How multi-cloud and digital transformation fit together

A multi-cloud strategy can help you move faster on digital transformation goals such as better data analysis. Here’s how to build a successful multi-cloud strategy
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For years, many enterprise IT leaders pursued cloud computing as a goal in itself. However, as digital transformation has become a top priority, an organization’s cloud strategy has proven to be an integral ingredient in business change and innovation. Specifically, a multi-cloud strategy can help CIOs explore new ways of bringing together data from various sources and applying it in new ways.

[ Read our related article: Multi-cloud vs. hybrid cloud: What’s the difference? ]

“The magic happens when you combine this data with the enterprise data sitting in its legacy world.”

“Sadly, most enterprises just look at migration as an end to itself, not the outcome or business reasons for using cloud ­­– for example, to access operational data from the field,” says Prashant Kelker, a partner with tech research and advisory firm ISG. “The magic happens when you combine this data with the enterprise data sitting in its legacy world. This is an example of where a multi-cloud strategy helps: using the cloud for new business logic because you can now combine two sources of data, which was not possible until now.”

What’s more, as cloud computing options have proliferated, companies using a multi-cloud strategy can take advantage of the strengths of the various options available.

“All of the major cloud players are driving differentiated offerings which have unique benefits for particular forms of work – in a multi-cloud environment, IT leaders have the flexibility to pick the platform that makes the most sense in terms of use case, cost, existing utilization, and so on,” says Ollie O’Donoghue, vice president with HFS Research. “At its core, it makes enterprises more flexible in how they implement services in cloud environments. If they’re not locked in with a single vendor, they have a stronger bargaining hand and can genuinely assess environments based on their use case.”

Multi-cloud challenges

Figuring out how to orchestrate a multi-cloud environment, however, presents challenges. IT leaders also struggle with oversight of cost, utilization, and a raft of related metrics, O’Donoghue says.

In addition, when it comes to hyperscale cloud providers, CIOs can also struggle with the shortage of skilled professionals available to manage these environments. “Enterprise leaders and vendors alike face a challenge with talent,” says O’Donoghue. “For a true multi-cloud environment, they need a blend of talent that can get the most out of the solutions and services on offer.”

Data governance and cloud sprawl represent two other big concerns as you shape a multi-cloud strategy. (Read also Multi-cloud strategy: 5 challenges you’ll face.)

The need to manage the associated complexity is why containers and platforms like Kubernetes have become so popular. (Kubernetes can run on a laptop, VM, rack of bare-metal servers, and/or public/private cloud environment.) Notes Red Hat technology evangelist Gordon Haff, “You can cluster together groups of hosts running Linux containers, and Kubernetes helps you easily and efficiently manage those clusters. These clusters can span hosts across public, private, and hybrid clouds.”

Crafting multi-cloud strategy

IT leaders who want to build an effective multi-cloud strategy can consider these tips to set themselves up for greater success:

You can’t design this from scratch with a five-year target architecture; it will evolve over time.
  • Be deliberate and selective. “There are a lot of battle-scarred CIOs out there who jumped on the cloud bandwagon too early, when costs were high and average utilization rates were low,” says O’Donoghue. “We need to avoid doing the same thing in the future and buying into all of the cloud providers to get a broad spread of ‘best in breed.’” Instead, IT leaders should focus on the right features and environments that suit their specific business goals.
  • Consider ongoing management. IT leaders must think about how they will manage the increasing complexity that multi-cloud environments will create before they get there. 
  • Be iterative and flexible. “You cannot design this from scratch with a five-year target architecture; it will evolve over time,” O’Donoghue says. For example, a manufacturer may need to create a multi-cloud strategy that will support a smart shop floor today but will be able to accommodate 5G in the future.
  • Look beyond multi-cloud. “Over time, the enterprise will need to engineer new cloud stacks and absorb new ones from the market,” says O’Donoghue. In the future, he says, CIOs will be evolving to an enterprise platform-as-a-service (PaaS) model. “There are external components and internal components for PaaS, which are needed for multi-cloud. The enterprise needs internal capability to ask for it, order it, maintain it, and kill it when it is no longer required. If the infrastructure department of an enterprise is looking for a new mission, this should be it: engineering of multi-cloud stacks that can scale to enterprise-grade.”

[ Learn the do’s and don’ts of cloud migration: Get the free eBook, Hybrid Cloud for Dummies. ]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.