The last few years have seen an increasing interest among enterprises of all types and sizes towards a multicloud strategy. In every industry, businesses are considering and implementing such strategies, virtualising their infrastructure, and selecting a range of cloud providers, instead of depending on a single vendor. However, multicloud isn’t for every business, and isn’t without its challenges that need to be overcome in order to reap the benefits.
“Before embarking on a multicloud journey, take a step back and identify the desired business outcomes. Cloud isn’t a panacea to all IT problems. Teams should be making strategic decisions about the appropriate cloud environment to leverage based on the type of data in play, and the applications making use of that data,” says Rupert Brazier, country manager, Pure Storage “Businesses need to build a holistic, well-integrated data architecture that aligns data storage, VMs and applications encompassing multiple clouds and on-premises to succeed.”
Thomas Lee, CEO of Wingu, says there are several foundational elements that need to be considered before adopting multicloud environments.
“Connectivity is a major consideration. Others include security, single pane of glass management of costs and resources, the skills for your people, and even more, depending on your specific environment. One of the primary considerations is the workload that currently exists that you want to shift to or create new in the cloud. This helps you choose which cloud is right for you and when is the right time to move.
“You also have to understand how to shift workloads between your environment and the cloud environment you select. Can you use tools? Must you rebuild from scratch? Can you shift the data seamlessly? Do you need to make backups and restore from them? Does the cloud environment support multicloud?”
“You need to consider the full spectrum of costs and not get sucked into the myopia of the price of one virtual machine versus another.”
Thomas Lee, Wingu
Another major consideration, says Lee, is understanding the fiscal aspects of your datacentre versus the cloud. “You need to consider the full spectrum of costs and not get sucked into the myopia of the price of one virtual machine versus another. It helps you understand the economics of when it makes sense to shift workloads to the cloud, when to shift them from one cloud to another, and when to shift them back on-premise. Financial modelling is crucial to the success or failure of cloud use.”
Plan of action
“Once you have your plan in place, you implement it in parts so that you can dynamically rework it according to the evolving scenario. A big part of that is going for the low-hanging fruit. That helps show returns on the project, demonstrates how effective it can be, and gets the business behind it. This leads to another important lesson – adopting multicloud isn’t a project that starts, gets implemented, then you’re done; it’s an ongoing process that can take some time to shift all the way through. Most medium to large enterprises are going to invest a year or two, at least. And in that time, they’re going to change the scope of what they’re looking for and how they want it. The business isn’t static, it’s evolving, and the cloud programme needs to keep pace with what’s happening on the ground.”
According to Avsharn Bachoo, CTO at PPS, the first and most crucial step is to define what multicloud means to you and to your organisation. “The hype, buzz and fads often muddy an organisation’s cloud strategy, and CIOs jump straight into implementation. This is a critical first step as multicloud means many things. In my opinion, a multicloud environment is one in which you use two or more public cloud services from two or more cloud vendors.”
“Adding new technologies is also relatively easy; it’s getting them all to work together that can be challenging.”
Mikey Molfessis, Mimecast
Based on Bachoo’s definition, three multicloud architectures exist: “Architecture one is the simplest multicloud architecture, with a clean separation of your organisation’s workloads between different cloud vendors. For instance, your tier 1 workloads run on Google Cloud Platform (GCP), while your tier 2 workloads run on Microsoft Azure, with no relationship across the cloud platforms. With architecture two, your primary workload is hosted with a specific cloud vendor, however, you consume specialist services from another cloud provider. For instance, your tier 1 application runs on GCP, but uses APIs from Azure. The third architecture enables your workloads to dynamically and automatically move between different cloud vendors, based on pricing or performance, which is called cloud bursting.”
For businesses thinking about adopting a multicloud environment, even those that may not feel ready yet, it’s a great idea to start exploring with a minimum of two cloud vendors, says Bachoo. “As a CIO, this will help you get a feel of the interface and services, which will lead to an understanding of how a multicloud environment can serve their organisational needs and which direction to go in. As a CIO today, I don’t believe you’re in a position to leverage a single cloud for all your needs. Even as cloud vendors add multiple services like analytics and bespoke applications to try to keep people in the ecosystem, businesses need a multicloud strategy. The goal of a multicloud strategy is to provide the most value to the business for the money being spent.”
Multicloud, multiple benefits
The benefits of multicloud are many, says Brazier, including a greater degree of data centricity, with access to data across clouds. “Enterprises need this data centricity to be more competitive in the market – it enables a much more simplistic way of deploying overall services for IT and provides the real-time access to data required to gain more intelligence and make faster decisions through analytics. Also, multicloud can deliver increased agility, and the capability to scale workloads up and down very quickly, in line with business needs.”
Business users need a variety of applications and they need them to ‘play nice’ with enterprise systems, adds Lee. “They need specific functionality, often quickly, and the cloud model is great for achieving that. But it also helps them stay within the framework of the business’ systems architecture so there’s no need for dirty little shadow IT secrets that expose the business to unnecessary risk. The number one benefit they get in the digital economy is the ability to fail quickly, often, then move on to another opportunity until they find the right fit. Rapid and cost-effective failure is increasingly important. Cloud and multicloud help people get the functionality they need for their processes, for new products, for ways to enhance their services, while engineering in the control of data, governance, security risks and more. It helps them develop and adopt microservices in ways that make sense for the customer experience improvements they want to make. Interoperability through extensive and rigorous APIs is an enormous benefit to modern businesses,” Lee adds.
“It helps change the way they work so that they can change the way customers consume their services or products. Airlines, for example, are exposing events in their processes through APIs and integrating third-party microservices that help them offer passengers highly customised and dynamic benefits at almost any point on their journey. In a highly competitive and arguably cut-throat industry that sees almost disproportional failure rates, that’s welcome competitive advantage.”
No single cloud vendor has the best tools for everything, says Bachoo, and every cloud is built differently. These differences not only cover physical infrastructure components, but encompass a diverse range of characteristics, functionality and pricing models among other aspects. By using multiple cloud vendors, you can cherry-pick the best services from each. With the multicloud environment, you can spin up whatever cloud resources are on offer without having to compromise your choices. Multicloud offers a rich set of cloud options to solve various business needs across a diverse range of computing and business functions, thereby optimising returns on cloud investments. For example, if you build your core business application on GCP, and need a SQL database from Azure, then you would use both GCP and Azure.
Another benefit, says Bachoo, is peace of mind that your organisation isn’t at the mercy of a single vendor. Not only might that vendor suffer an outage, but their service levels could decline or their prices could go up. By using two or more vendors, your infrastructure becomes more resilient and you could keep clones of your applications in two separate clouds so that, if one cloud vendor goes down, your business keeps running.
“The other benefit that I’ve experienced is better negotiation power,” he says. “Having the ability to autonomously run your workloads on different cloud providers gives a CIO much more negotiation room. As a CIO, if you feel that the best deal hasn’t been reached for your organisation, there’s an option to change cloud providers far more easily, as you already know that some of your workloads are running on another cloud vendor. Distributing your business between vendors can give you ample leverage in your negotiations.”
Beware the pitfalls
So what are the points of failure to avoid when adopting multicloud in the business? Avoid lock-in, says Brazier. “The public cloud is changing at an incredible rate with new and differentiated services. That means flexibility is key when looking at which cloud is the best fit for your workload. The framework needs to be able to accommodate this. Ensure the framework aligns with your technical goals in terms of application hosting, be that hosting VMs, running scalable container platforms or exploiting public cloud PaaS offerings. Finally, carefully consider how your on-prem cloud integrates into the multicloud architecture. Trying to integrate a traditional IT environment with the public cloud to create a multicloud risks dumbing down the whole environment to the lowest common denominator. The benefits of cloud are predicated on flexibility and agility; full automation is key to delivering this and that automation needs to be applied to all components within the multicloud. Ensure the on-premises and public cloud environments are fully automated through the underlying APIs across the environment. If you’re not able to balance multiple solutions from multiple vendors, this can lead to issues around solution compatibility, and overlapping technologies, which result in unnecessary costs for businesses.”
When organisations test products on different cloud providers, they often find it easier to keep multiple solutions running on different platforms, adds Mikey Molfessis, sales engineer at Mimecast. “Each cloud provider has its own security principles and solutions on offer, which can cause a bit of an admin nightmare on the customer’s side, especially when they run on multiple cloud platforms.
“To reduce this complexity, some organisations look to consolidate to a single cloud, but it can be difficult due to the solutions they may have developed and their role within the business. What organisations are striving for instead, is a standard security platform across their cloud deployments with effective monitoring capabilities. Many organisations are investing in SIEMs and SOARs, but that doesn’t solve the issue of what they need to monitor and what to do with the data. Adding new technologies is also relatively easy; it’s getting them all to work together that can be challenging. However, it’s essential that they do, as it’s the key to keeping the organisation as safe as possible and optimising the investments made into cloud and associated security solutions,” adds Molfessis.
What organisations should look for is a security provider that has built its solutions from the ground up with cloud in mind as this will result in reduced complexity, lower risk and greater returns on investment into security and cloud solutions, he continues.
For Bachoo, the biggest potential failure is not clearly understanding all the vendors’ pricing models. “Cloud vendors typically offer a dynamic usage or volume-based pricing model. The pricing models are almost always linked to large discounts based on usage or volume. In South Africa, the discount can be as high as 40% for high usage or volume or no discount for low volumes. As a CIO, these discounts can make or break your total IT opex budget for the year. Certainly, by diluting your cloud deployments, you will also be diluting these discounts. Adding to this complexity, even if you’re using a single cloud vendor, understanding the pricing model can be difficult; imagine how difficult it is with two or three cloud vendors.
It’s also important to understand the global architecture of different cloud providers and design your multicloud to leverage their multiple availability zones and multiple regions, says Bachoo. “It’s important to understand this geography and location of your cloud vendors, as this affects latency. You must take into account each of your cloud provider’s content distribution network, as when you switch cloud providers, latency issues will result. It’s difficult to move large amounts of data and their accompanying applications across cloud vendors. It’s not just the obvious costs such as bandwidth and cloud egress charges, but also the cost of maintaining a second environment. Simply put, moving data around is hard.”0
Apples and oranges
Another issue is understanding the different permutations of the various cloud platforms, says Lee. They’re almost impossible to compare like for like. That means you need deeper skills to be able to understand how the different platforms will impact your business and what you’re trying to achieve from the platforms. It means you need people with the training, skills, and knowledge to determine if it’s possible to use the platforms to achieve your aims and which solutions are on which platforms. It’s another level of complexity and adds time to the process of determining which cloud platform to use, how to get the best advantage for your business, and how to go about moving into the cloud. How you get there, how you lift and shift your systems, or how you get the benefits of promotional and other offers from the cloud service providers, which can make huge potential savings every year, is a paramount consideration.
“All clouds say it’s easy to move, but the reality is more often that, once you’re in the ecosphere, it’s very difficult to move. It’s the complexity that locks people into one environment or another,” says Lee.
So how should businesses go about managing that complexity? Brazier says the importance of software can’t be overstated. According to Gartner, in 2019, worldwide spending on enterprise software was expected to reach $439bn, that’s an increase of 8.3% from 2018. “When it comes to managing a multicloud environment, organisations should aim to invest in a single, consolidated, cloud-based management interface for their infrastructure and data storage. A solution that allows companies to access their data from anywhere, with 24/7 predictive support that can autonomously find and fix issues. Additionally, this kind of software should be able to look at how an infrastructure is performing, what its capacity is, whether it needs to be upgraded or repaired, as well as sending data back to a central hub for analysis and more informed decision-making,” he says.
You need the right resources, says Lee. “A cloud architect, for example, is enormously helpful to highly complex environments. Small businesses, though, rely on the service provider to supply that capability, which you can see in the partner ecosystems that proliferate the SOA-based cloud services. Qualified personnel will help you determine the finer details to successful cloud operations. Just because a cloud-based system has the same specs as your current on-premise kit doesn’t necessarily mean it will deliver the same performance. It could be throttled at any point in the delivery. Or it could be optimised differently. Some systems are optimised for compute capabilities, others for I/O and storage, and so on. Knowing which do that will help you determine the correct mixture of multi-cloud platforms to use.”