Not all clouds have a silver lining. While businesses seeking flexible, scalable, efficient and cost-effective alternatives to the traditional on-premises data center have spent nearly a decade moving apps and data to the cloud, that transition has led to new challenges—including the increasingly complex task of managing multiple cloud vendors.
According to 451 Research, enterprises now use an average 4.7 cloud vendors and may be using a combination of public, private and hybrid services, including cloud-based platforms that fulfill specific business needs, such as CRM.
“We could quickly be reaching a tipping point when the convergence of multiple clouds across the enterprise—data, applications, infrastructure and personal clouds—will fundamentally change the way businesses operate,” 451 Research wrote in a recent report. “And disruptive IT delivery models, most particularly the cloud, require rethinking not only infrastructure and operations, but also processes and roles of employees, both in IT and lines of business.”
That new complexity requires new ways of strategic thinking—and new solutions.
“You have to understand where it fits for you. Are you looking to have a multi-cloud environment that can cut across a private and a public cloud?” says Sheryl Kingstone, director of customer experience and commerce at 451 Research. “Or are you just looking to have some low-end services in a public cloud? That’s going to drive your strategy.”
Managed services and multi-cloud management platforms provide IT teams with a high degree of cloud control to simplify operations—a key advantage as businesses move to cut technology costs and overcome a growing skills gap, while competition for the limited pool of highly qualified tech workers continues to grow. Yet without these cloud-centric tools, IT leaders are caught in a tricky situation that raises challenges around issues such as standardization of technology—something they once took for granted.
“Standardization is very easy for IT when everything is within your four walls,” says Jeff Katzen, director, cloud practice lead at CenturyLink. “It’s all gone through IT and everyone’s approved it. When you move to the end users accessing the public cloud, how are you going to do that? It’s challenging when using one public cloud, but when you’re using multiple public clouds and everyone does things a little bit differently, how do you enforce standardization?”
In general, a multi-cloud management approach enables IT teams to operate uniformly across any cloud, whether public or private, and more easily manage, secure, govern and provision workloads. It also provides the ability to automate key operations and tasks, such as application deployments, infrastructure allocations, security hardening and overall monitoring. Instead of logging in to the cloud service provider’s management console, IT admins work through the multi-cloud management platform, which can be configured to limit access only to authorized services on each cloud provider’s platform.
“The solution is to build a service catalog that you can apply on top of any platform,” Katzen says, “whether it’s a third-party public cloud or an internal data center. Regardless of what the underlying technology is or where it’s deployed, you can enforce that your developers only access what you’ve built into that service catalog regardless of where it is.” This in turn resolves standardization issues, even when a business is working with multiple, completely different platforms.
The right multi-cloud management solution can also augment the built-in security on public cloud platforms, according to Katzen. He points to the “shared responsibility” model of a major cloud services provider, which relies on customers to maintain adequate security precautions on their end, leaving it open to user error on the largely self-service platform. “We can help enforce IT standards on top of that,” he says. “Most cloud platforms are secure. But we can help put controls around how our customers—the end users—start using those platforms to make them even more secure.”
Multi-cloud tools can be critical for software developers who need full flexibility to develop on any platform and deploy their apps to any cloud, all from a single administrative environment.
Regardless of how a company uses a multi-cloud management platform, it’s critical to focus on long-term needs, even if the company is focusing on its first cloud deployments, Kingstone says. “How can they move certain pieces of their business to the cloud while putting in a long-term strategy to get other pieces that might not be as cloud-friendly-ready? They need a road map to get them from where they are today, which is potentially a lot of non-cloud environments, to multiple cloud services in the future so that they are more scalable, more flexible, more agile and can embrace digital change.”