Aug 22 2019

How to Manage Multiple Cloud Platforms

There are advantages to using more than just one cloud platform. Here’s how to handle the complexity.

As most IT leaders have learned over the past several years, the cloud offers unparalleled levels of agility, scale and elasticity. That’s why most businesses regard it as a core component of digital transformation. But while the decision to move to the cloud may be easy, that’s where the hard work begins.

Deciding which cloud platform to use can be difficult; the various cloud providers all have their own strengths and weaknesses. Because of this, most organizations — 85 percent, according to an IBM survey — are currently using multiple clouds.

Even businesses that try to standardize on a single cloud often adopt a second or third through the consumption of specific services or features that ­better align with an organization’s strategy. This is sensible when one considers the cloud to be a mainstream enterprise IT platform. Most companies use multiple server, storage, network and security vendors, so why shouldn’t they also adopt more than one cloud?

The answer is that they should.


Unpacking the Benefits of Multiple Clouds

There are numerous benefits to a ­multicloud approach. First, avoiding vendor lock-in can help keep costs down, as workloads can be moved between clouds to take advantage of price variances.

Also, the increasing use of cloud ­services has caused a rise in distributed denial of service attacks that can impact the performance of cloud-based applications, and a multicloud approach can lessen the impact by providing a greater level of resiliency. If a cloud provider is hit with an attack, IT can instantly shift the workload to another cloud environment.

WATCH: Gain a better understanding of the challenges of working in a multicloud environment.

The downside of multicloud is increased complexity, as there is more to manage. But IT departments can ­handle the challenge by keeping a few best practices in mind:

1. Normalize Security Across the ­Multicloud Domain

Effective cybersecurity should be a top consideration for businesses operating in multiple clouds. The challenge is to create a single set of policies that are enforced across the various cloud platforms. This typically can’t be done with the security tools offered by the cloud provider, as those tools are specific to that cloud. Instead, use a security vendor that has cloud-agnostic tools where polices can be set once and enforced everywhere. This will ensure consistent security as workloads and data move between clouds.

2. Conduct Due Diligence with Cloud Management Tools

As is the case with security tools, the management tools that are offered by the cloud vendor are specific to that cloud, so it’s tough to use them in multicloud environments. This has created a large number of third-party tools that provide a layer of abstraction between the clouds and the management tool.

Think of these as an overlay, where the complexity of doing cloud-specific things is handled within the abstraction layer. This is a new space, and tools such as cloud management platforms can vary greatly from vendor to vendor. Even the term “cloud management” is very broad and can be confusing, making it critical to spend the necessary time with the tools to ensure they have the required functionality. Key features to consider are service performance, ­service monitoring, provisioning, a­nalytics and governance.


Percentage of­ ­businesses ­operating in more than one cloud

Source: Source: 1IBM, “Survey: Most companies use multicloud, but far less have tools for management,” Oct. 19, 2018

3. Make Cloud Decisions on a Regional Basis

Most IT professionals choose cloud providers based on price or proximity to users. But network performance should be equally important. Remember that network performance for a specific cloud provider can vary greatly from region to region.

Cloud evaluators should run a wide range of tests at different times of day in every location they are considering using cloud services to understand the impact the underlying network will have. To cut down on the work that entails, consider employing the services of a cloud performance benchmarking provider.

4. Always Consider Costs with Cloud

While money should not be the primary reason to choose a cloud provider, it is a concern, so track costs carefully. Most cloud providers offer optimization ­services to ensure a company’s spend within that domain is being made wisely. For example, if a business is storing data on a high-priced storage tier but accessing that data rarely, the cloud provider’s optimization tool should recommend moving it to a lower-cost tier.

Cloud pricing is constantly evolving, so some basic accounting needs to be done to track and compare spend between clouds on a per-service basis. The analysis could show that another cloud provider might meet the requirements at a lower cost.

Also, as utilization grows, costs will rise, and there may be a point where it makes sense to pull the service back and run it in a private cloud. Whatever the case, it’s important to make an informed decision, and this requires keeping track of costs.

5. Embrace the Multicloud Model

This may seem obvious, but the key point is to not limit the use of multiple clouds. There may be a desire to favor one specific cloud provider as a company standard, but that’s unwise. Instead, create policies around cloud adoption and utilization to track the spend across the various cloud platforms. This will enable organizations to better understand how cloud resources are being used and how to optimize spend. Multicloud is the right thing to do, but not in an ad hoc manner.

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