Vendor management has long been an important – if a tad unglamorous – need in IT shops. That proves even more true in the hybrid cloud era. Hybrid cloud models, especially in concert with a multi-cloud strategy, entail working with multiple offerings and vendors.
In addition to the actual hybrid cloud infrastructure, an organization is likely “hybrid” in other ways: It’s probably using a growing number of SaaS applications in addition to on-premises software, for instance, and relying on a mix of on-premises and cloud-based storage. IT leaders keep tabs on dozens, if not hundreds, of different vendors and service providers.
[ What is multi-cloud and what it do for you? See our related article, Multi-cloud vs. hybrid cloud: What's the difference? ]
“As with many other aspects of cloud computing, handling multiple vendors has much in common with other environments. Negotiating pricing, ensuring needed functionality exists, and understanding strategic roadmaps are a few of the necessary steps a buyer needs to take,” says Gordon Haff, technology evangelist at Red Hat. “In hybrid cloud, there are some additional considerations.”
How do you manage multiple vendors productively and efficiently in a hybrid cloud environment? Perhaps most importantly: How do you manage multiple vendors in a manner that helps achieve the business goals your hybrid cloud strategy was built to catalyze in the first place? We asked Haff and other experts to share advice.
1. Connect business needs directly to your vendors
A successful hybrid cloud strategy should map directly to critical business goals – how your hybrid cloud will help drive a digital transformation initiative, or how it will enable greater automation of resource-draining maintenance tasks, for example. The same thought process is applicable to vendor selection and management in a hybrid cloud setting.
“When deploying a hybrid cloud strategy, it’s pertinent to define your business needs and how they are going to be managed in the cloud,” says Kelly Begeny, channel manager at DSM Technology Consultants.
Don’t just select a platform based on the technology itself; do so with a clear idea of how it will drive or support ongoing business needs. Developing that baseline better enables you to measure and manage the efficacy of your vendors going forward.
2. Know what is spread across the organization
It’s a growing challenge for CIOs: Cloud and mobile technologies are so pervasive that IT might not even be fully aware of everything in use in an organization. Effective multi-vendor management, however, requires 360-degree visibility to ensure you’re properly evaluating costs, resource allocations, and so forth.
“From how much capacity an on-premises private cloud has before major new investments [become necessary] to which IaaS vendors are in use across the organization, IT’s need for understanding has grown from the LAN and WAN connections to much more,” says Don MacVittie, founder at Ingrained Technology.
3. Implement a management strategy in phases
When it comes to managing multiple vendors in a hybrid cloud setting, it might be tempting to try boiling the ocean, as the saying goes. That’s a potentially painful mistake, perhaps especially for organizations still in a relatively early stage of their cloud journey.
“Start by managing each vendor individually – most companies start in this way – for a quick return on investment and to build up the expertise necessary for the next phases,” advises Alessandro Perilli, GM, management strategy, at Red Hat. “Then, gradually unify the governance of the multi-vendor environment by focusing, one by one, on the areas that are critical for your hybrid cloud management.”
Perilli shares some specific examples of this approach: If you want to develop the building capabilities, you should focus on the automation layer. If you want to develop the analysis capabilities, you should focus on the financial management layer. And so forth.
“As the last step, extend the unified management effort to the areas that have been governed by mono-vendor tools to minimize the redundancy in operations and skills," Perilli says.
4. Cloud management tools should offer good visibility
Perilli’s advice is well-taken, and it extends to tooling itself. As you get into the deeper phases of a multi-vendor management plan, the right cloud management tools are especially crucial.
“Using multiple vendors can be daunting if you don’t have the right tools, and finding a solution provider that uses a ‘single pane of glass’ type portal for provisioning can be helpful, especially if the GUI is user-friendly,” Begeny of DSM says. She adds that a unified cloud management tool may be especially important for small and midsize companies, where the operational and skill redundancies Perilli mentioned above can be especially lethal.
“For [smaller companies], I find having the option to have multi-vendor tools with the ability to manage them through one console can increase productivity and significantly reduce IT costs,” Begeny says.
Red Hat’s Haff also notes the potential benefits of good cloud management tools in a multi-vendor environment. “Hybrid cloud management platforms can often bridge some of the differences between clouds,” he says.
5. Emphasize compatibility and portability
Think about compatibility at an early stage of your vendor selection process. For example, Haff advises asking: “Which cloud providers have partnerships with your preferred software vendors?”
Compatibility across various platforms and vendors in your hybrid cloud environment will help foster portability, which is a key reason some CIOs pursue a hybrid model in the first place.
“Compatibility across clouds increases your options and maximizes workload portability,” Haff adds. “While portability can't always be maintained, it should be a goal in a hybrid cloud environment to the degree it is reasonable."
6. Containers offer flexibility in multi-vendor scenarios
If portability is a requirement, you’re probably already at least kicking the tires on containers. They have a significant role to play in multi-vendor success and hybrid cloud success.
Containers make the organization more adaptable, MacVittie says. Container management tools should support multi-cloud solutions and ease portability. “This offers the ability to respond to unforeseen events, from a vendor increasing costs to a major provider outage,” he says.
7. Watch out for duplicate investments
Speaking of costs: Yeah, you’re going to want to keep an eye on those. That’s not just to stay in the CFO’s good graces, either: Effective multi-vendor management means ensuring you actually need multiple vendors for a particular business or technology initiative.
MacVittie shared an example from an enterprise client that had deployed two different SaaS applications for marketing automation.
“Either platform could have served their need, but they’d never considered the cost of maintaining both,” MacVittie says. “After a few weeks of evaluation and gaining an understanding of how each fulfilled the role of the other, one platform was chosen, saving significant investment each year.”
The same principle holds true when evaluating your hybrid cloud architecture – and the vendors that support it – over time. Redundancy is not always a bad word in IT, of course, especially when it comes to your infrastructure. (In fact, it’s probably on the list of reasons you opted for hybrid cloud.) Waste, on the other hand, is another matter.
8. Write portable security policies
As we recently examined, your security strategies for hybrid cloud environments should grow along with your cloud efforts. MacVittie shares a specific recommendation when managing multiple vendors in a hybrid cloud setting: Make sure your security policies and procedures themselves are portable, because they’re going to need to do some traveling.
“With a growing list of places to implement security controls, and different mechanisms for implementing them on each cloud platform, security policy increasingly needs to address a goal, and procedural instructions or DevOps scripts need to implement those policies on each platform.”