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99 problems but the cloud ain’t one: The move towards multi-cloud

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One of hottest trends in the cloud and IT industry is multi-cloud – and with Gartner expecting the strategy to be part of the IT mix in 70 per cent of organisations by 2019, the trend is only going to grow this year.   

With a multi-cloud strategy, an organisation leverages two or more cloud services across multiple vendors to create a wide-ranging cloud approach that can provide better service for company personnel, for distinct applications, as well as for clients. The industry has moved away from distinguishing between public and private cloud, and towards this multi-cloud model as business needs become increasingly complex. A recent survey by Microsoft and 451 Research found that 79 per cent of businesses today work with more than one cloud/hosting provider. In fact, nearly 30 per cent work with four or more. 

At first glance, the idea of using multiple cloud vendors and services may give the idea that IT teams are making their working lives needlessly complicated. Surely, one might think, it would be so much simpler to consolidate their infrastructure? Perhaps, but there are some clear advantages to choosing multi-cloud architectures. And sometimes complexity can offer a lot more than simplicity – particularly if the organisation’s own management of these cloud systems remains simple in contrast to a complex backend. 

Why multi-cloud?   

Different cloud providers have different strengths, which are suited to the various demands of diverse customers and applications. Some cloud environments are built to deploy Platform-as-a-Service, Infrastructure-as-a-Service or Software-as-a-Service models. Others offer specific cloud products such as Disaster-Recovery-as-a-Service, Database-as-a-Service, Desktop-as-a-Service and so on. At its core, a multi-cloud strategy allows organisations to pick the specific services, models and providers that best fit their needs. 

For some applications, obtaining the lowest possible latency might be the priority, so organisations will pick a provider based on physical proximity to their nearest data centre with high speed connectivity to the client site. Another might offer considerably lower costs. A third may have a unique technical capability that isn’t available elsewhere. Then, perhaps, there are data governance regulations that require hosting to be physically situated within specific borders, leading to the choice of a fourth provider. With diverse sets of needs such as these, it becomes apparent that a mix of providers with different strengths is what may best meet the specific needs of an organisation.   

By not requiring an ‘all or nothing’ approach, multi-cloud can also make outsourcing simpler. With greater control over their different cloud services, IT managers can choose which processes need to be controlled locally and which can be outsourced to save costs. This gives clients the flexibility to choose the best-suited option for each application, without compromising on the control required for the specific ones. 

Having worked as a consultant on Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) software, I’ve seen the benefits that multi-cloud can offer first-hand. One of the biggest challenges for clients when planning their resource use for the next year, is that the best approach to procurement often varies depending on which part of the business is concerned. For example, “procure to pay” may work best for one business unit while “order to cash” may be better for another. For one client I was involved with - integration of multiple ERP software programmes was difficult, and therefore some businesses may have to settle for an ERP product that is most suitable for the majority of their business processes, rather than the best product for each individual process. And, of course, that compromise might lead to a product choice that ‘falls between stools’, not fully pleasing any individual consumer of the solution. 

With a multi-cloud strategy, businesses can pick and choose the product, service or platform that best fits the requirement of each process or business unit – and then integrate those services – while retaining the ability to retain legacy systems in-house, in a dedicated environment. 

Multi-cloud in a world of complex legislation

Data protection legislation is likely to have an increasingly significant impact on IT strategy. We have seen various changes in the legislative and political landscape – including Brexit, the EUCJ’s invalidation of the Safe Harbour agreement, the imminent introduction of the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation and the results of the US election – which are likely to have a substantial effect on the compliance and regulatory landscape.   

These events have attracted considerable attention, and cybersecurity remains a hot topic for legislators and laymen alike: everyone from consumers to businesses and governments is tuned in to the issue of where data is being stored and how it is being moved between countries. Enterprises that need to operate across various geographies, storing and moving data between them are faced with a very complicated and still unfinished picture.   

In light of this, the move towards hybrid and multi-cloud IT environments makes a lot of sense. By creating a tailored multi-cloud strategy, organisations can store more sensitive data on-premises or in private cloud environments and, in turn, move other workloads to the public cloud environments to utilise the scalability, cost effectivity and compute capabilities. 

The challenges of a multi-cloud approach

A multi-cloud world does, however, offer some management and administrative challenges. Patches, security updates and upgrades must all be monitored and controlled across multiple products and services, as well as multiple vendors, to ensure the environment runs smoothly. Transferring information between different pots and avoiding unnecessary duplication add their own challenges. 

Reducing the number of portals required or the number of software services connecting to different providers is one way to alleviate this. Some cloud providers are addressing this through clearer, consolidated client monitoring portals. Another solution is consolidation and partnerships, with for example, managed service providers and mid-sized cloud providers partnering with hyperscale providers to help organisations create a simplified, managed multi-cloud strategy. Such partnerships bring together valuable expertise in building and delivering a tailored solution that fit a specific client’s needs. Also, from an internal IT team perspective; being able to manage multiple service providers in one place can potentially halve the management overhead, or more. 

Additionally, pricing models must be monitored and managed carefully when using a multi-cloud approach, as these will vary depending on the services that businesses choose and the level of involvement of partners. For example, pricing may differ depending on how much of a business’ IT infrastructure is controlled and managed in-house versus that controlled by the third party partner. Businesses must ensure that they choose the right partner to help manage their IT environment and communicate a clear areas and delineation of responsibilities for what will be managed by the partner and what will be managed in-house. This is equally true for the migration to a multi-cloud environment as it is for the ongoing management of it. 

The right partner will not only provide the right cloud platforms and services, but also the skills and expertise to help manage a multi-cloud environment, proactively assisting the business with developing a strategy that keeps the IT department aligned with overall business goals. With the mentality surrounding cloud computing having shifted from “why cloud?” to “what cloud?”, specialised multi-cloud and hybrid cloud solutions can undoubtedly help businesses create a robust platform that is scalable, stable, cost-effective and that helps meet the challenges of an increasingly complex regulatory landscape. 

Vivek Vahie, Senior Director of Service Delivery at Navisite 

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Vivek Vahie
Vivek Vahie is a Senior Director of Service Delivery at Navisite. He has over 20 years of experience in IT infrastructure, application management and professional services.