Previously published on information-age.com
It’s fair to say that if you’re looking to build a cloud platform strategy today or in the near future, you’re likely evaluating the three top options: Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud. “The Three Horsemen,” as the industry has playfully come to know them, simply offer the hyperscale, computing infrastructure and efficiency that smaller companies can’t compete with.
When any marketplace becomes so consolidated, customers necessarily become nervous. With so little to choose between, concerns around losing control of business-critical data and infrastructure, giving the reins away around security and uptime to a single supplier, or losing the upper hand in contract negotiations are only natural. Dependence on one provider for essential aspects of the business such as servers and user management can certainly make a business owner nervous.
This has been seen before with IT services firms in the UK public sector: 10+ year contracts with giant companies and over-inflated budgets that fail to deliver. And when those providers go bust they leave a half completed project and customers with systems not fit for purpose.
Businesses are thus faced with a conundrum: they want all the benefits of the cloud such as speed, simplicity, agility, and lower costs, but they don’t want to risk having their data stuck in one provider’s cloud infrastructure in case they decide to pull the plug further down the line.
The fear of the vendor lock-in that has been seen in the past should not overshadow the benefits of the cloud, though. Although options are admittedly limited when it comes to cloud providers, there are important choices that remain, and a well thought out multi-cloud strategy can provide the peace of mind business owners need, as well as the computing infrastructure necessary for today’s modern business world.
Obviously, your current cloud provider doesn’t want you to be using multiple clouds. They want you in their ecosystem, using their applications and beholden to them and them alone. Despite claims of customer-centric strategies, it often makes little business sense for them to make the process simple for you. In fact, the headaches associated with switching providers are one of the key tactics used to keep businesses locked-in.
However, those speedbumps shouldn’t put you off initiating a multi-cloud strategy.
One of the first hurdles to overcome is portability. Will my multiple cloud environments be compatible? If my applications are spread across multiple clouds will my data be trapped in those platforms? What costs will I incur moving my data around between environments? Will multi-cloud be too complex?
In terms of compatibility, one option would be to use containers. These use shared operating systems and are designed with self-sufficiency and portability in mind, even across otherwise incompatible environments.
When considering where best to process your data, remember data gravity. Process data in close proximity to where it resides. Maintain a single center of data gravity in your primary cloud, and move data only when it’s required. When migration is necessary, ensure your data integration system is attuned for a multi-cloud approach.
And complexity? Well, to some degree, that one is sadly unavoidable. The cloud has already taken a certain amount of control away from the IT department. It’s a software Wild West out there, where departments can install whichever applications take their fancy that week. Multi-cloud will of course only add further complexity.
Providing business units the applications they need without the red tape of the IT department is one of the key benefits of the cloud though. Attempting to curtail this too harshly is a step backward. Rather, teams need to put systems and practices in place which ensure the required levels of security, governance, and performance are met. A sandbox environment where departments can test applications with IT oversight and guidance is a good starting point.
A unique cloud recipe
Now that some of the initial difficulties around multi-cloud have been overcome, one of a business leader’s first questions question will likely be “which cloud for what?” Each of the big three has their own particular strengths and weaknesses. Microsoft is great for on-premises scenarios, for instance, whilst Amazon has the largest footprint. That said, businesses should experiment to find which combination of providers works best for their unique business needs.
Thankfully, one of the greatest benefits of the cloud is that it allows users room to experiment. Test environments and trial applications can be created with little upfront investment, allowing businesses to find their preferred mishmash of clouds for their various applications.
This trial and error approach will require a flexible integration platform. That is, one that is built specifically for cloud environments. If you’re looking to regularly augment your multi-cloud setup you’ll need a data integration platform that makes it easy to rehost if an earlier decision proves to be incorrect or the needs of the business change.
A multi-cloud strategy can put the power of data back into the hands of the business owner. It may take some tinkering and experimentation, but it enables a business leader to shape their cloud services around the unique needs of the business, and switch it up when the need arises.
The cloud has already provided greater flexibility and agility for businesses, but a one size fits all cloud service runs counter to the initial promises of cloud technology. Mix it up and make the cloud fit you, not the other way around.