Article (7 minute read)

Multicloud Unleashes the Power of Choice

Here’s what IT leaders need to know about the industry move to multicloud.

Jeff DeVerter / Rackspace

Choice is not something enterprise IT has traditionally taken lightly. Offering users choice generally increases complexity. It also means less control, which means more risk.

That makes the current industry trend toward multicloud (by which we mean multiple clouds, including multiple public clouds, or a combination of public and private clouds) all the more exciting.

Multicloud appeals to cloud-savvy organizations because they recognize that by placing workloads across multiple cloud environments, they can optimize spend and minimize financial risk through increased ROI. And in many cases, they can avoid vendor lock-in. The real technical advantage to multicloud is that it enables IT to deliver tailored cloud services that meet specific business needs on a case-by-case basis. Exploring this model creates incredible flexibility, but has the potential to inject greater networking and security complexity.

Despite these potential challenges, this is the kind of choice worth enabling for IT. An effective multicloud strategy will empower business units to operate and innovate on their terms, while providing IT with an opportunity to add value through increased agility, flexibility, capability and optimized costs.

But to optimize their investments and avoid waste, IT leaders need to find ways to consistently track, monitor, manage and secure these environments. That means they have some big decisions of their own to make.

Workload placement and business demand drive multicloud

The concept of multicloud itself is not new. Indeed, many IT leaders will be familiar with multicloud environments because many businesses already have a mixture of private or public infrastructure and SaaS-based clouds. These are separate clouds – distinct environments where applications live, and data is processed. That’s multicloud.

However, the more intentional approaches to multicloud are driven by matching the right cloud with the right workload. For example, for all the cloud’s flexibility and speed as a computing platform, once data makes it to the public cloud, it’s not actually all that mobile anymore. It’s extremely cost- and time-prohibitive to ship large data sets between clouds.

Ideally, data and the applications that use it would be located as close as possible to each other in the cloud that best supports the needs of that workload. This might not be the best cloud for a different workload – that means additional clouds are needed to provide a consistently high quality experience, or there will be tradeoffs.

The constant dance between business and IT is also driving multicloud interest. As the primary drivers for technology adoption, business units long ago proved themselves capable of defining their needs and surfacing solutions. This wasn’t always met warmly by the IT teams charged with deploying and supporting those technology solutions, often due to the complexity and cost of architecting and supporting enterprise-class solutions. But as IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS based solutions became accessible, business units are included more and more in the decision-making process. 

The reward for business units has been bigger technology budgets and more decision-making power. IT’s remit became focused more on ensuring manageability, governance and cost-efficiency, but in a way that broadens choice instead of limiting it. This widens the aperture of supported computing platforms which means more clouds — only this time to support the ambitions of business units. This has created a much higher level of collaboration between IT and the business units.

Cost-savings are a common driver for all cloud strategies, whether multi, managed, public or private. A Rackspace TCO study found that every dollar spent on capital expenses when upgrading existing data center infrastructure is accompanied by $2 more for managing, maintaining and securing that infrastructure. It also found that many companies save between 55% and 75% using managed hosting services compared to keeping and managing their own data centers.

Multicloud can further amplify cost savings and predictability through greater optimization of your environment and efficiency gains. That’s important when you consider that Gartner believes most businesses overspend in the cloud — some by up to 70 percent. With multicloud, organizations can better match consumption with demand and increase their options for right-sizing resources. Further opportunities for cost savings arise from the reduction of cloud vendor lock-in and increased leverage in price negotiations.  To reach this level of multicloud benefit requires a consistent management platform, or partner who has one, to help ensure that the increased technical complexity of multiple cloud doesn’t result in the duplication of roles from one cloud to the next within the enterprise. A cloud management framework is required.

Seamless Microsoft is multicloud gold standard

To make the best decisions about workload placement, and to offer the right level of cloud choice to the business, IT leaders must have insight into the value, utilization and security of their cloud environments. A manageable and effective multicloud environment is one that solves for three things: authentication, governance and management. Microsoft is a great example of how seamlessly these three components can be integrated.

Microsoft’s three clouds – Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics – feel more or less like one cloud, thanks to behind-the-scenes plumbing that enables consistent dashboards and processes, along with support for native tooling. Leadership knows what’s happening and where; they know who’s using these clouds, and how. They also have shared visibility of the threat landscape.

Microsoft makes this possible through a combination of solutions such as Azure Active Directory, OMS and Azure Security Center. These give organizations visibility into who has access to what data and services. Authentication, governance and management are effectively available right out of the box.

But add one more cloud to the mix – private or public – and solving for all of this, across all of your environments, suddenly becomes your responsibility to enable and manage.

Automate to accumulate

Businesses can support seamless integration between clouds one of two ways: manually with a playbook approach, or through automation. Each has its own advantages and drawbacks.

Manual management will require specialized or native toolsets and distinct teams for each environment. This works, but only up to a point – it just doesn’t scale. But as a company gets larger or its cloud footprint gets wider, a tipping point is reached where automation and cloud integration becomes desirable (if not essential).

Automating the management of multicloud environments requires finding best-of-breed tooling that connects environments, and cultivating the skills to use those tools (either in-house or via a partner). That’s a challenge in and of itself, but those tools and skills also need ongoing monitoring in order to keep pace with cloud platform developments – not to mention making sure they remain best of breed.

In reality, all but the largest organizations are likely to start with a manual approach as part of a journey toward automation. Lessons learned early on can be input into self-assessments for automated tooling and skills requirements, as an organization steadily builds its capabilities.

Go with the flow or take control?

To whatever degree they recognize and respond to it, most organizations are multicloud users already. And for most, the level of commitment to this approach is growing all the time – whether intentionally or not. Lines of business will keep adopting new SaaS clouds just as IT will keep working to optimize and transform underlying infrastructures. 

At some point, IT is charged with creating a flexible governance methodology that gives business units guidelines for the providers they can use without doubling  IT’s workload each time a new cloud is integrated.

This direction should be embraced. The cloud has already proved itself to be scalable and agile enough to support the world’s businesses, even before the COVID-19 crisis prompted a sudden, extreme and unexpected transfer of many workloads into the cloud.

The key to success — and ensuring investments have the intended payoff in terms of delivering choice, cost-effectively and securely —is unified governance and oversight. These also happen to be the biggest obstacles to making multicloud work.

Just as the technology choices that got an organization to its current stage in its cloud journey are unique to that business, so too are the solutions to these challenges. But moving forward, the difference between so-so results and spectacular success will be the direct results of leadership’s choices around authentication, governance and management of their multicloud environments as well as their adoption of a multicloud management system that accelerates and reward business innovation while limiting risk.

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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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