Mar 03 2023

The Tools Businesses Use to Manage Workloads on Multiple Clouds

As more companies run operations on two or more platforms, software helps them gain visibility, control costs and more.

Last September, after two years of development, Philadelphia-based Sporttrade flipped the switch on its new mobile betting application and began taking wagers from users in New Jersey, a first step in rolling out nationwide.

“Now that we’ve turned it on, there’s reason to measure usage and think about expansion plans,” says Sporttrade COO David Huffman.

While actual bets, by law, must be executed on servers located in states where betting is regulated, some of Sporttrade’s core user application, which is unique among gaming platforms in that it works like a financial exchange, operates in Google Cloud. Meanwhile, the company runs its DevOps, corporate management systems, tech support and other functions on Amazon Web Services (AWS).

As a tech startup, Sporttrade saw the benefit of developing in the cloud and created its multicloud model, in part, to keep certain unregulated systems separate, Huffman says. But that meant it needed a way to manage its cloud systems in a centralized manner.

“Our finance team was constantly coming to me asking why our cloud bills fluctuated so much,” says Natalie Lloyd, Sporttrade’s IT manager. “We needed something to give us more visibility.”

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The Rise of Multicloud Management

More businesses than ever have embraced multicloud infrastructures. Research commissioned by VMware shows that 64 percent of organizations report using multiple clouds, a figure that’s expected to rise to 72 percent in the next five years.

Multicloud strategies often began with individual developer and line-of-business teams making independent choices about which public cloud services to use as a launchpad for early digital business initiatives,” explains Mary Johnston Turner, a research vice president with IDC. “More recently, however, I see many organizations taking a more structured, workload-centric approach to infrastructure deployment choices.”

Either way, Turner says, a multicloud strategy can pose challenges related to data integration, consistent security and compliance controls, cost monitoring and optimization, and ensuring end-to-end performance. “Organizations recognize that the scale and complexity of today’s multicloud environments require automation, analytics, and standardization to deliver consistent performance and reliable integrations,” Turner says.

IDC research shows that 65 percent of companies are prioritizing unified, multicloud management solutions when possible, Turner says: “Having full visibility into usage, cost and performance is vital if organizations are going to make wise choices about where to deploy different types of workloads.”

DIVE DEEPER: How to manage and optimize your multicloud environment.

Sporttrade adopted a VMware portal that allows the company to examine all cloud usage in one place, from dashboards that break down spending across cloud services to reporting security and governance issues. It also identifies “zombie resources,” services that a company may not realize are running and incurring ongoing costs.

“We just did an exercise to figure out our costs depending on the number of users we were expecting,” Lloyd says. “It’s been great for baselining rough estimates of what our cloud computing needs will be.”

Using the native management tools offered by Google Cloud and AWS can be difficult, Lloyd says: “If you have a lot of projects in there, it’s a little hard to audit. That’s just due to them growing so fast and pushing out so many features.”

Having a centralized portal helps the company manage cost and tighten security. “From a security standpoint, it shows us everything that’s running, and we can see what hasn’t been used in a while,” Lloyd says. “Maybe we need to decommission that project and shrink our attack surface.”

Keith Silvestri
By being able to operate in multiple clouds, you can have the best tools.”

Keith Silvestri CTO, KeyBank

Many Tools Help Manage Multicloud Infrastructure

For larger companies, unified, centralized multicloud management is often more an aspiration than a reality, although the various tools available now are more than up to the job.

KeyBank wasn’t born in the cloud, but it was an early adopter of cloud technologies. Formed in 1994 and with roots reaching back to the 1800s, KeyBank now operates branches in 15 states. It was also among the first financial institutions to adopt Kubernetes, the open-source system for designing applications in containers that can run across multiple clouds.

“By 2016, we were running all our customer-facing applications in containers using Kubernetes,” says KeyBank CTO Keith Silvestri.

Today, Silvestri oversees KeyBank’s exit from most on-premises data centers to a largely multicloud architecture. “The mainframe will stay in our data centers, and certain other systems, but the rest of our workloads are going to migrate to one of our three main cloud providers,” he says.

KeyBank’s primary provider is Google Cloud, but it’s also adopting IBM Cloud to house IBM applications the company acquired over the last 15 years, plus Microsoft Azure to run Microsoft 365 software and several other programs. “When your work is containerized, it makes migration much easier,” Silvestri says. “It also makes it so that if you’re having a bad experience, you can move your workload as needed. Nobody wants to do that, but you can.”

EXPLORE: Why businesses need solid cloud governance — and how to get it.

Companies can also mix and match cloud capabilities to create a best-of-breed infrastructure. Running Microsoft 365 in Azure is a “no-brainer,” Silvestri says, while KeyBank also uses Google Cloud’s natural language processing for applications hosted there.

“We could never build that capability ourselves,” he explains. “By being able to operate in multiple clouds, you can have the best tools.”

Managing its multicloud environment is a work in progress. Different clouds come with different management interfaces, but KeyBank hasn’t found one unifying platform to monitor all its clouds in one place.

“There is no single pane of glass,” Silvestri says. Instead, KeyBank uses several tools, including Dynatrace for observability, Hashicorp’s Terraform for automation, and Palo Alto Networks’ Prisma for security scanning in its public clouds.

Until that single pane appears, KeyBank leans on its multicloud automation tools to help ease management. Developers, for example, don’t need to understand the company’s multicloud architecture to use it, Silvestri says: “Using the protocols and controls we have, we want them to be empowered to spin up a box, do their work, then turn it off. We try to automate our workloads as much as possible.”

2.9

The average number of public clouds organizations expect to use in five years, up from 2.2 today

Source: VMware, “The Multi-Cloud Maturity Index,” November 2022

How to Get Cross-Cloud Visibility

Insurance provider Employers likewise uses a tapestry of management tools to keep tabs on its multicloud infrastructure, which includes AWS, Azure, IBM Cloud and Oracle Cloud. The process began in 2018, when the company’s data center leases were ending, and was made much easier because it had already begun virtualizing workloads in VMware vSphere.

First, Employers moved workloads to VMware Cloud on AWS, then adopted a strategy of matching workloads to the best-fitting cloud, like putting its Db2 databases in IBM Cloud.

“The biggest challenge is the connectivity between our clouds and figuring out exactly where the issue is if something goes wrong,” says Employers Vice President of Cloud Infrastructure Dale Ramsey.

LEARN MORE: The vital multicloud security solution that’s keeping financial services firms safer.

The company maintains monitoring tools for all its cloud resources, including native AWS monitoring, Dynatrace and Palo Alto Networks tools, which alert Ramsey’s team when issues arise, and separate tools for cross-cloud visibility. The combination offers a degree of centralized management, but Employers is looking for more.

“A single pane of glass for seeing all our clouds at once is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Employers CIO Jeff Shaw. “The most important thing will be the ability to deploy to multiple clouds at the touch of a button.”

Already, Employers’ move to a multicloud architecture has shaved months off the time it takes to create new applications, and visibility into that architecture has been crucial to supporting those applications. Further advances in multicloud application delivery, Shaw says, “would change the way we do business.”

Photography by Colin Lenton
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