A multi-cloud strategy is the utilization of two or more cloud computing services from any number of cloud providers, that are compatible with and extend an organization’s private cloud capabilities. Generally, this means consuming Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) services are provided by more than one cloud vendor as well as by on-premises or private cloud infrastructure.
Many organizations adopt a multi-cloud strategy for redundancy or to prevent vendor lock-in, while others adopt a multi-cloud approach for best fit-for-purpose to meet application needs for example to take advantage of capacity or features available from a particular cloud provider, or to utilize services offered in a particular geography.
Organizations adopt an enterprise multi-cloud strategy for a number of reasons. Utilizing multiple cloud services from a variety of providers offers these advantages, amongst others:
- Modernization: As organizations increasingly adopt cloud-native applications based on containers, microservices, and APIs, a multi-cloud strategy gives access to the broadest array of services while composing new applications.
- Flexibility and Scalability: Using multiple cloud providers can prevent vendor lock-in, can provider leverage during vendor negotiations, and can also expose the organization to new capabilities unique to a second or third provider. Additionally, as demand varies, multi-cloud providers can support increase or decrease in capacity virtually instantaneously.
- Enhance Best Practices: Leverage best practices learned working with one cloud to other public and private clouds.
- Regulatory Compliance: Not all cloud providers provide services or store data in every geography. A multi-cloud strategy can help ensure that an organization is in compliance with the broad range of regulatory and governance mandates, such as GDPR in Europe.
- Agility and Choice: Organizations adopting a multi-cloud strategy can support the needs of an entire application portfolio, and overcome challenges of legacy infrastructure and limited in-house capacity to achieve agility and flexibility needed to remain competitive in their markets. A solid multi-cloud strategy enables organizations to methodically migrate workloads and modernize their application portfolio with cloud-specific services best suited for each application.
- Utilize Best of Breed Services: Organizations can pick the best cloud platform that offers the best possible technology solution at the most attractive price. Organizations can select from the physical location, database, service level agreement, pricing, and performance characteristics of each provider while crafting an overall cloud solution to meet pressing business needs.
- Modernization and Innovation: Modern orchestration tools can automate management of a multi-cloud strategy, including cloud and on-premises workloads. This can free up valuable IT resources to focus on code modernization and innovation based on new services, products, and platforms that become available on a continual basis.
- Enhanced Security: Multi-cloud strategies often include adopting a zero-trust approach to cloud security, which can help ensure the security of every cloud transaction and interaction. Although every major cloud provider offers state of the art physical security, logical security remains the responsibility of each organization using cloud providers for their IaaS platforms.
- Price Negotiations: Utilizing multiple cloud providers offers pricing leverage to organizations, as providers are increasingly under competitive pressure to offer IaaS services to an increasingly savvy customer base. Organizations can compare different providers to secure the best possible price and payment terms for each contract.
- Risk Reduction: Utilizing multiple cloud providers helps protect against infrastructure failure or cyber-attack. Organizations can rapidly failover workloads from one cloud provider to another and fail them back once the problem is solved.
Digital Transformation is achieved by utilizing applications to deliver services to customers, and to optimize business processes and supply chain operations. As organizations undertake their digital transformation journey, application modernization and a multi-cloud strategy supports the needs of applications – new and old. Digital transformation and application modernization is an ongoing process, not a one-time task, and so new services and products offered by a range of cloud providers will factor into the continuous improvement of enterprise applications as digital transformation evolves into digital maturity.
IT organizations may find that certain workloads perform better on a given platform, while others work better with a service that is uniquely offered by a specific vendor. A multi-cloud strategy enables the development of the best possible platform for a given function.
Organizations should start on their multi-cloud strategy by first taking an assessment of application needs, as well as technical and business requirements – both cloud and on-premises based - to understand the motivation for adopting a multi-cloud strategy. Popular motivators include:
- Lowering overall infrastructure costs by migration of workloads to the cloud provider with the most aggressive pricing models
- Speeding application delivery by provisioning development resources when needed
- Driving IT efficiency by freeing up manpower formerly utilized managing on-premises resources
- Moving to OpEx from CapEx by eliminating in-house infrastructure entirely.
Once needs are assessed, organizations should plan which cloud services will best fill those needs. A multi-cloud strategy should consider:
- Existing applications, and whether they currently reside in a cloud provider
- Unique benefits of each cloud provider and how they map to current needs
- Overall relationship with existing cloud provider portfolio
- Whether there are concerns regarding vendor lock-in
- Strategic or business benefits from a multi-cloud strategy, such as compliance or governance issues that would be solved or addressed.
It is important to consider what roadblocks could impede a multi-cloud strategy. One of the major issues is siloed data that is locked into standalone databases, data warehouses or data lakes with both structured and unstructured data, and block storage used for persistent volumes, all of which can be difficult to migrate. Organizations must also ensure that there are more than one instance of any data set; otherwise it will be impossible to determine which is the source of truth’ and which is an echo. Also, different cloud providers have different architectures and constructs that prevent simple migration of workloads, unless there is an abstraction layer that provides a consistent infrastructure environment.
Organizations should plan on implementing a multi-cloud governance strategy to ensure that policies are applied uniformly enterprise-wide and that business units are not utilizing ‘shadow IT’ resources instead of utilizing sanctioned platforms.
In this manner, IT becomes more of a broker than developer, making cloud resources available and applying policies and best practices to ensure that each instance and deployment adhere to defined policies.
A major issue to avoid is utilizing older offerings or platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) when simple compute is required. Although PaaS offers many benefits, most offerings are not easily portable between cloud providers and should be avoided. Since many organizations utilize a multi-cloud strategy as part of an overall modernization effort, PaaS deployments should be migrated to containerized applications which inherently support multi-cloud strategies.
Finally, when selecting services, avoid the need to find the exact perfect match for every application or function. Platforms that meet all the defined needs are all an organization needs; searching for the ultimate cloud provider offering for a given application can lead to adoption of a number of one-off providers when the job could have been done just as well with existing cloud partner offerings. The old adage that ‘99 percent done is done’ should be applied.
Organizations should then utilize development of multi-cloud pilots to gain competency in managing a multi-cloud strategy to execution, including offering necessary training and education for all stakeholders as to what will change in their day to day activities.
Know the Why of multi-cloud. Organizations must keep their objectives top of mind, whether it is modernization, cost savings, reducing vendor lock-in or eliminating on-premises IT infrastructure. This also should include buy-in from all stakeholders including executives.
Keep an eye on costs. Cloud platforms are different. Without an abstraction layer or way to create consistent operations, operations, security, and governance costs can grow with the addition of each cloud.
Plan for needed skills. Multi-cloud adds complexity – perhaps two to three times more complex than utilizing a traditional single-sourced cloud environment. Although management tools can mitigate some of this complexity new skills will be required to manage a multi-cloud environment and to take advantage of the benefits of cloud-native application strategies. Whether these skills come from training existing teams, hiring from outside, or by leveraging integration partners they will be required to get a multi-cloud strategy off the ground.
Measure Progress. Organization leaders will want to determine if a multi-cloud strategy is achieving its stated goals. Look for ways to measure the payback of this approach, either through return on investment (ROI) or by demonstrating reduced total cost of ownership (TCO) for IT over a given timeframe.
Document and report on outcomes and share the reports with stakeholders to grow confidence in the strategy enterprise-wide.
Think Modernization. If achieving modern, cloud-native operations is a goal, embrace modernization and encourage thinking outside the box as development, DevOps and deployment times all accelerate. Innovation that leads to better employee and customer engagement can pay off in improved revenue and profits, so embrace new methods of interacting such as chatbots and mobile applications.