Deliver a consistent operating model in a multi-cloud world



Multi-cloud is quite simply the use of multiple clouds. Organisations that take up this approach are able to benefit from greater agility and a reduction in costs as they can select and tailor cloud services based on their needs. And as such, it is increasingly becoming reality for CIOs today.

The Flexera State of the Cloud Survey 2021 found that 84% of organisations use multiple clouds, a rise of 3% from last year. Meanwhile last year, a survey conducted by Forrester on behalf of Dell Technologies’ company Virtustream, found that 86% of cloud strategy and application management decision makers described their organisations’ cloud strategy as ‘multi-cloud’, with the highest proportion (32%) saying they used multiple public and private cloud for different application workloads.

The benefits of multi-cloud

There are plenty of reasons why enterprises have opted for this multi-cloud approach.

According to Gartner, the benefits of multi-cloud include increasing agility, minimising vendor lock-in, improving availability or performance, or the consideration of data sovereignty, regulatory requirements and labour costs. In addition, there’s an argument that perfection from one cloud vendor or product is simply impossible, and therefore extracting the benefits of different clouds makes more sense, as does having the option of two different clouds for back-up purposes in case of a failover.

But while there are numerous benefits to a multi-cloud approach, CIOs are keen to survey, audit and harmonise their cloud sprawl, without stopping the business from being agile and forward-thinking. CIOs will also want to ensure that they have the appropriate control over a multi-cloud strategy.

One of the key drivers for many IT leaders to move to a multi-cloud approach has been the rise of shadow IT, with employees and other divisions opting to use cloud applications and services without the approval of the organisation and IT management team. This creates an unsupervised multi-cloud by default. It’s no surprise then, that according to IDC, the largest data centre challenge most companies face is developing a successful multi-cloud strategy.

So how can they best map out the complexity of multi-cloud before it becomes unmappable?

The thought of having a mixture of IaaS and SaaS vendors, as well as numerous cloud services from a range of public clouds, can be daunting. Many of the services may look similar but they function differently in terms of costs, provisioning, as well as technical know-how. The first steps for organisations should be to define their transformation strategy, build a roadmap and business case, and define their cloud architecture.

To do this, CIOs must ask themselves which vendors and products they are using for which parts of their organisation. This requires them to set an expectation for performance, security, availability, operations and interoperability and help them to test and select the appropriate services. These services should then be listed, and then there’s a chance for organisations to consider the tools and processes they can put in place to help them manage the multi-cloud strategy thereafter.

This can include specific cloud management tools that are built to reduce the complexity of managing multiple clouds.

Containers, for example, solve the issue of interoperability, where software environments are not identical between different clouds. It does this by offering an application platform, and stripping away the differences in OS distributions and underlying infrastructure by ‘containerising’ it. This means that processes can be isolated from the rest of the system, and the benefit is that they are easy to port between different clouds, and consistent in development, testing and production. Developers can subsequently test their applications across a number of multiple operating systems, and protect themselves from failure as if the application was to crash it would only affect the container rather than the OS. In addition, containers can be clustered together in order to scale up services, while increasing their robustness. Organisations can then update individual services without having to take an application offline completely. Containers are often cited as best used for running microservice based applications but they can, and are, used to serve up traditional app stacks and infrastructure too.

A service mesh is another tool that can help organisations who are thinking about the bigger picture when it comes to multi-cloud. While microservices libraries will initially be able to handle service-to-service communications with no issues, eventually a business is likely to scale these microservices and add features to them. This can lead to more work for developers who have to deal with an increase in requests, as well as a lack of a holistic view of traffic. A service mesh can act as a logical framework for deploying and connecting microservices, promoting standardisation. However, while a service mesh across different clouds is possible, it requires a lot of technical expertise to get right as experimentation to fully understand how the technology can be deployed in any particular circumstance is a must.

The role of CASBs

Organisations may also want to consider Cloud Access Security Brokers (CASBs) to ensure data and applications are secure in this multi-cloud environment. While each cloud is secure because vendors spend millions on IT security, enterprises disaggregate their application security risk by using more than one cloud. CASBs can help to manage the complexity of policy enforcement and coverage across a multi-cloud architecture.

While departments and employees may see the introduction of a multi-cloud approach as a way of thwarting their freedom, CIOs must make it clear that the opposite is true, and that this multi-cloud approach means that the organisation can actually use more services than ever before. However, they must also reposition themselves as less of the ‘IT purchaser’ and more of the ‘IT advisor’. This means that they can hear from other business leaders about their cloud needs, and give their take on the technical requirements necessary for a multi-cloud approach. This strategy encourages a more positive inclusive reaction, one that says, ‘join us on our multi-cloud strategy’, rather than a ‘do as you’re told’ method.

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