Navigating the Multi-Cloud Maze

multi-cloud, maze, complexity

Apple made big news earlier this year when it moved its iCloud service to the Google Cloud Platform while also continuing to make heavy use of AWS and Azure.

But according to Larry Dignan, Editor-in-Chief at ZDNet, the real story is that this move in no way makes them unique:

“Let’s replace Apple with any other large enterprise like 3M. The diversification move barely warrants a mention. Why? Every enterprise will have multiple cloud infrastructure vendors as well as its own infrastructure.”

RightScale’s 2016 State of the Cloud Report supports Dignan’s claim. It found that businesses consuming cloud use an average of three cloud providers, while 82 percent of enterprises (with 1000+ employees) have a “multi-cloud strategy.”

But what does “multi-cloud” really mean? Why are so many companies like Apple using multiple clouds, and how are they managing the complexity that entails? Read on for the answers to your top multi-cloud questions.

What is multi-cloud?

The term “multi-cloud” refers to any environment where applications are deployed across two or more cloud platforms.  Those can include any combination of public clouds (such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or OpenStack); private clouds (whether powered by Microsoft Hyper-V, OpenStack, or VMware); and dedicated servers.

Multi-cloud helps to describe an increasingly common architecture and typically implies several key distinctions from the other commonly used term, “hybrid cloud.”

What is the difference between hybrid cloud and multi-cloud?

Although some commentators and analysts still use the terms interchangeably, “hybrid cloud” is actually a specific type of multi-cloud architecture.  It typically refers to an environment that combines public or private cloud services with more-traditional deployment models, such as on-premise or managed hosting, and includes orchestration among the various platforms.

Why are so many businesses using multi-cloud?

Many large enterprises find themselves managing a multi-cloud state whether they want to or not. Various teams across the business often choose different cloud providers and provision resources to best suit their individual needs.This sometimes happens on an ad hoc basis with little or no input from IT, and is known as Shadow IT.

Other times, multi-cloud comes about according to an explicit strategy to best leverage multiple cloud providers. Here’s an example from David Linthicum, SVP at Cloud Technology Partners, about a unified multi-cloud architecture that marries several best-of-breed components:

“An enterprise can use Amazon Web Services’ Simple Storage Service for storage, Rackspace OnMetal for cloud databases, Google for big data systems and an OpenStack private cloud for sensitive on-premises data and applications.”

So IT shouldn’t try to restrict multi-cloud?

It depends. It’s important for IT to identify and understand the technologies being used within the business, but curtailing Shadow IT entirely is often difficult to accomplish and can stifle innovation.

Although it does introduce new complexities, using multiple clouds offers several significant benefits, and intelligently planning to maximize those benefits is the most effective way to manage a multi-cloud state.

What are the benefits of multi-cloud?

  • Best-of-breed infrastructure. Choosing the best-suited cloud service for each workload allows you to satisfy the unique requirements for each specific use case.
  • Reduced risk of vendor lock-in. Investing in multiple cloud providers gives you more choice as to where you run cloud workloads, which gives you leverage to minimize price hikes and other risks related to vendor lock-in.
  • Disaster mitigation. Properly utilizing multiple clouds can help minimize the risk of widespread data loss or application downtime due to a localized failure in a cloud-computing environment.
  • Added geographical data flexibility. Although the leading cloud providers all have data centers across the globe, companies that require that data for specific workloads reside within particular national boundaries can more easily satisfy those requirements through a multi-cloud strategy.

 Okay, so what are the challenges of multi-cloud?

The chief obstacles introduced by multi-cloud relate to additional complexity. These include:

  • The need to access highly specialized expertise across a larger range of cloud-related technologies
  • Additional vendor relationships and admin interfaces to manage
  • Integration challenges between public clouds built with different technologies (e.g., Azure is built around Windows whereas AWS is more Linux-centric)
  • More complicated cost tracking and billing management
  • The need for additional planning around security and governance, due to additional complexity and distribution
  • Ensuring that you’re choosing the right cloud provider for the right workload, often across large application portfolios

How can I better manage my business’s multi-cloud state?

The first step is usually to audit your technology footprint and identify all the specific services your employees use. Next, you need to ensure you have access to the requisite expertise — whether internally or through partners like Rackspace. You also need to determine whether or not you need cloud brokers and/or cloud management tools to be successful.

Once that’s done, it’s time to put strategies, business processes and personnel in place to ensure that:

  • The right cloud services are deployed to support the right workloads
  • You and your partners are able to support those workloads effectively
  • Various services are integrated as required
  • Security requirements are met
  • You are able to shift appropriately between providers as cost functions change and new features become available
  • You can control Shadow IT while simultaneously enabling teams across the business to quickly access the cloud resources they want and need

Wait… what are cloud brokers and cloud management tools?

Third-party cloud brokers can source, compare and procure cloud services, and will often handle integration, management and accounting. Cloud management tools such as RightScale Cloud Management can help you monitor usage, performance and costs across multi-cloud environments. There are a wide variety of such tools available in the vendor ecosystems around each leading cloud platform.

How do I decide which cloud services best suit which workload?

It really depends on your business and on each particular use case. For example, if you’re a traditional Microsoft IT shop, Azure may be the best fit for many workloads, with a Microsoft Private Cloud architecture for workloads with stringent security or compliance requirements.

However, you may also want to utilize AWS services like Kinesis if you need real-time streaming data, or Rackspace’s ObjectRocket database-as-a-service if your app requires highly performant MongoDB or Redis.

To make the best decisions, you need cloud experts who understand the wide array of services offered by the leading providers, their strengths and weaknesses and how they map to your specific needs.

But don’t providers want everyone using THEIR cloud?

Not here at Rackspace. We provide expertise and Fanatical Support across the world’s leading clouds. Our mission is to help our customers succeed using the technologies best suited to their needs — whether that means AWS or Microsoft Azure, or private cloud technologies such as OpenStack or VMware.

Our tried and true solutions are based on years of experience operating cloud infrastructure at massive scale and our deep pool of specialized talent. We have 3,000+ cloud engineers, hundreds of Microsoft and AWS technical certifications and more than one billion managed server hours on OpenStack.

That means we’re well equipped to help our customers offload the complexity of managing their multi-cloud state — from mapping the right cloud service to the right workload, to handling migration, architecture, security and operations.

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John Engates joined Rackspace in August 2000, just a year after the company was founded, as Vice President of Operations, managing the datacenter operations and customer-service teams. Two years later, when Rackspace decided to add new services for larger enterprise customers, John created and helped develop the Intensive Hosting business unit. Most recently, John has played an active role in the evolution and evangelism of Rackspace's cloud-computing strategy and cloud products. John meets frequently with customers to hear about their needs and concerns, and to discuss Rackspace's vision for the future of cloud computing. John currently serves as Chief Technology Officer. John is also an internationally recognized cloud computing expert and a sought-after speaker at technology conferences, including CA World, the Goldman Sachs Techtonics Conference and Cloud Expo. He speaks on the future of cloud computing, enterprise cloud adoption, data center efficiency, green data center best practices, and more. Prior to joining Rackspace, John was a founder and General Manager at Internet Direct, one of the original Internet service providers in Texas. John is a graduate of the University of Texas at San Antonio and holds a B.B.A. in Accounting.

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