10 Challenges in Taking off on a Bold Multi-Cloud Strategy

By : |November 12, 2018 0
Why do enterprises hesitate to take the plunge?

By BS Nagarajan, Senior Director & Chief Technologist, VMware India

A dynamic global digital market place demands hyperaware enterprises with highly nimble and responsive infrastructure. The agility of infrastructure from procurement, installation, configuration, provisioning, and orchestration to scaling needs to be a few steps ahead of business changes. A key component of such a responsive infrastructure is Cloud which sometimes takes the form of multiple cloud partners (Multi-Cloud) or a combination of a private cloud on-premises and one or more public cloud partners (Hybrid Cloud). With all the hype and promises by several vendors, enterprises are in a quandary about how to plan and implement an efficient multi-cloud strategy that will stand the test of time.

In fact, in our experience, several customers have gone back from cloud to their on-premises environments after having jumped on the cloud bandwagon earlier. A number of them have now become wary about the multi-cloud promise. There is a clear need to get to the bottom of an effective multi-cloud strategy and provide them with a clear understanding before they can set out on a multi-cloud strategy with bold strides.

BS Nagarajan, Senior Director & Chief Technologist, VMware India

BS Nagarajan, Senior Director & Chief Technologist, VMware India

The Multi-Cloud Advantage: The Best of Both Worlds

Based on our customer conversations, what they ideally want from their cloud environments are the following:

  • Customers like to have enterprise-grade security and control that they get today from their on-premises private cloud infrastructure.
  • Customers enjoy their ability to run any application of their choice on their on-premises private cloud environment.
  • Customers appreciate the freedom of running their legacy applications, off-the-shelf applications and SaaS applications on their on-premises private cloud infrastructure without having to go through the arduous exercise of re-factoring and porting their existing applications.
  • Customers are often besieged by the inherent difficulties of maintaining their private cloud environment on premises as most infrastructure is liable to fail at one time or the other despite all the precautions.
  • Customers like the benefit of leaving the maintenance of their dynamic infrastructure to experts such as public cloud vendors instead of having to invest in non-business areas.
  • Customers absolutely like and want the agility of provisioning, orchestrating and scaling infrastructure that is the norm in a public cloud.
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They understand that neither on-premises/private cloud nor public cloud infrastructure alone, with its attendant benefits, can fulfill all their requirements. Hence, they would like the best of both worlds of private and public clouds without having to make a mutually exclusive choice. The top 3 public cloud vendors have great offerings though their technologies, approaches and strengths are quite different. The choice of public cloud partner(s) depends on the applications that need to be executed.

What customers ultimately want is choice and flexibility to choose cloud partners depending on application demands. But, what are the typical challenges that have been keeping people from embracing and leveraging multi-cloud? Our conversations with several customers who have successfully implemented multi-cloud shed valuable light which can guide those that are wary on the launching pad.

Challenges of Implementing Hybrid-Multi-Cloud

All enterprise hybrid-multi-cloud infrastructure needs to be actively monitored and maintained apart from being able to run the applications they need. The key areas of foundational infrastructure, governance, directional constraints, migration complexity, development lifecycle experience and cost management need to be clear, consistent and efficient. It is complex to maintain these aspects in prime condition when multiple cloud environments from different vendors need to coexist. This tends to be a constant source of worry for customers and keeps them from embracing multi-cloud. If these challenges are handled well, they can ease the inherent complexity of handling multiple public cloud partners and their technologies.

Consistent Infrastructure

Customers prefer to run their applications either on Virtual Machines (VM) or Containers as applicable and often simultaneously. Control tools such as hypervisors need to operate across multiple clouds. The challenge is to ensure that the key infrastructure pillars of server, network, and storage are consistent irrespective of the specific cloud infrastructure. For example, when a certain storage policy is set, it should not be necessary to be specified for each cloud environment; it should be consistent for an application wherever it happens to run.

Consistent Governance

IT needs to have a 100% visibility of where each application is running in the distributed environment it is ultimately responsible for. Teams, when their responsibilities are split based on the environment, have found themselves to be ineffective. ONE team needs to have complete visibility and responsibility of the entire infrastructure irrespective of the nature of the environment. It should be equipped with one pane of glass through which the entire topology is managed. Similarly, without a single provisioning tool, it is not possible to ensure consistent governance and optimal utilization.

Finally, if different security policy and compliance tools are used depending on the cloud environment by the IT teams, it can push them into many potential blind spots.

Migration is a One-Way Street

Most cloud vendors enthusiastically provide tools to migrate code from on-premises to their specific cloud service. But, once the porting of code is done to migrate to their cloud, it is locked in.

There is no help for turning back to on-premises again without hardship, costs and lost time.

Migration Effort

However effective the cloud management platform or tools are the responsibility for porting and migrating application code remains always with customers. Porting code is complex, time-consuming and expensive. For example, certain financial institutions have taken close to 2 years for this.

Hence, many enterprises choose to not use cloud for any of their business-critical applications. They tend to limit their cloud exposure to their non-critical applications and developer sandbox environments.

Development Lifecycle Experience

Development needs widely differ in organizations, but developers need to be provided with consistent tools that they can deploy with equal ease and experience on any target cloud. If not, it can be a source of unhealthy frustration and resentment in the developer community within the enterprise.

Cost Management

Low cost was the prime mover behind enterprise cloud adoption at one time. However, many customers have since found it awkward to get used to a long enterprise service catalog from cloud vendors as each service is monetized and hence, comes with a price tag. Unlike in on-premises captive environments, cost decisions need to be made and services are chosen on an ongoing basis. Despite the low entry costs, there is no way to project the final costs with each service on a perpetual. This lends little cost predictability for the services. When certain budget-driven IT departments are unable to track the budget compliance, some even jump back to ‘tried and true’ on-premises infrastructure.

Unified, Unbiased and Enterprise-ready Cloud Management Platform – Need of the Hour

A comprehensive, enterprise-grade Cloud Management Platform (CMP) enables a gamut of application workloads from traditional to container-based (specific to a cloud or cloud-native) in a truly hybrid (multi-cloud) environment. The CMP should be unbiased (cloud-agnostic), centralized and should provide consistent pillars of infrastructure in terms of consistent servers, network and storage. It’s unviable to sustain a long productive phase with hybrid (multi-cloud) environment without a way to manage security policies and compliance consistently irrespective of which public cloud is being accessed.

Consistent overall governance including troubleshooting and capacity management is pivotal to the enterprises so that they can just focus on their code refactoring and migration to the chosen cloud platform. In other words, the CMP should resolve all infrastructure challenges described earlier so that enterprise teams can just focus on code. A hybrid (multi-cloud) strategy powered by such CMP provides high levels of agility, efficiency and control needed to manage the heterogeneous environment across the enterprise.

Skirting the Code Porting Challenge

Even after choosing the leading enterprise-ready CMP, enterprises will still have to deal with potentially long and expensive porting of application code. Till recently, there was no way to avoid that and it became the single biggest hurdle for many enterprises to go all out on cloud. Collaborations between CMP technology vendors and cloud leaders such as AWS have recently resulted in innovative solutions.

With such services, enterprise customers get a blend of a proven infrastructure solution along with a leading cloud service with all the benefits of agility and low capital expense. Such a solution will ensure that the on-premises environment is exactly matched by the cloud right down to the patch level.

Customers can move their application code from on-premises to cloud WITHOUT any porting. Not just that; they can even move the code back to on-premises if desired while it is running live! The flexibility of such an arrangement provides tremendous advantages while avoiding potential skill shortages and extended timelines.

Such capabilities save millions of $ for enterprises spending endless hours on porting their legacy code which are Non-Value-Added (NVA). The resultant huge cost savings can boost their bottom line. Enterprises gain the flexibility now, for example, to run a resource-intensive month-end close activity on AWS while the rest of the month’s transactions can be run on a private, on-premises environment. Innovations such as these provide the true choice to customers.

Cloud Vendors moving Some Services out of cloud

Services such as DBaaS (Database as a Service) offered by cloud vendors are quite popular due to the hassle-free manner of provisioning a database of required capacity without any operational responsibilities. However, most enterprises today are reluctant to move their production or mission-critical databases to cloud. As a result, cloud vendors have not been able to attract sufficient customer volumes despite the popularity of their DBaaS services. Powered by collaboration between infrastructure technology vendors and cloud, cloud vendors such as AWS have started encouraging the migration of their database service RDS to customer’s on-premises environment, as an example. This is a momentous move from AWS and proves that bi-directional CMP can translate to enabling true customer choice. But, this is just a beginning of many such moves dictated by pure business sense.

Riding the Multi-Cloud Wave

In order to leverage the unrelenting digital transformation juggernaut, enterprises have no choice but to ensure appropriate infrastructure is in place all along the cloud spectrum – from private cloud to public cloud to multi-cloud to hybrid-cloud – to fulfill business demands. The specific cloud portfolio curated by the enterprises depends on the proprietary cloud services and technologies offered by the cloud partners.

A true CMP leader is one who embraces the customer viewpoint and provides the choice of cloud(s) to customers, enables it and effectively facilitates it to closure. A deeply customer-centric CMP also takes away all other infrastructural challenges leaving just application porting to customers. As a precondition, the chosen CMP leader needs to have parity across all major public cloud partners and excellent cloud-native infrastructure solutions. In the final analysis, the CMPs with a first-mover advantage and deep partnerships with public cloud partners can help enterprises cut through the multi-cloud complexity, minimize the porting effort and ultimately help them ride the way of multi-cloud.

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