Time to Face the Multi-Cloud Reality

    It is unbelievably easy to provision resources in the cloud – so easy, in fact, that enterprises of all sizes are faced with a singularly new dilemma: how to keep tabs on data and applications when users increasingly turn to third-party infrastructure to meet their data needs.

    Free-for-all cloud provisioning can easily become unwieldy for the enterprise in that, as I discussed earlier this week, it doesn’t seem like a universal, open cloud is in the offing any time soon. As infrastructure begins to span not only top providers like Amazon, Google and Azure, but the myriad of small providers backing OpenStack, CloudStack, Eucalyptus and proprietary platforms like vCloud, migration and integration issues will quickly disrupt the very productivity that the cloud was supposed to enhance.

    Some are arguing, however, that viewing this as a problem represents the old way of thinking about IT and its role in the enterprise. Rather than act as the gatekeeper for all things digital, IT should act more as an enabler of enterprise services. AppFog CEO Lucas Carlson, for example, describes an environment in which a single integrated solution can be responsible for, say, deploying on Amazon, migrating to Azure and even building databases and putting distributed systems in sync. This can be done through a “horizontal hybrid PaaS architecture” in which individual instances for single applications are spread across multiple clouds. In this way, enterprises gain the control they need to manage apps and data in the cloud without subjecting themselves to vendor lock-in.

    Ultimately, however, IT will have to transform itself into a broker of cloud services if it hopes to remain relevant in the new data universe, says GlassHouse Technologies’ Dick Benton. Already, third-party brokers are sprouting like weeds, anxious to help frustrated business people meet their data requirements. More often than not, the frustration comes from the slow pace at which IT provisions new services and resources. The cloud offers a unique opportunity for IT to not only improve its standing with users, but to bring some much-needed consistency and discipline to the provisioning process.

    Over in Europe, the major telecom carriers are taking a lead role in helping the enterprise deal with multi-cloud environments. Germany’s Deutsche Telekom, for example, has launched two new services, NetAnalyze and NetOptimize, aimed at fostering redundancy in content delivery networks (CDNs). While limited to content rather than full applications, the idea is to allow the enterprise to identify each cloud service’s ability to meet data requirements, and then easily switch providers should those requirements change.

    And in France, there is the Jolidrive, a free service from Jolicloud that allows users to share spreadsheets, documents and other files between many of the leading public clouds. The system allows a single sign-in for leading services ranging from Box and Dropbox to Flickr, GoogleDrive and SkyDrive. At the moment, Jolidrive is geared toward consumers, although there is no reason why it can’t be used as a business tool, as well. Company President Tariq Krim has said a professional-grade version may be in the cards shortly.

    For most enterprises, dealing with multiple clouds will not be optional. When even clouds are backing up their infrastructure to other clouds, the need to negotiate between various platforms and architectures is all but inevitable.

    And since the technology behind the cloud is still relatively new, even the so-called experts are feeling their way through these kinds of management and integration issues. That puts IT in a difficult position considering they need to stay in front of developments so that the cloud does not become too cumbersome, but not so far ahead that it can’t respond should the technology suddenly take a left turn.

    It’s a tricky dance, but one that will define success or failure as the cloud matures.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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