helps strengthen software vulnerabilities, both by reducing the commitment to a single vendor and by facilitating the interoperability that allows workloads to be easily migrated.

Multi-Cloud Management: Critical to the Mix

While a multi-vendor CSP approach has many benefits, the approach is not without challenges. The most pressing issue is how to effectively manage a multi-cloud environment as a majority of tools are optimized for a particular platform and thus lack visibility across multiple clouds.

Before branching out to multiple cloud providers, companies need to have robust governance and identity management policies in place, which will ensure fast delivery of cloud services while still adhering to enterprise requirements for budget control, security, and compliance.  Securing and controlling access to data in the cloud is extremely critical, especially at the dawn of General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which institutes data privacy laws for EU citizens.

“Customers have to rethink the way they consider cloud security policies and processes,” says Nataraj Nagaratnam, distinguished engineer, CTO cloud security & director, for IBM’s cloud security services. As part of that shift, “they need to institutionalize governance models as each line of business makes their own development decisions about the business,” he explains.

In addition to governance and identity, the right multi-cloud management platform should be tapped to automate provisioning, orchestration, and deployment of the right workloads into the right cloud environment while delivering a single pane of glass for transparency across a myriad of CSPs.

In addition, self-service is central to the management of a multi-cloud environment. Cloud brokerage capabilities should enable anyone across the enterprise to access the services they need through a self-service catalog, no matter which CSP or regardless of where the application or service runs in the multi-cloud landscape.

Multi-cloud can certainly free enterprises from the shackles of vendor lock-in. Yet without a thoughtful plan and robust management tools, the multi-cloud journey is hardly without risk.

Click here to learn more about IBM’s multi-cloud management solutions.