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:
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:
Once needs are assessed, organizations should plan which cloud services will best fill those needs. A multi-cloud strategy should consider:
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.