Multi-cloud management: 6 expert tips

Using multiple cloud providers? Here's how to keep your environment running without a hitch
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A multi-cloud strategy offers plenty of potential upside, especially in today’s increasingly hybrid IT world. “Multi” means “more” – as in, more flexibility, more control, more protection against failures, and so on. Of course, it also means more to manage.

How can you ensure your team is well-prepared to deal with the added moving parts from multiple cloud providers?

We asked several experts to share their advice on how to successfully manage a multi-cloud environment and realize the best results.

Here’s an interesting point to bear in mind as we dig into their advice: Cloud computing itself may be in a mature phase, but multi-cloud management is not. “CIOs must recognize that managing a multi-cloud environment is still in its infancy,” says Jeff Budge, VP of advisory consulting and product management at OneNeck IT Solutions.

[ What do you need to understand about shaping a wise multi-cloud strategy? See our related article, Multi-cloud strategy: 8 things to know. ]

So, take a deep breath and pat yourself on the back: You are a leader in what is becoming an increasingly common strategy for IT shops of all shapes and sizes.

1. Learn the ins and outs of your platforms’ native tools

“I’d encourage [IT leaders] to embrace a strategy that leverages the native cloud management interface from each of their cloud and technology providers,” Budge advises, “to understand the aspects of multi-cloud management and orchestration they can begin to address with evolving cloud management platform tools.”

Of course, this is a multi-pronged task that can be delegated to the right resources on your team. This tip aligns with recent advice from Alessandro Perilli, Red Hat GM, management strategy, on managing multiple vendors in hybrid cloud and multi-cloud settings:

“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,” Perilli advises. Then, gradually unify the governance of the multi-vendor environment. (See the full article, How to manage multiple hybrid cloud vendors: 8 tips.)

2. Make a plan for tracking resources

Smart multi-cloud management requires thinking a bit like a bookkeeper or accountant, according to Brian Day, senior director of product management at Logicalis.

“Deploying things to the cloud is easy,” Day says. “Keeping track of everything is hard.”

Specifically, Day says, optimizing your multi-cloud strategy requires a method for mapping underlying cloud resources to the business services and goals. Otherwise, you might have a mess on your hands in terms of resource optimization, sharing your strategy’s wins with the wider organization, and more.

“Deploying things to the cloud is easy. Keeping track of everything is hard.”

“Best-of-breed operations are mapping business services to cloud resources and costs using service management tools, while others are achieving control through more rudimentary naming, tagging, and after-the-fact analyses,” Day says. “Prior to launching a broad, multi-cloud strategy, businesses should establish a model for tracking resources against business objectives and determine a practical way to track it.”

3. Be willing to invest in your multi-cloud future...

A well-managed multi-cloud approach can indeed be a path to cost and resource optimization (more on that below). But if you cut every corner, especially in the early stages of implementation, you’re less likely to succeed.

“A key realization to a successful multi-cloud strategy is that money must be spent upfront to provide for a more efficient and productive long-term future,” says Spencer Kimball, CEO of Cockroach Labs.

4. … and don’t cede too much IT responsibility

Don’t confuse a multi-cloud strategy and effective ongoing management with a slash-and-burn budget dump: That’s not the point, nor is it likely to be a sustainable long-term plan. Continue to invest in your team and internal capabilities.

“In particular, companies cannot expect to fully cede operational know-how and resources to cloud vendors' PaaS or SaaS offerings, even if they're less expensive,” Kimball says. “IT leaders must maintain control of deployment and management of their own services.”

And if you must offload some of those services? “Utilize third-party service offerings which are available across clouds,” Kimball advises.

5. Use cloud management platform tools to eye costs

As cloud management platforms grow and evolve, Budge recommends using one to laser-target a specific area of concern when it comes to multi-cloud strategy: Cost optimization.

“A great place to start is to focus on leveraging a CMP tool for cost analysis of similar workloads when placed in different clouds,” Budge says. As these relatively new tools mature, Budge also recommends keeping close tabs on their capabilities for provisioning, migration, monitoring, integration, and orchestration capabilities.

“For anyone embarking on a multi-cloud strategy, it’s an important aspect to watch,” Budge says.

6. Don’t let “multi-cloud” become “any cloud”

As we wrote recently in this space: “Multi-cloud does not need to mean ‘a dizzying sprawl of clouds and ensuing complexity;’ it literally just means ‘more than one.’”

It might seem like a principle that goes without saying. But any IT pro who has toiled through the pain of scope creep, budget overruns, vendor screw-ups, or other problems on a major project – cloud or otherwise – can attest that sometimes there’s no such thing as a safe assumption. Simply put: You need to have a strong handle on the reins of your multi-cloud environment.

“You cannot have an ‘any-cloud’ model where ‘multi’ becomes ‘too many,’” says Max Dufour, digital strategy partner at Harmeda. “You need to take a step back and assess at a high level what is the optimal multi-cloud model and be transparent on what users can get. Will they have single sign-on? Can the data move behind the scenes from one provider to the others? There are many details which need to be ironed out first to ensure success and to go beyond assumptions.”

Kevin Casey writes about technology and business for a variety of publications. He won an Azbee Award, given by the American Society of Business Publication Editors, for his story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.