When James McPartland took on the CIO role at Torchmark Corporation in 2014, he had a big task before him: Show the rest of the business that IT could help drive growth.
Multi-cloud strategy: 8 things to know
How to improve your multi-cloud strategy: Expert advice
Multi-cloud does not need to mean “a dizzying sprawl of clouds and ensuing complexity;” it literally just means “more than one.”
That said, developing, implementing, and maintaining a multi-cloud strategy isn’t a simple task. That can be especially true for organizations that are either making their first significant migration into the cloud, or those that have been operating a single cloud environment and are now getting ready to adopt a more complex infrastructure.
But a multi-cloud strategy, implemented in concert with a hybrid cloud infrastructure, can deliver significant flexibility and other benefits.
“Utilizing multiple clouds can offer numerous advantages,” says Dan Creviston, chief product officer at CloudRanger.
[ I say multi-cloud, you say toe-mah-toe? Not quite: See our recent article, Multi-cloud vs hybrid cloud: What's the difference? ]
Realizing those advantages requires a smart strategy, and we’re here to help beef up your multi-cloud IQ. Whether your multi-cloud plans are in their infancy, or you’re already managing multiple clouds and looking to take the next steps, read on for seven key things to know.
1. A playbook keeps multi-cloud manageable
Ensure you’ve got a solid handle on the real requirements of your organization and how they’re served by a multi-cloud strategy. Then, create a roadmap for the team to follow as that strategy unfolds.
“When developing a multi-cloud strategy, it is critical that IT leaders have a strong understanding of the requirements for their full portfolio of applications,” says Meg Ramsey, VP, Cloud Services Product Management at Sungard Availability Services. “Using a multi-cloud strategy is the 80/20 rule at work: it is about selecting a few providers that can handle 80% of their portfolio’s requirements, and then creating an execution framework.”
That could mean moving well-suited web applications to public clouds, deploying SaaS apps for email, productivity, and other needs, and keeping proprietary or other sensitive data in private clouds, for example. Regardless of your particular scenario, you want a playbook that keeps the team aligned and ensures ongoing management is efficient.
“The goal is to create a cloud framework that provides the team with buying, architecture, and execution guidelines that can be repeated as they transform the bulk of their application portfolio,” Ramsey says. “This removes steps and decisions that are often repeated across each application’s transformation and provides more efficiency and speed.”
2. Multi-cloud can be a great failover strategy...
“Using the multi-cloud approach – whereby cloud services are utilized from multiple, dissimilar providers – is an excellent way to eliminate single points of failure in your most business-critical processes,” says Tim Platt, VP of IT business services at Virtual Operations, LLC.
Indeed, this is a frequently cited advantage of implementing a multi-cloud strategy.
“Multi-cloud really functions best as an insurance policy against disasters and loss of data,” Creviston says. If you’ve got everything in a single cloud and it goes down, poof–everything’s down. “If you’re on multi-cloud, however, you can just fire up the other cloud,” Creviston points out. He notes another potential upside: “In this scenario, you may be the last company standing, which offers a major competitive advantage as well.”
3. … but don’t assume you’re fully redundant and resilient
That said, implementing a multi-cloud strategy doesn’t mean you’ve instantly achieved data nirvana. You might be better protected from outages, but that doesn’t mean everything is safely backed up.
“The biggest pitfall IT leaders run into with a multi-cloud solution is assuming their data is secure because multi-cloud is a backup in itself,” Creviston says. “Even when utilizing multi-cloud, it is still imperative to make regular backups and monitor the backup policies created.”
4. Multi-cloud helps you match services and apps
A multi-cloud strategy gives you more choices when you’re matching specific apps and workloads among a mix of cloud providers. “[A] multi-cloud strategy allows an organization to meet specific workload or application requirements – both technically and commercially – by consuming cloud services from several cloud providers,” as Radhesh Balakrishnan, general manager, OpenStack, Red Hat, recently shared in our related article, Multi-cloud vs. hybrid cloud: What’s the difference? “Not every department, team, business function, or application or workload will have similar requirements in terms of performance, privacy, security, or geographic reach for their cloud. Being able to use multiple cloud providers that meet their various application and data needs is critical as cloud computing has become more mature and mainstream.”
5. A multi-cloud strategy eases lock-in concerns
Spencer Kimball, CEO of Cockroach Labs, notes another key point when making the case for a multi-cloud strategy: By definition, it can help mitigate the risk of lock-in with a single platform or vendor.
“A key benefit of a multi-cloud strategy is maintaining the flexibility to migrate between cloud vendors as security or economic requirements dictate,” Kimball says. “Putting all of an enterprise’s eggs into a single cloud vendor’s basket invites risks resulting from the vendor’s potential systemic security and/or operational shortcomings.”
6. Your first steps might not be perfect: That’s okay
Organizations still in the early days of their cloud journeys can expect some initial spikes in level of effort and other challenges, Kimball says. This can be especially true if your applications weren’t built with a multi-cloud approach in mind. That’s OK – just don’t let it veer you completely off course.
“There is a non-trivial cost to building for multi-cloud deployments because they require a layer of abstraction between a company’s IT footprint and the underlying cloud vendor’s APIs,” Kimball says. “The good news is that the necessary layer of abstraction is rapidly evolving via open source and commercially supported offerings.” Indeed, Linux containers have a role to play here in that abstraction, as does Red Hat’s OpenShift platform. And when we say abstraction, we mean tools that make some of the operational complexity invisible to developers, so they can do what they like to do: innovate – and make work easier for operations teams.
7. Visibility is crucial to security
In our recent article on hybrid cloud security, we noted the crucial importance of complete visibility of your environment – something that’s far from a given in the cloud era. That same principle is vital to smart multi-cloud strategy: By definition, you’re increasing the scope of your environment’s landscape. Make sure you’re not building in blind spots with your multi-cloud strategy.
“Transparency is everything when it comes to multi-cloud,” Creviston says. “You’re doubling, or sometimes even tripling, the infrastructure to manage and servers to keep track of. It’s important to have as much visibility over your server systems as possible.”
Containers again come in handy, but more than container scanning is required, as Red Hat security strategist Josh Bressers writes. “Scanning is easy, updates are hard,” he notes in his blog, Not an option, not a feature: Why Linux container security should be organic.
8. Prepare for brain drain
A successful multi-cloud strategy requires the right team in place to execute it, and not just at the start: “Evaluating, designing, implementing and maintaining separate solutions on disparate providers will result in extra effort – probably forever,” Platt says. Make sure your multi-cloud strategy includes an insurance plan of sorts for when team members leave the organization over time: Don’t get stuck in a situation where one person leaving causes a brain drain around one or more choices in your cloud portfolio.
“As staff turns over, you’ve got to make sure you have the right skills and understanding to support the solutions built, for as long as they are in use,” Platt says.
For more advice on cloud pros, see our related article: Hybrid Cloud talent: How to find and keep it.