Skip to main content

The age of multi-cloud: are you ready to take on the challenge?

(Image credit: Image Credit: TZIDO SUN / Shutterstock)

In the era of digital transformation and software-as-a-service, more than eight out of 10 enterprise decision-makers describe their IT strategy as multi-cloud, according to a recent survey by Forrester Research. The ‘pick-n-mix’ approach to cloud deployment enables businesses to exploit the capabilities of each cloud solutions to meet specific needs. The use of more than one public cloud provider across a business’ IT functions to create multi-cloud portfolios is undoubtedly becoming the norm. The challenge for companies now resides in managing increased complexity of management of service assurance, security and cost control.

All too often, organizations fail to implement and enforce standards across multiple cloud providers, and there is no unifying process to enforce tagging, cost savings, or to protect sensitive information. If IT teams aren’t regularly monitoring public cloud environments, the overall cloud spend can become harder to understand and manage. As a result, improperly configured workloads may expose the company to unexpected risks.

The root of the problem leads to evolving user behavior and a lack of visibility within organizations. Accounts for big cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure grow faster than IT teams can feasibly handle. Especially now, when we are facing a new world of increased remote work. With more apps launched every day, it can be hard to keep track of user ‘shadow IT’ behavior and manage all moving parts. To add to the complexity, the big cloud providers offer and sell tools that either focus exclusively on their own cloud offering or that force you down their views of multi-cloud management. These tools often do not help but don’t educate businesses on how to manage the complexity and chaos that can come along with multi-cloud strategies.

Moving beyond the seemingly impossible, I have outlined some simple steps that organizations can use to begin to manage and gain control over their cloud strategy to avoid multi-cloud chaos.

All in good time

Like any seemingly monumental challenge, it all begins with the first step. Evolving a multi-cloud management strategy is a significant change for people, processes and technology. It’s important not to try to change everything overnight. Every organization is different, and there is no single universal guide that applies to all businesses. So set your vision, take baby steps toward it and allow time for reflection. Make sure to look back on progress and build on the previous actions, correcting as you go and effectively outline and prioritize the next steps as they become apparent.

As part of any first steps, business leaders must bring together their InfoSec, Finance and IT Asset Management (ITAM) teams. To effectively manage multiple cloud providers, these teams must have knowledge in their own domains for every cloud vendor they use. In reality, it's uncommon for people to be certified by several different cloud providers. To gain clarity, teams will have to collaborate to join the dots, avoid certification duplication and fill in the gaps accordingly.

Don’t be shy to ask for direction or utilize external experts that can co-ordinate your internal teams.

Working smarter not harder

Effectively managing multiple cloud environments is challenging, and let’s be honest — cloud providers design tools to encourage vendor lock-in. While the path of least resistance is usually manual action, this quickly becomes wasteful and prone to errors with tasks repeated across multiple cloud environments over time.

Instead, all involved parties must think smarter, not work harder, and incorporate automation into cloud management strategies. In doing so, organizations can create a culture where IT teams can be proactive and creative, while avoiding repetitive mundane tasks and dealing with inconsistencies across deployments. IT teams can use automation to effectively manage multiple cloud environments and keeping costs and errors in check to protect the enterprise.

Picking the right cloud provider

Don’t be scared to try something new! Be sure to select the cloud provider that meets current needs, not just the provider you may have used for a previous project. Cloud architects need to have the freedom to experiment with multiple cloud providers so they can make an informed recommendation for each and every specific project. Your architects are the experts in their field. They will fully understand the performance and security needs of your application — from licensing terms, data gravity and regulatory compliance — before selecting its new home. Think of it this way. Your architects don’t get involved and micro-manage your business management processes and decisions, so give them the space to do what they do best.

Keeping an eye out for overspend

There is a growing disconnect between an organization’s understanding of usage and spend on cloud services, and how vendors are charging for those services. Azure and AWS are now tracked and billed by the hour or even the second, yet many businesses are still trying to analyses usage data on a monthly or even yearly basis. That creates a significant challenge for organizations trying to understand, manage and optimize spend as the cloud architecture grows. As lowering costs is one of the critical drivers in adopting multi-cloud, make sure you prioritize understanding consumption models because those models will have a significant impact on your bottom line.

Setting goals

A successful multi-cloud strategy won’t be possible if wider business and departmental needs aren’t understood, and realistic goals and expectations aren’t set ahead of time, particularly around cost. What does success look like for your organization?

It’s impossible to understand the success or failures of any project if goals aren’t set from the start. Furthermore, it is difficult to achieve the desired cost savings with a lack of visibility and duplicate services running both on-premises and in the cloud. Therefore, a clear plan must be defined to understand how progress and success will be measured. If costs increase, but so does agility, and time to market is reduced, is that a success? While some team members may say yes, others may disagree, so it’s essential to be on the same page upfront and open up channels of communication to ensure everyone is aligned on the same goal.

It can be challenging to discover the perfect strategy to manage each cloud environment, and also meet all departmental objectives and goals for cloud projects. That is why effective communication, planning and measurement are crucial to making the seemingly impossible, possible. A secure, flexible and cost-effective multi-cloud environment is achievable with the right tools and strategies in place — it just takes time, patience and teamwork.  As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “nothing worth having comes easy”.

Jesse Stockall, Chief Architect of Cloud Management, Snow Software