The future is multicloud

The idea that your cloud strategy can rely solely on one service provider is outdated. It’s not just thinking about the high-level infrastructure and platforms for the applications developers; what about your shadow IT estate? How can you manage the cloud sprawl?
Read time 10min 00sec
Craig Nel, Oracle.
Craig Nel, Oracle.

Across every industry in every region, organisations are struggling to keep up with evolving business needs, as well as build on their existing digital investments. And after years of conversation around whether or not public cloud environments are suitable for enterprise workloads, the pandemic made it crystal clear that now the adoption of cloud is only a matter of how and when, rather than if. We’re also seeing the move towards multicloud, a strategy where a business leverages two or more cloud computing platforms to perform various tasks, accelerate dramatically.

There are many benefits to a multicloud strategy, most compellingly is independence from centralised hardware, scalability and network resilience created through having multiple services distributed across multiple platforms rather than just one, says Gabriel le Roux, key account manager at ESET Southern Africa.

In this way, he says if one cloud goes down for whatever reason, it will not affect the rest of the business.“Vendor or provider accountability is another benefit, as each provider can be held accountable for its service. In contrast, each cloud service is selected based on a best-in-class approach aligned to the most prioritised metric for each service. Another benefit is healthy competition. It keeps pricing where it should be as vendors and providers want to stay competitive, and customers avoid being locked in by one vendor.”

Darren Fields, regional VP, Cloud Networking, EMEA, Citrix, says a multicloud strategy brings choices to an organisation.

With more options comes the ability to invest in digital transformation without getting locked into a single service or putting down a huge outlay of capital. A multicloud strategy enables stakeholders to pick and choose the specific solutions that work best for their organisation, and as diverse business needs arise, change and become more complex, the business can allocate resources for specific uses, maximise those resources and pay for only what they use.

Multicloud also empowers organisations by maintaining strict security compliance while optimising computing resources and reduces the risk that a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack could take mission-critical applications offline. When even a single hour of downtime can cost an organisation dearly, advanced security protocols pay for themselves. In addition, multicloud offers better disaster preparedness, because the likelihood of concurrent downtime across multiple cloud vendors is extremely low.

“Service providers such as Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services have impressive service level agreements that protect their clients against downtime. By leveraging two or more of these services, risk of disaster decreases significantly,” says Fields.

“Other benefits include being able to optimise cost and production locations depending on the specific business and regulatory requirements, finding the best connectivity and data flow, as well as being able to have systems in one platform and data located elsewhere,” adds Andre Schwan, deal solutions manager infrastructure and cloud, Solution Design at Gijima. “It also increases the resilience of the overall landscape and exposes the organisation to a much wider landscape of technology and product options, increasing innovation and organisational change agility.”

Not all roses

However, today’s multicloud reality is not without its challenges. As data becomes more distributed across on-premise and colocation datacentres, multiple public clouds and edge environments, complexity is added, and many companies don’t know where to begin when it comes to implementing a multicloud strategy.

“There isn’t a set step-by-step guide for this,” says Le Roux.

“Often, multicloud environments are set up by accident as IT and other departments sign up for various new cloud services as part of different IT projects. Originally, companies may have migrated to the cloud by typically migrating to one cloud account for cloud storage, for example, or email, and then aggregate peripheral services over time on other clouds.”

Often multicloud environments are set up by accident as IT and other departments sign up for various new cloud services as part of different IT change projects.

Gabriel le Roux, ESET Southern Africa

The ultimate goal for organisations of any size remains gaining better insights in the moments when they matter most, says Craig Nel, cloud platform leader, ECEMEA at Oracle.

“As cloud players rally for dominance and market share, smart businesses will invest in providers that seamlessly integrate with various cloud providers and make it easy to view data across the enterprise, no matter where it lives. Organisations need to evaluate the key areas of their business where the cloud can deliver value and benefits. This evaluation should go beyond the mere technical benefits and seek to identify the potential of the cloud in every aspect of their business,” says Nel.

Leveraging a single cloud environment requires a team with experience and know-how of that particular cloud vendor, he says. So, moving to a multicloud approach suggests an even higher demand with regards to the expertise available. One way to gain control over a multicloud environment is to take the time upfront to understand the need for different services across the enterprise and implement mechanisms to guide this move in a strategic and holistic way. Ensuring cloud native apps are designed in a modular and open manner, with standard and simple functionalities, is a good place to start to ensure a seamless experience that allows the integration of new and future services into the design.

The dreaded silos

There are some pitfalls to avoid too, says Le Roux. Beware of data silos.

The different groups of an organisation tend to store data in separate locations and usually aren’t easily accessible for other groups in the same organisation. They come about due to technical barriers. Also, legacy software platforms can’t sync data and manage multiple processes across the organisation.

The competitive culture within organisations also causes data silos as one group may not want another group to be privy to their data out of distrust of their peers. Implementing new systems can also cause silos as data may be left in one and not integrated into the next.

Creating a collaborative culture within the organisation is one way of avoiding this and focusing on integrating systems where possible to create a single source of truth. Cloud providers use tools such as data lakes to solve this issue.

It should be noted, he adds, that creating a successful multicloud strategy isn’t a silver bullet solution. It will take focus and attention to detail to fine-tune the working formula. Being agile and informed is key.

Multicloud, while beneficial, increases deployment complexity and requires a level of IT management integration (and resultant tooling) on top of the native tooling offered by the individual platforms. This tooling is mostly centred around monitoring and controlling of the deployments and includes security monitoring and compliance measurement and management tools; infrastructure/service provisioning and monitoring financial control; and integration technologies.

“There are several solutions available in the market to perform these tasks, but like all tooling, it takes some time to train resources, set up, integrate, ensure the security of the tools themselves and develop to your unique requirements and the costs can easily spiral beyond what was planned,” says Schwan.

“The most important processes to get in place up front are the security and architectural approval and control processes and on the IT financial management side ensure that proper process governance and control is put into place to contain cloud spend sprawl, especially if you have multiple divisions and development teams utilising the cloud landscape. Cost interrogation on cloud spend should be as vigorous as in traditional deployments. This seems like an obvious statement but consider that the public platforms are designed to make it as easy as possible for you to increase your spending. Without internal control, sprawl becomes a significant problem.”

Diversity breeds complexity

As new cloud and application architectures are adopted, the diversity of multicloud environments can lead to fragmentation and silos and this will prevent businesses from having the contextual visibility they need to troubleshoot issues, particularly issues with microservices-based applications, says Field.

“You can’t fix what you can't see, but a single code base solution provides holistic visibility across on-premise and cloud infrastructure.”

When even a single hour of downtime can cost an organisation dearly, advanced security protocols pay for themselves.

Darren Fields, Citrix.

To ensure operational and feature consistency for all applications across cloud and on-premise environments, an application delivery solution, which is consistent across all of the current and potential future environments is key. This empowers IT with holistic visibility for multicloud environments through a single pane of glass and gives a consistent and strong security posture.

Single code base solutions ensure operational and features consistency for monolithic and microservices-based applications across multicloud, which maximises flexibility by allowing the application delivery infrastructure that best suits the business and cloud migration strategy, to be chosen.

And the future?

“Legislation is starting to catch up to the cloud landscape and governments are providing supporting legislation addressing transactions and data. In addition, many countries and enterprises are demanding open standards and interoperability to prevent lock-in and exorbitant pricing schemes, and also to protect their economies and workforce,” says Schwan.

“There are several great initiatives such as Sovereign Cloud, GAIA-X and others, to secure openness, define standards, and many enterprises are rapidly demanding these as contractual obligations now to prevent lock-in, and ensure services are restricted or developed according to specific ‘open’ rules.”

Schwan continues: “In the long run, we’ll see an increase in interoperability and ease of migration between the platforms. Where the hyperscalers don’t do it themselves enterprising companies will create products to overcome many of the current complexities, like we’re already seeing in the tooling and integrations space. This will increase competition between the platforms and probably drive the costs down further, which will most certainly lead to more organisations adopting multicloud as it will only deliver more benefits as time goes by.

“Considering the benefits, organisations almost don’t have a choice but to adopt cloud in general. The sheer number of possibilities opened by the broad solution and deployment options in the landscapes virtually offer a shopping cart of functionality and services that organisations can draw on to use as a key enabler of their digital transformation, innovation and resultant business competitiveness.”

With some surveys stating that 84% of enterprises have already started to adopt a multicloud approach, it’s plain to see that this is the future, says Le Roux.

“Soon, there will be significant improvements, such as increased storage capacity by constructing more datacentres at lower prices. The internet itself is being upgraded every day. Bigger, faster fibre and wireless connections, even satellite links being invested in through the likes of Elon Musk.IoT is another addition to the improvement of the internet, with almost everything coming online and providing more data analytics. All services are becoming cloud-first. Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, and Software-as-a-Service have become realities. Now is the time to make the shift and adapt.”

* This feature was first published in the March edition of ITWeb's Brainstorm magazine.

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