Somewhere, there’s a business that’s still using dial telephones and paper rolodexes. That’s not your company. In fact, it is all but certain that your operation is using more than one cloud service, and perhaps a dozen or more distinct services for particular purposes. Multi-cloud is today’s business reality.
According to a recent report on cloud technology, companies have an average of six separate clouds. In a November 30, 2016, article, Information Age’s Neil Ismail defines multi-cloud as any situation where apps are deployed across two or more cloud platforms. The goal is to improve performance and cost efficiency by matching app components to the tools and technologies best suited to them.
One of the misconceptions about multi-clouds is that they are synonymous with hybrid clouds. As Ismail explains, hybrid clouds are a specific type of multi-cloud distinguished by “traditional” application deployment via on-premises computing or managed hosting on a combination of public clouds and private clouds. Orchestration tools are used to manage the various hybrid platforms.
According to RightScale’s 2016 State of the Cloud report, three out of four enterprises and nearly two out of three small businesses use a mix of public and private clouds.
The cloud is not some place you’re going to visit for a short while before returning back home. It’s the place your company’s systems are going to live for the long run. Of course, you don’t plan for a vacation the same way you plan for a permanent move. Even if you’ve got a good start on your cloud operations – initial apps in place and running smoothly, core competencies well developed in your staff – your plan isn’t complete until you’ve laid down a foundation for the long run.
In a December 19, 2016, article on EnterpriseTech, Logicworks’ Jason McKay cites a recent Gartner study that found for each dollar a company invests in innovation through 2019, it will spend $7 for core execution.
According to Gartner, “Designing, implementing, integrating, operationalizing, and managing the ideated solution can be significantly more than the initial innovation costs because the deployment costs of the Mode 2 ‘ideated solution’ are not necessarily considered during ideation.”
McKay offers three suggestions for building an at-scale cloud-computing practice:
- Focus on automated, cloud-native tools that streamline ongoing management rather than on an “easier” lift-and-shift migration that relies on existing toolsets.
- Use writing resource templates such as AWS CloudFormation or TerraForm rather than asking in-house system engineers to devise one-off “snowflake” cloud environments.
- Partner with a company that offers a mature automation framework, or invest in your own configuration management system.
Debunking the Myth of Multi-Cloud Management
The success of any project depends on having a good understanding of where you’re starting from. For a multi-cloud management plan, that means knowing the characteristics and status of all existing cloud operations in the organization. As Information Age’s Ismael writes, this initial step can be the trickiest of the entire process because IT managers may be in denial about how people in the company are currently using the cloud.
The LANDESK survey of shadow IT found that 92 percent of IT departments report having shadow IT projects turned over to them to manage, averaging 7.1 shadow-IT projects per company.
The result, according to Rackspace CTO John Engates, is that “businesses often end up employing multi-cloud by accident due to other departments employing cloud services without their knowledge.” After investigating cloud use in the company, IT may discover that the marketing department is using one cloud, for example, while the human resources department relies on an entirely different cloud service. The solution, Ismael says, is to offer “a menu of cloud providers which have been researched and pre-approved by the IT department.”
Two other common misconceptions about multi-cloud are that they are less secure than in-house systems and that they require technical expertise that is in short supply. To debunk the first matter, Ismael points out that a carefully planned and implemented multi-cloud strategy improves overall security by giving companies more control over the physical location of their most-sensitive data for compliance purposes. Firms also exercise more precise control over the methods used to protect their information.
As for the shortage of cloud management expertise, Ismael recommends that companies survey their IT staff and business departments to “assess the level of expertise that already exists in the business and find out where the gaps are.” Once those gaps are identified, you shop for just the skills you need from cloud brokers or managed cloud providers. Doing so frees up in-house staff to spend their time on activities that move the business closer to its goals.
The multi-cloud and hybrid cloud setups that have evolved from initial pilot projects and shadow IT form the basis of an integrated virtualized approach to application management. Embotics President Jay Litkey calls this type of automated cloud management “IT as a service” because it places resource optimization, lifecycle management, workflow and automation, IT costing and chargeback, and self-service and service catalog in a single in a separate layer that accommodates cloud services of all types.
The software-defined data center (SDDC) shifts management of applications and workloads to a single layer where they are abstracted and aggregated apart from any particular resource, physical or virtual. Only then are the instances comprising the workloads able to be distributed most efficiently to the multi-cloud and hybrid cloud resources optimized for them.
From Cloud Migration to Cloud Management
It’s understandable that companies introduce cloud computing to their operations through small, targeted projects that serve as proofs of concept. Over time the migrations become smoother, and the cloud projects grow in number and complexity. The problem is, many organizations remain stuck in “migration” mode and struggle to get to “management” mode, which entails the gamut of IT duties.