Saying Microsoft and Salesforce, or Azure and Dell, in the same breath was not just impossible but almost blasphemous a few years back. Or for that matter any two names that were vying for the same market.
Today, we have almost every big shot of the Cloud industry-ready with a multi-Cloud tool or a joint offering or an effort towards being accommodative towards diverse IT environments. Like Anthos from Google or OneSphere from HPE.
AWS has also moved the needle here with Outposts and the unmistakable embrace for Kubernetes. Yesteryear arch-rivals of all stripes are changing their gear or coming into a strange huddle in the recent past.
Multi-Cloud is no more a theoretical possibility. It is shaping into a reality – and as heterogeneous, secular, tolerant, vendor-neutral, adaptable, and multi-lingual as it can get.
Customers seem to be ready to think of infrastructures as less of monolithic ice-cream cones and more of a Tiramisu-stack. The workloads can be designed and allotted to providers best suited for a given area – because, hey, now competitors have learnt to co-exist.
Orchestration, tooling, sourcing flexibility and friendly APIs can now allow for many shades of Clouds to play in the same room. Being locked in with one provider and being limited to just one company’s Cloud capabilities – that is no more a worry or a wall for customers.
Specially today, when thanks to microservices and containers, it is possible to port cloud-native applications anywhere (well, almost). Plus when you have more than one Cloud to fall back on, an enterprise seems more confident to tackle outages and compliance-burdens of geographical relevance.
That is why a RightScale State of the Cloud Report shows Cloud in the single category being limited to less than ten per cent respondents while hybrid and multi-Cloud approaches are gaining more and more traction with today’s enterprise investments.
But is the top-tier industry really moving towards multi-cloud?
A Symphony-led Opera, it is
Yes, especially for large customers, explains Shahin Khan, a consultant and technology analyst from OrionX.net who has a sharp nose that smells many industry shifts before they assume velocity and weight. And he calls this move a windfall.
“In practice, this means replication of resources and spreads them across existing players. Maximizing the ability to switch among suppliers pushes customers towards the lowest common denominator. That’s a challenge for customers, to implement things that way, and for providers, to add value in a compatible way. Long term, it will lead to standards. Same as it did for the operating systems of traditional servers.”
Charlie Dai, Principal Analyst, Forrester chimes in and calls Multi-Cloud format as already the reality worldwide in the enterprise market.
But what is egging this multi-egg basket on?
Khan dismisses other heavy words and strategic undercurrents before you can think of them as the triggers for this unusual industry move. The driver for this is fundamentally Data – he says it point-blank.
“Data is unique, sticky, has gravity, while computing is transient, substitutable. So that leads to data movement, compliance, governance, and cost optimization. Digital infrastructure is a make-or-break fabric in the coming years and customers want to be able to switch providers if they need to.”
Khan argues that because moving data into public clouds is cheap but taking it out is often very expensive, it is best to keep a copy before you send data in and trickle out enough to recreate a full in your own custody.
“Sometimes regulatory compliance means you must have custody of certain data. And you want control over your data and assure access and custody. And if you have all that, you can pick where to run an app according to who offers you the best price, both the price you can lock in and the spot price.”
The key drivers, as Dai adds, are the technology competencies and geographic availability of cloud service providers, the technical and operational needs of enterprise requirements, and the business or political factors within the companies.
The DJ has to be the Rockstar here!
All this may sound Cloudopian but running and monitoring a Multi-Cloud environment can be more abrasive than smooth.
“On one hand, this will provide new opportunities for cloud service providers to engage with potential customers and further drive business growth. On the other hand, this also introduced the challenges around hybrid cloud management, including automation, integration and security from infrastructure up to the applications, spanning cloud data centers, on-prem environments and edge.” As Dai contends strongly.
Operational aspects are very important for a multi-cloud scenario, Dan Gross, VP, Business Development, WhiteSourceSoftware (an open-source security and compliance platform), also reminds. “It is vital for various clouds to function together. The industry has tried to consolidate a few times but these attempts have often failed. That’s why open source as a community approach is a better answer.”
As to what the customer wants, looks like they do not care for what is inside the hood, as long as the vehicle does not sputter any hiccups. Anand Jain, Co-founder and Chief Strategy Officer, CleverTap is happy with AWS as the Cloud fuel that has been helping his business scale and innovate. “We are deeply integrated with AWS. We want to drive fast and sustainable growth with cloud. As you move from 200 to 500 users, for instance, a customer really feels the pinch of any small issue. With Cloud, our cost and scale economics really shines. In this new world of abstraction and continuous innovation, we want to roll out and expand at a faster pace than before. The truth is AWS is working brilliantly for us. The customer only cares for security and reliability. If uptime is delivered, no one bothers about what’s working behind it all.”
From a customer angle, what matters is the cloud advantage. Natasha Perez, a database veteran from CSG International, who has been driving research and development of database-as-a-service for public cloud deployments in AWS tells us more. She reflects on the reasons of moving to cloud and picks up cost optimization as the first thing that hits loudly. “We were with a data centre but cost and maintenance was a turning into a challenge in an increasing way. AWS features gave us frameworks and services which helped us to get up and going easily. There was no development work hassle, which otherwise would have turned a chore in itself. Now we are on a smooth track. Some clients even feel assured (with respect to data and security) when we tell that we are on a Cloud.”
Unless a multi-Cloud format offers that hassle-free existence, why would customers lean away from their one Cloud investments?
Doug Yeum, Head of Worldwide Channels and Alliances, AWS picks out more factors that explain why a vast majority of customers may not be ready for the multi-Cloud arrangement yet. “Even if they do, a large portion goes with the first Cloud provider and only a small portion moves to the second Cloud provider. It is a new landscape and requires new skills. Limited skill-sets cannot help anyone learn multiple Clouds. Some multi-Cloud customers also come back to us.” He underlines here that lock-in concerns are not as large as the need for moving fast in this competitive world. “That’s why most of the customers still do a majority of work on a single Cloud provider.”
In fact, a report on the Pain-Gain Tradeoff of Multi-Cloud strategies (by Forrester’s Lauren E. Nelson, Andre Kindness and Naveen Chhabra) advises enterprises to not force more radical approaches for multi-Clouds as more complex strategies here can be far from optimal. A more complex version can, instead, increase the cost part. The report does list down factors that favour variety – freedom of choice, heightened resiliency, application-specific sourcing optimization and the fact that different platforms come with different strengths. But watching for redundancy and complexity that this paradigm induces - that is also critical. “Some companies believe that maintaining multiple platforms can be expensive…the streamlined productivity, unified native management tooling, single data location, reduced redundancy, and the ability to leverage unique and maintained services outweigh the benefits of added freedom. Strategic partnership can also reduce the risk that too much complexity can introduce.” The report distills.
Money tends to swing like a moody pendulum when it comes to a multi-Cloud stack. The logistics and specifics of an app or an app ecosystem can push the costs of a multi-Cloud instead of making it all cheaper. Then, different vendors may charge for networking usage differently, competing traffic can affect latency and bandwidth metrics, and an enterprise might end up repeating the same activities (IP address management, account management etc.) for new instances. Worse, an enterprise can be over-architecting a multi-Cloud environment in the pursuit of getting simpler. That’s a rough and noisy paradox to live in.
The best way to go about it then is by using a good approach of abstraction, a strong orchestration mechanism, having a least-common-denominator clarity for every workload, and using managed versions that shrink the need for re-work. It’s not a La-La land that one can just cross over into. It will need a good head and the right adhesive to hold the explosive variety together.
Jazz with Drums, Really?
Multi-Cloud can be a lot of spadework but given the multi-lane highway it promises, it can be something that both customers and Cloud providers would love to exert for.
It was not surprising then to hear about Salesforce Marketing Cloud inching closer towards Microsoft Azure. Now with Microsoft and Salesforce leaning in towards each other, do the equations between major competitors seem to be changing considerably - for other big players too?
Before he digs into that puzzle, Khan from OrionX brings to attention here that Salesforce is the first major SaaS vendor and expanded to PaaS. “While it started out running its software in its own data centers, it has partnered with public cloud providers. There was an agreement with IBM two years ago focused on Cloud and AI, for example. It is large enough, with a breadth of SaaS offerings to want to implement a multi-cloud IaaS for its own use.” So Khan calls it a smart move. “And it’s a desirable partner for IaaS vendors.”
Forrester’s Dai takes us back to the crystal balls. “Forrester has already made the predictions that in 2020, SaaS vendors will exit proprietary platforms and move to the hyperscale leaders. They need to focus on their core competency — application functionality — and can’t compete with the pace of innovation, security, or operational scale of the hyperscale giants.”
Its 2020 predictions also include the possibility that the top six Public Cloud providers like Alibaba, AWS, Google, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle will dominate the growing Cloud Computing market this year but will get ready for new alliances, emerging high-performance computing solutions, and a focus on business apps as well. Chances are that in 2020, IBM and Oracle will no longer try to win on the general-purpose, hyperscale, global Public Cloud platform dominated by AWS, Azure, Google and Alibaba. IBM might focus on OpenShift and Oracle on its SaaS products - instead.
Looks like, the playlist will change again this year. A Medley may not win a Grammy but if a teenager is humming it on the street, or a heartthrob singer can lip-sync with an existing song well, it still works. Ask MJ or ask Bieber.