Wednesday, 28th October 2020

The age of multi-cloud is not without its challenges

By Jesse Stockall, Chief Architect of Cloud Management at Snow Software.

Today, more than eight out of 10 enterprise decision-makers describe their cloud strategy as multi-cloud, according to a recent survey by Forrester Research. This ‘pick-n-mix’ approach to deploying cloud solutions enables businesses to exploit the unique capabilities of different cloud solutions to meet specific needs. In turn, companies can utilise the diverse range of public and private cloud deployments and services now on offer, ranging from infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) to software-as-a-service (SaaS).

While distributing a single application across multiple clouds can also be regarded as a multi-cloud approach, it is generally very rare. However, the use of more than one cloud provider across a business’ IT functions to create multi-cloud portfolios is undoubtedly becoming the norm. The challenge for businesses now resides in how this shift to multi-cloud inherently leads to increased complexity of management of service assurance, security and cost control.

Unfortunately, organisations often fail to implement and enforce standards across the enterprise when managing multiple cloud providers, and there is no unifying process to enforce tagging, save money or protect sensitive information. For example, if you are not regularly monitoring your public cloud environment, the overall cloud spend can become harder to understand and manage and improperly configured workloads may be exposing the company to unexpected risk.

The cause comes down to evolving user behaviour and a lack of visibility within organisations. Accounts for big cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure grow faster than IT teams can feasibly handle. Especially now when we are facing a new world of increased remote work. With more apps launched every day, it can be hard to keep track of user ‘shadow IT’ behaviour and manage all moving parts. To add to the complexity, the big cloud providers offer and sell tools that either focus exclusively on their own cloud or that force you down their views of multi-cloud management. These tools often do not help but don’t educate businesses on how to manage the complexity and chaos that can come along with multi-cloud strategies.

Moving beyond the seemingly impossible, I have outlined some simple steps that organisations can use to begin to manage and gain control over their cloud strategy to avoid multi-cloud chaos.

One step at a time

Like any seemingly monumental challenge, it all begins with the first step. Evolving a multi-cloud management strategy is a significant change for people, processes and technology. It’s important not to try to change everything overnight. Every organisation is different, and there is no single universal guide that applies to all businesses. So set your vision, take baby steps toward it and allow time for reflection. Make sure to look back on progress and build on the previous actions, correcting as you go and effectively outline and prioritise the next steps as they become apparent.

As part of any first steps, business leaders must bring together their InfoSec, Finance and ITAM teams. To effectively manage multiple cloud providers, these teams must have knowledge in their own domains for every cloud vendor they use. In reality, it's uncommon for people to be certified by several different cloud providers. To gain clarity, teams will have to collaborate to join the dots, avoid certification duplication and fill in the gaps accordingly.

Don’t be shy to ask for direction or utilise external experts that can co-ordinate your internal teams.

Working smarter

Effectively managing multiple cloud environments is challenging, and let’s be honest — cloud providers design tools to encourage vendor lock-in. While the path of least resistance is usually manual action, this quickly becomes wasteful and prone to errors with tasks repeated across multiple cloud environments over time.

Instead, all involved parties must think smarter, not work harder, and incorporate automation into cloud management strategies. In doing so, organisations can create a culture where IT teams can be proactive and creative, while avoiding repetitive mundane tasks and dealing with inconsistencies across deployments. IT teams can use automation to effectively manage multiple cloud environments and keeping costs and errors in check to protect the enterprise.

Selecting a cloud provider

Don’t be scared to try something new! Be sure to pick the cloud provider that meets current needs, not just the provider you may have used for a previous project. Cloud architects need to have the freedom to experiment with multiple cloud providers so they can make an informed recommendation for each and every specific project. Your architects are the experts in their field and will fully understand the performance and security needs of your application — from licensing terms, data gravity and regulatory compliance — before selecting its new home. Think of it this way. Your architects don’t get involved and micro-manage your business management processes and decisions, so give them the space to do what they do best.

Monitoring consumption for overspend vs ROI

There is a growing disconnect between an organisation’s understanding of usage and spend on cloud services, and how vendors are charging for those services. Azure and AWS are now tracked and billed by the hour or even the second, yet many businesses are still trying to analyse usage data on a monthly or even yearly basis. That creates a significant challenge for organisations trying to understand, manage and optimise spend as the cloud architecture grows. As lowering costs is one of the critical drivers in adopting multi-cloud, make sure you prioritise understanding consumption models because those models will have a significant impact on your bottom line.

Active goal setting and measurement

As is the infamous business saying, ‘fail to prepare and prepare to fail.’ A successful multi-cloud strategy won’t be possible if wider business and departmental needs aren’t understood, and realistic goals and expectations aren’t set ahead of time, particularly around cost. If you don’t know what success looks like for your organisation, how can you reach it?

It’s impossible to achieve the desired cost savings with a lack of visibility and duplicate services running both on-premises and in the cloud. Therefore, it’s essential to have a clear plan to understand how progress and success will be measured. If costs increase but so does agility, and time to market is reduced, is that a success? While some team members may say yes, others may disagree, so it’s important to be on the same page upfront and open up channels of communication to ensure everyone is aligned on the same goal.

It can be challenging to discover the perfect strategy to manage each and every cloud environment. That is why effective communication, planning and measurement are key to making the seemingly impossible, possible. With the right tools and strategies in place, a secure, flexible and cost-effective multi-cloud environment is achievable— it just takes a little time, patience and teamwork. Are you ready to take on the challenge?

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