Multi-Cloud Strategy: 10 Best Practices

Posted March 13, 2018 By  Cynthia Harvey
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    Multi-Cloud Strategy: 10 Best Practices

    These days, most IT organizations manage multiple public and private clouds — and that can lead to big headaches. Here's what the experts say about migrating to and managing multi-cloud environments.
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    1. Learn first.

    Experts say that organizations can minimize the hassles involved in multi-cloud adoption by learning as much as possible about the various cloud vendors and the tools available for managing those vendors. In the MIT survey, "nearly a quarter of comments advised people to plan, do their research and pick the correct technology." For example, one manager recommended, "Have a thorough knowledge about managing a multi-cloud environment before moving."

    IT leaders can get that knowledge from a variety of sources: industry websites and publications, white papers and documentation provided by the vendors, online videos, and formal classes in cloud management. Those involved in cloud transitions note that the learning process isn't just a one-time thing — managers and staff will need to continue developing their skills over time.

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    2. Anticipate early challenges when adopting multi-cloud.

    The MIT report revealed that organizations in their first year of using a multi-cloud environment reported more challenges and fewer benefits from multi-cloud than organizations that were further along in their multi-cloud adoption. "Although these organizations expect challenges with cloud, their first-year obstacles, especially regarding legacy systems and technical challenges are heavier than anticipated," the report said.

    Security and privacy are also significant issues for multi-cloud beginners. These organizations may not yet have the tools in place to secure multiple cloud environments, and they might not be exactly sure what they need. This is another area where education plays a very important role. And the survey also found that while all organizations are concerned about cloud security, that concern tends to diminish as enterprises gain more multi-cloud experience and expertise.

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    3. Keep a positive attitude.

    When asked for their advice to other companies that are considering a multi-cloud strategy, nearly a quarter of the respondents in the MIT survey mentioned something about the need to maintain a good attitude in the face of challenges. The report authors noted that even after the first year of multi-cloud, "things may seem to get worse before they get better." However, it added that the situation "will get better and it's worth it." It advised an approach of "optimistic patience" as organizations make the cultural, process and technology changes necessary to adapt to a multi-cloud environment.

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    4. Coordinate internally.

    Many different experts say that internal coordination is vital to successful multi-cloud strategies. In an interview, Armon Dadgar, founder and CTO of HashiCorp, pointed out that multi-cloud efforts involve four different groups within IT: networking, cybersecurity, developers and the IT operations personnel who handle compute. Each of the groups has their own processes and their own toolchains, which they may have developed over 15 or 20 years or more. "The challenge as companies go from one cloud — usually a private cloud in the data center running on VMware — to public, hybrid or multi-cloud environments is that you can't do that by moving one group at a time," said Dadgar. These four groups are going to need new tools and new processes, and they're going to have to work together.

    And in the MIT study, respondents indicated that this coordination needs to extend throughout the company. One vice president of IT explained that multi-cloud is "an organization-wide shift, not just IT."

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    5. Expect it to take 5 years (or more) to gain confidence with multi-cloud.

    In the MIT study, organizations with six or more years of experience with multi-cloud environments reported the most benefits and the fewest challenges. Data governance, in particular, is a big concern in the early years. But once enterprises have the tools and procedures in place to address security and privacy, users feel more confident in the technology, and cloud usage increases. The report stated, "It can take more than five years to get a good understanding of the data and the possibilities for its use. Once the [multi-cloud] technology is finally mastered, however, the survey results show that users will embrace it."

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    6. Train or hire new cloud computing skills.

    Among those surveyed by MIT, "more than half (57 percent) cited technical challenges and the demand for new skills/staff" when asked about unexpected or critical things they learned during their multi-cloud adoption. In fact, issues related to finding, training and keeping staff was the third most common kind response to this question.

    Some organizations reported that using more cloud services "frees up a lot of internal resources," but others said that the mix of necessary skills simply shifted. "The change really took place in [needing] fewer infrastructure-type people in-house and [needing] more of the cloud manageability, serviceability type of person," explained one CIO. "We were able to put some infrastructure-type people on the cloud provider team so we probably kept around the same number, but it’s just a different mix of talent right now."

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    7. Shift your focus to vendor management.

    One of the big changes that is taking place within IT groups is that instead of managing actual IT infrastructure, now staff are managing vendor relationships. One respondent in the MIT survey said, "I have somebody who makes a phone call and stays on top of the issue — managing the vendor instead of actually troubleshooting and managing the issue."

    In regards to security, in particular, organizations often find that they need to work closely with vendors in order to make sure that public cloud services are meeting their needs. "The biggest concern we have is security," said one CIO. "We need to be able to test [cloud provider] security. We want to see examples. We want to see penetration testing. We want to see results. We want to see any type of corrective measures they’ve had to take in the past. So, there’s a lot to do in the actual security due diligence."

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    8. Update your security strategy.

    Older network security approaches simply don't work in a multi-cloud world. Dadgar explained that the traditional approach to network security was similar to a castle and moat, where the security administrators secured the edge of the network and then assumed that any traffic inside the network was acceptable. "This was always a bad assumption," said Dadgar, and that becomes more apparent in multi-cloud environments. "What you realize when you go to the cloud is that you don't control the network perimeter anymore," he said. He added that when companies adopt multi-cloud they realize they "have to secure the inside of the network as well. What this is really pushing is a more application-centric approach to security."

    Interestingly, in the MIT survey, organizations with more cloud experience were more likely to say that multi-cloud had actually made their IT environments more secure, likely because they had gone through this process of re-thinking their security approach.

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    9. Re-think your processes and tooling.

    It isn't only security that organizations need to re-think when adopting multi-cloud; they also need to re-examine their other processes around provisioning resources, infrastructure management and application deployment. Dadgar recommended that organizations look for vendor-agnostic tooling, including containerization and container orchestration solutions that will make it easy to deploy and manage applications on any cloud service.

    Some of the respondents in the MIT survey also emphasized that IT must make sure that the processes and tooling they are using to manage multi-cloud must provide near 100 percent reliability and availability. One CTO said that end users "expect technology to be like a refrigerator. You open the door, the light goes on, and your beer is cold. I don’t know how that’s carried out. I just know that happens every single time."

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    10. Aim for becoming a cloud-first organization.

    The ultimate goal of any multi-cloud strategy should be enabling a cloud-first approach. A director of IT who took part in the MIT survey summarized what this means: "We have a vision. We say we want to be a cloud-first campus where with any new solution, we analyze it and kind of determine can it be in the cloud, is there any reason why it shouldn’t be in the cloud, and then we move forward with that direction."

    According to the report authors, "These [cloud-first] organizations emerge digitally transformed by cloud. At this phase, organizations express improved confidence in security. Additionally, these organizations are able to react with more agility and bring products to market more quickly, necessitating new business processes — such as planning and project management —in order to leverage the new organizational capabilities provided by cloud."

In today's cloud computing sector, multi-cloud is the star. The vast majority of enterprises are using more than one cloud, which offers benefits – and adds complexity and challenges to their IT environment.

According to the RightScale 2018 State of the Cloud Report, 81 percent of enterprises are pursuing a multi-cloud strategy. And on average, organizations are using 4.8 different cloud computing environments.

Companies are choosing multi-cloud approaches for a wide variety of reasons. A Dimensional Research survey sponsored by vendor Velostrata found that 77 percent of organizations end up using multiple clouds because they want flexible workload placement based on cost, functionality, etc. Other key reasons for the multi-cloud approach including preventing vendor lock-in (58 percent), internal strategy requirements (45 percent) and regulatory requirements (31 percent).

But having many different cloud environments also presents new obstacles. An MIT Technology Review report sponsored by VMware stated, "Among the toughest challenges respondents cited are integrating legacy systems and understanding the new technology." It added, "Once a multi-cloud environment is established, the three greatest continuing challenges cited are managing security, changes to processes and integrating legacy systems."

Multi-Cloud: Making the Most from Your Cloud

So how can enterprises overcome these multi-cloud challenges?

This slideshow offers 10 best practices recommended by cloud computing experts and IT managers who are successfully managing multi-cloud environments.

Images from Pixabay

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