Multi-cloud: looking after more than one cloud

cloud management

Choice is key for customers in today's world and just as cloud was an alternative to internal IT when speed to market became vital, we are now seeing organisations adopt different services and applications from multiple cloud providers. As the strength and depth of services they offer grows and matures, customers are able to choose the best of breed for each and every use case.

This emerging trend is known as known as multi-cloud (not to be confused with hybrid cloud) and brings with it its own advantages – and its own problems.

Making an impact

Dealing with multiple cloud environments poses a series of challenges. Organisations have to develop different skills, negotiate separate deals, process different bills, and last but not least, provide appropriate governance across every provider and every use.

"Depending on the number of cloud providers in use, the complexity of the services running on them, and the technical maturity of their IT organisation, different companies can leverage a number of tools to operate consistently in a multi-cloud scenario," says Massimo Ferrari, management strategy director at Red Hat.

"Commercially, managing multiple providers and getting the best value for money is no different to any other multi-source strategy, but it goes without saying that the fewer you have the simpler this task becomes – as long as you have the right provider of course," says Richard Lockey, UK country manager at cloud consultancy Crayon.

"Finding an intermediary to manage the platforms on your behalf may also be a viable option. One of the biggest challenges when deploying a multi-cloud strategy will be managing the security implications with data held in multiple locations and traversing multiple networks. So a solid security policy and the implementation of this is critical," he adds.

When to use multiple clouds and when to avoid it

Multiple clouds are now an everyday part of life for many businesses for the simple reason that this is often the most cost and/or time efficient strategy to pursue. For example, if you're trying to migrate an application or system onto a given cloud but are encountering too many roadblocks and putting in an inordinate amount of effort, maybe it would fit better on another service.

"To assist with this, organisations should find a consulting partner that can help them to find the best execution venue for their applications and systems. Note that public cloud may not be the right venue for every application – working with a consulting partner will help determine whether public, private, in-house or multi-cloud is the right solution for your application," says Matthew Johns, product marketing manager at telco CenturyLink EMEA

He adds that few businesses will be able to avoid using multiple clouds, even if they're just using Office 365 for email and office applications, and then DropBox to share files with suppliers instead of OneDrive.

"You don't have to be a multinational enterprise to use multiple clouds – many consumers use multiple clouds in their everyday life, and many businesses may already do so without necessarily realising it. Having said that, companies don't need to adopt a multi-cloud strategy if it doesn't make business sense, just because it's the current trend," he says.

Managing multiple clouds and best practices

The management of multi-cloud environments and the general approach to the use of cloud technologies is also increasingly moving in-house, argues Justin Day, transformation director at IT consultancy 6point6.

"This started as a movement that appeared to be driven by the DevOps community who could justify their leverage of greater capability over cloud services than most technical areas, but it has grown into something which has allowed organisations to put a greater focus on the growth of other technical skill sets within the arsenal of their in-house capabilities," he says.

Day adds that one of the best ways of managing multiple clouds is to have a solid architecture with good governance and control. "There have been many examples of products which have tried to broker the management of cloud solutions. Often this has been through a consolidated dashboard that just doesn't feel quite right, isn't quite polished or isn't truly fit for purpose," he adds.

Day says that each cloud services provider will have its own robust set of management tools and these will be the best for that set of services.

"If all services are governed and controlled under a consistent architecture framework, then an organisation allowing its skilled staff to be able to manage cloud services individually is positive and should be encouraged," he adds.

There are drawbacks to having many clouds within an organisation, though – notably that it can be another version of "IT sprawl". Day says this is a dangerous place to be if the right controls are not in place.

"Many organisations find themselves with a network they don't understand and tens, if not hundreds of applications scattered throughout the enterprise. If controls are not put in place, then a desire to move to multiple cloud providers may end up being costly over time or will simply move today's problems into tomorrow," he says.

Rene Millman

Rene Millman is a freelance writer and broadcaster who covers cybersecurity, AI, IoT, and the cloud. He also works as a contributing analyst at GigaOm and has previously worked as an analyst for Gartner covering the infrastructure market. He has made numerous television appearances to give his views and expertise on technology trends and companies that affect and shape our lives. You can follow Rene Millman on Twitter.