The enterprise is moving quickly from a single-cloud deployment strategy to one that encompasses multiple clouds. But although this provides some protection against failure and loss of data, it also widens the possibility of fragmented infrastructure and the creation of distributed data silos.
According to IOD Cloud Technologies Research, admittedly in a study commissioned by orchestration software developer Cloudify, half of surveyed enterprises are using more than one IaaS vendor, with 85 percent of that group utilizing at least four. At the extreme end, some organizations report as many as nine separate cloud deployments. Meanwhile, two-thirds believe they are suffering from increased “siloism,” with 58 percent of that group pointing to separate IT and network departments within their organizations compared to 25 percent in firms with fewer silos.
On a most basic level, multi-cloud architectures require nimble connectivity over the wide area so data and applications can interact, preferably in a seamless fashion. Telecommunications providers are putting these services in place through private network offerings like AT&T’s NetBond. The system allows users to link multiple clouds under a virtual private network (VPN), which in turn allows them to move and manage connections between public, private and hybrid architectures. Under a pay-as-you-go model, this represents a significant cost reduction compared to dedicated connectivity to each cloud.
Connectivity is not the only challenge in a multi-cloud ecosystem, however. Higher-level services like asset discovery and optimization are needed to ensure data architectures do not become overly complex. BMC’s Discovery for Multi-Cloud platform, for instance, provides a dynamic view of both on-premises and distributed cloud resources and their relationships to one another. With this information, organizations can deploy apps and services while maintaining security, compliance and other requirements.
In addition to platforms and systems, multi-cloud management requires a number of best practices, says Juniper’s James Kelly. For one thing, organizations will need to unify their toolchain even as they embrace agile development across disparate platforms. To do this, establish a devops pipeline, cluster and middleware that serves 80 percent of projects while encouraging open-source services for the rest. At the same time, leverage automation and split your application tiers to manage processes that are deployed across clouds of varying performance levels.
It also helps to understand that while multiple clouds offer many advantages, they are not perfect, says The Enterpriser’s Project’s Kevin Casey. For instance, they may enhance a failover strategy, but they are by no means fully redundant and resilient. Regular backups and monitoring are still required, preferably under a clearly defined policy regime. As well, a cloud is only as good as its organization, which means services and data should not be scattered randomly on different sites but arranged so both users and applications have ready access to what they need. A good rule of thumb is to place 80 percent of your portfolio on as few clouds as possible and then implement a robust execution framework to incorporate the remaining 20 percent.
Probably the biggest advantage that multiple clouds bring to the enterprise is the avoidance of single-provider lock-in. No one company, not even Amazon, can deliver everything the enterprise needs, particularly in this age of scale-out, edge-driven data operations. As organizations turn their attention away from infrastructure maintenance toward application performance, the ability to dynamically shift workloads to the appropriate resources, regardless of the provider, should prove invaluable.
The challenge will be to ensure that your deployment decisions are based on what is right for your business, not your provider.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.