7 tips from multi-cloud masters

Want to take your multi-cloud strategy to the next level? Here's expert advice on using multiple public cloud services
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More isn’t always better – except when you’re an IT leader trying to avoid getting locked into a particular path. Flexibility is one reason why multi-cloud strategy - using two or more cloud services from two or more vendors – continues to win popularity with enterprise IT.

Of course, the multi-cloud model can get a bit more complex from there. Some of you are  using many cloud services across multiple vendors. That’s sometimes in concert with a hybrid cloud architecture that integrates public and private cloud environments and on-premises infrastructure.


[ Are you ready to discuss cloud security concerns? Get our concise guide and learn from the experts: Hybrid cloud security: 5 questions skeptics will ask. ]

Maybe you have already learned a lot about using multiple SaaS apps from multiple vendors. But you’ll want to really fine-tune your ongoing management when you add a broader mix of public cloud environments, including IaaS and PaaS. (Ensuring you’re properly distinguishing between different environment and service types is itself a key step – more on that in a moment.)

If you’re ready to take your multi-cloud strategy beyond the beginner level and start reaping advanced rewards, read on. We asked cloud experts for next-level tips on using multiple public clouds as part of a multi-cloud strategy.

1. Define your efficiency goal

Want to be efficient in how you use and manage multiple public clouds? You’d better be more specific about what, precisely, you mean. Chasing “efficiency” in the abstract sounds good but is less likely to yield results. Ditto if you’ve set “improved efficiency” as one of the goals of your overall multi-cloud strategy

“Computer scientists like to call that (efficiency) a ‘fuzzy term,’ along the lines of short, tall, near, far, slow, or fast,” says Jeremy Vance, VP of technology at US Cloud and the former CIO at Pabst Brewing Company. “Keeping ongoing management of multiple public cloud environments efficient depends on your definition of efficiency.”

Cost efficiency, Vance notes, is very different from development efficiency...which in turn differs from end user support efficiency, which depends on headcount.

2. Beware pricing gotchas

Problems commonly arise when organizations prioritize cost optimization across multiple public clouds above all else, says Vance. This can have negative impacts on end users and the overall organization.

Vance shares a few examples of the consequences of an “efficiency” strategy that can backfire when cost is the factor, such as sacrificing data latency by always going with the lowest-priced option. Watch out for these gotchas when managing multiple public clouds:

  • Purchasing the lowest-cost cloud service for an application platform and database platform, only to have those two platforms be in different environments, causing application performance problems due to latency in querying the database.
  • Purchasing low-cost application frameworks which do not align to the skill sets of your workforce, requiring you to engage higher-cost resources to support the platform or becoming subject to vendor lock-in. The latter is a particularly galling problem if preventing vendor lock-in was one of your key reasons for pursuing a multi-cloud strategy in the first place.
  • Not factoring in licensing, integration, and other “hidden” costs when purchasing the lowest-priced cloud services a la carte from multiple vendors: Those costs can quickly spike your cost-per-user, eliminating the “savings” gained by chasing the lowest possible price.

3. Be strategic in building multi-cloud skills

Expect a team learning curve, especially in the early stages of adding and managing multiple public cloud services. That curve may be especially steep if your organization has limited public cloud experience and skills.

Amin Lalji,  senior manager at EY Canada and a certified cloud architect and cloud security instructor at Learning Tree International, advises being highly strategic in how you build experience and skills en route to multi-cloud maturity. It’s not going to happen overnight.

“Pilot projects [and] test and QA environments might be good initial candidates for public cloud, multi-cloud strategies,” Lalji says. “Implementing and gaining maturity in these areas first, mitigates operational and security risks and allows organizations the opportunity to build and orchestrate governance and operational processes required to truly gain from multi-cloud strategies.”

4. Don’t assume automatic redundancy

One advantage of having multiple public cloud platforms as part of an overall multi-cloud strategy is that you gain greater flexibility in the event of service outages, security breaches, and other incidents. But don’t expect redundancy and related benefits to happen automatically just by virtue of your running workloads in two or more public cloud environments.

“Ensure that there is continuity, disaster recovery, and security processes that are redundant to guarantee a strong multi-cloud approach,” says Eric Sanders, cloud solutions architect at ShoreGroup.

As Red Hat technology evangelist Gordon Haff recently noted, “Skepticism about public cloud security sometimes seems to be giving way to an attitude that running workloads on public clouds makes all security someone else’s problem. Nothing could be further from the truth." (See Haff’s related article: Public cloud security: Follow the Goldilocks principle.)

5. Differentiate between public cloud service types

The term “public cloud” is inherently broad. To effectively manage multiple public cloud services, you should properly differentiate between different service types – Iaas, PaaS, SaaS, and so on.

You want to prioritize your requirements across these cloud types, rather than using a uniform set of requirements for “public cloud” – or chasing similarly broad goals. (See also: “Efficiency.”)

For example, for organizations using multiple SaaS products for things like CRM, HR platforms, and email, vendor support for single sign-on should be a priority requirement, Vance says.

Such prioritization exercises should also help you make strategic choices within the categories, Sanders notes. He sees verticals such as retail beginning to gravitate toward one particular platform or another for IaaS based on industry-specific needs, for example.

6. Two public cloud platforms may be enough

Similarly, making finer distinctions under the umbrella of “public cloud” helps you right-size your public cloud service mix within your overall multi-cloud strategy. For IaaS, for example, Sanders believes that two public cloud platforms may be plenty for some organizations – filling most organizational requirements. Of course, this will be specific to your company, so that’s a rule of thumb rather than IT law, he says.

7. Continue to match cloud services closely with needs

Indeed, managing multiple public clouds – and your overall multi-cloud strategy – comes down to thoughtful, specific decision-making about which cloud environments best serve which organizational needs.

“Multi-cloud, while being driven via architectural vision, ultimately boils down to a management decision that requires identification of specific criteria on when – and when not – to use a particular cloud vendor’s services,” Lalji says.

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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 InformationWeek.com story, "Are You Too Old For IT?" He's a former community choice honoree in the Small Business Influencer Awards.