Article (5 minute read)

Multicloud: the oldest new opportunity facing enterprise IT

Multicloud’s latest resurgence is welcome, but heralds yet another burst of cloud innovation that IT leaders need to come to grips with.

Jeff DeVerter / Rackspace

After a period in the relative wilderness, multicloud is widely thought to be the dominant cloud strategy for 2020 and beyond. When we say multicloud, we’re essentially talking about hybrid cloud – using public and private clouds together. However, hybrid cloud doesn’t adequately address the multiple cloud platforms and deployment options that multicloud reflects.

Our experts have said it – variously forecasting multicloud to remain ascendant and the resurgence of cloud 2.0 – and so has Gartner. Analysts there expect more than 75% of midsize and large organizations to have adopted a multicloud strategy by 2021.

But this promises to make matters tricky for IT leaders plotting a path to the cloud or refining existing strategies. Cloud is already complex and multicloud isn’t an easy-to-define methodology or approach. Generally speaking, multicloud includes multiple public clouds, or a combination of public and private clouds opening the door to any number of diverse deployments designed to meet specific workload needs.

It’s an evolving concept with – as our experts’ differing predictions show – many angles to it that promise to excite or agitate various personas. For example, cost governance, security and tagging might keep some up at night, while others are looking forward to large infrastructure providers bringing public cloud technology into on-prem environments (more on this later).  All that to say – multicloud is here to stay, but you have to define what it will mean to you. Just because you can run workloads in every cloud – should you?

As always with the cloud, one size doesn’t fit all

So where to start? Well, when public clouds can run in on-premises data centers, and private clouds off-premises, it’s less useful to talk about what multicloud cloud looks like except at a high level. (Ideally, it incorporates a single, unified management tool that orchestrates processes with the help of automation.)

It’s better, instead, to focus on what it does. At its best, it combines choice with efficiency. It provides an agile and cost-effective approach to moving workloads in and out of the public cloud (or between public clouds) while lowering costs, increasing productivity and limiting vendor lock-in.

In this way, multicloud offers more business flexibility through improved data and application deployment options, and the ability to handle overflow without the need to invest in compute resources to handle short-term spikes in demand.

The rest is up to you. Multicloud is a highly adaptable concept and how you build it will be unique to you, because every cloud journey is unique.

Why multicloud cloud, and why now?

Smart organizations recognize the benefits of running apps and data in the environment that makes the most sense for those workloads at any given time. Of course for that to be workable, each environment in play needs to be managed, secured and orchestrated in a consistent manner. Since the early days of cloud, many tools have tried to fill the gaps in consistent management, security and orchestration. And they’ve all fallen short.

It’s really due to the growth in global service providers that multicloud is in reach for most non-Fortune 10 companies. The amount of effort required for managing multiple clouds is exponential. To make it work, most organizations require a service provider who can bring together all of those loose-ends like tagging, billing, ticketing and cost optimization.

So what’s changed?

The biggest reason why experts are once again lining up behind multicloud cloud is the rapid adoption of cloud-native development and infrastructure, namely containers – which increasingly means Kubernetes.

As my colleague, Tolga Tarhan, explained in his 2020 predictions: “For organizations that have to run multicloud workloads, containers will reduce complexity. Containers will become a primary enabler for cloud adoption by providing a platform-agnostic way to package and manage apps. And the question is no longer if, but how. But the real story here is Kubernetes, the chosen container orchestrator for over half of large enterprises.”

Instead of relying on complex networks of APIs to move workloads, modern multiclouds use containers and Kubernetes technologies to run the same OS in every environment; apps are developed and deployed as collections of microservices and everything is managed through a unified platform.

Kubernetes is now the standard tech for deploying infrastructure to support container-based workloads. “There is no serious competition,” says Tarhan. “The battle will be in the Kubernetes tools market for deployment, automation, security, auditing and other supporting software.”

And it seems the major infrastructure vendors agree. Almost every single one has recently launched Kubernetes-based multicloud solutions, such as Azure Stack, Google Cloud Anthos and AWS Outposts. “These new offerings not only manage clusters running on-premises and in their own cloud platforms but any Kubernetes cluster including those that are deployed in other cloud environments,” as Janakiram MSV recently wrote for Forbes.com.

Thinking outside of the container

Containers and Kubernetes aren’t the only factors driving the resurgence of multicloud. Rapid innovation in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning have brought these technologies to the masses. Event-driven ‘serverless’ or function-as-a-service platforms have enabled a completely new paradigm for developing software.

Advances in edge computing, on-premises public cloud and 5G mobile broadband are also enabling businesses of any size to solve the most complex problems in truly innovative ways. A successful multicloud strategy in 2020 and beyond requires that all of these toolsets – including Kubernetes – are deployed to serve the use cases for which they’re designed in order to avoid the inefficiencies of the ‘one size fits all’ approach that defined similar strategies only a few years ago.

And there’s more change to come

While specific deployments of multicloud will vary from organization to organization, our experts predict growing challenges around the complexity of managing multicloud across the dimensions of cost, governance, identity and DevOps patterns. A range of new security considerations will also emerge as workloads are balanced across multiple public cloud platforms and on-premises environments.

Multicloud as a concept, and its core capabilities, will also continue to evolve from this point. Increasing competition between the three biggest cloud hyperscalers and VMware will drive their efforts to explore and deliver on how Kubernetes will make them the multicloud provider of choice.

All of which sets us up for an exciting year of product and service announcements – and lots of new information to make sense of for already-inundated IT leaders.

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About the Author

CTO, Products and ServicesJeff DeVerter

Jeff has 25 years of experience in IT and technology, and has worked at Rackspace for over 10 years. Jeff is a proven strategic leader who has helped companies like American Express, Ralph Lauren, and Thompson Reuters create and execute against...

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