Making the most of a multi-cloud approach

As the name suggests, multi-cloud sees organisations using multiple and often-connected cloud services to increase scalability, reduce costs or become more agile in their application infrastructure. This approach has huge potential, as specific business needs can be met with targeted cloud solutions, although it does come with certain risks and complexity.

1) Flexibility

Analysis from IT trade association CompTIA shows that 83 per cent of companies have already moved either infrastructure or applications to a second cloud provider. Further, Gartner predicts that multi-cloud will be the common strategy for 70 per cent of enterprises by the end of 2019.

One of the most compelling reasons for this move to multi-cloud is the ability to deploy the right workload in the right place. This provides much more choice than adapting, and possibly constraining, your workload or application to fit the tools you have available in a single-deployment model.

It also presents “try-before-you-buy” options that enable small-scale proofs of concept before jumping headlong into a long-term commitment for something that may yet prove to be unsuitable, says Dave Adamson, chief technology officer at cloud managed services provider EACS.

“From a chief information officer’s perspective, selling these benefits internally can be a useful way for an organisation to get used to working in a multi-cloud world and learn the skills required to benefit most effectively from a multi-cloud strategy,” he says. “This flexibility allows enterprises to select a provider on a per-application basis, as needed, though they must be mindful not to allow the sprawl of cloud providers to become unmanageable.”

2) Cost efficiency

Not everyone is rushing head first into the cloud; 2019 research shows 98 per cent of businesses currently still run on-premise servers, with 72 per cent planning to purchase new server hardware within the next three years. So any investment in multi-cloud must be tied in with the investment in your own on-premise servers, storage and networking equipment.

“Adopting a strategy of deploying predictable, relatively static workloads on-premise while bursting to the cloud when demand dictates is likely to be the most cost-effective option, and investing in standardised deployment models and tooling opens this up to organisations of all sizes,” says Mr Adamson.

In addition, as cloud matures some basic aspects of technology are seeing prices fall. The commoditisation of infrastructure-as-a-service, or IaaS, means initial costs for some use-cases, such as storage or back-up and disaster recovery, can now be quite attractive.

Meanwhile, Mark Cree, chief executive of cloud storage solutions startup InfiniteIO, notes: “Data migration and tiering techniques have long existed, storing infrequently accessed files on private or public cloud storage, which is relatively less expensive compared to primary storage. Enterprise IT teams should support existing workloads moving to the cloud by making all the associated files available to people and applications regardless of location.”

3) Avoiding vendor lock-in

There are several compelling arguments for wanting to avoid being tied to one technology vendor, not least in industries such as financial services where companies are required to prove they are not dependent on a single vendor by their governing bodies.

“The idea is that not ‘keeping all of your eggs in one basket’ will result in less risk,” explains Chris Astley, director of cloud transformation at KPMG UK. “We see examples of this from the regulatory bodies for risk-averse industries such as banking and healthcare, which are fundamental to society and the UK economy.

“To avoid a scenario where all ATMs stop working or critical health services cannot be delivered, regulatory bodies will take precautionary measures and insist on the diversification of cloud infrastructure for organisations.”

Elsewhere, other organisations are bound by geographic sovereignty requirements, which dictate that certain clouds might not be an available option in all locations. “In these scenarios, businesses must depend on a mature multi-cloud capability that is built on the understanding they may need to manage multiple clouds, driven by various local compliance requirements,” says Richard Munro, director of global cloud strategy at multi-cloud infrastructure vendor VMware.

4) Developing your own IP and data analytics

Cloud platforms for developers have been a great leap forward for companies that are developing their own applications. An increasing number of businesses are realising that in the right markets or verticals their value lies in their ability to own their intellectual property (IP).

Robin Ody, analyst at Canalys, says global systems integrators have already made significant headway in this area. “Companies like Accenture, Capgemini, Deloitte and others have seen opportunities to mix cloud consulting, their own IP and applications, and managed cloud services, such as data science and analytics.

“For healthcare or manufacturing customers, cloud platforms offer greater flexibility and control to develop what they need, instead of buying more generic products, if they can find the skills and developers to help them do this, but that’s a whole other story.”

5) Best of breed

In the cloud, one size does not fit all. Ultimately, multi-cloud enables businesses to pick the best tool for the job: the cloud provider that best solves the problem they are facing. Moreover, it minimises the likelihood that an organisation will be forced to stick to a cloud platform that isn’t working optimally for them.

“The interoperability of multi-cloud not only allows businesses to move more rapidly and bring to market new services quicker, but also provides customers with the flexibility to choose the exact cloud service that best drives their business needs at any given moment in time,” says Mr Munro at VMware.

“Adopting a multi-cloud architecture allows organisations to tap resources and services provided or hosted by any cloud provider they need to get the job done. This allows the cloud to act as the enabler, not the driver, of innovation. That role lies with the applications powering our modern world.”