Best practices for adopting multi-cloud strategy in your organization
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Companies today stand at the threshold of a cloud revolution. The shift towards hybrid/multi-cloud architectures has allowed companies to select more than one cloud service provider empowering developers with the best tools to create compelling use cases. It also negates risks arising from a single point of failure, dependencies, and vendor lock-in.
While the benefits of cloud are apparent, the types of cloud architectures, in particular, can be pretty confusing for companies that are new to adoption. For instance, the difference between multi-cloud and the hybrid cloud can baffle companies because both terms are often changed interchangeably. It’s important to note that both these architectures differ in purpose and definition and have a few critical dissimilarities that can be critical to understanding several companies.
Multi-Cloud vs Hybrid Cloud – The Key Differences
Both these terms refer to enterprise cloud deployments involving the integration of more than one cloud platform. There is also a significant difference in the infrastructure setup that these cloud deployments have.
With a multi-cloud architecture, an organization has the liberty to leverage multiple cloud services delivered by multiple providers. In this setup, multiple cloud solutions are often aligned to multiple processes to drive best-of-breed results and reduce cases of vendor lock-in. For instance, the needs of the sales and finance function are often starkly different from the needs that an R&D function would have. And, it is here where a multi-cloud setup can help companies drive efficiencies by aligning standalone cloud solutions to meet process-specific requirements more effectively.
This model allows companies to reduce dependencies on a single cloud provider. That way, it becomes easier to control costs and enhance operational flexibility. Multi-cloud strategies across organizations often include a combination of multi-public cloud vendor platforms such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform (GCP), and IBM. On the other hand, the hybrid cloud also combines public and private clouds for the same purpose, but it differs from multi-cloud on the following grounds:
- Hybrid cloud deployments leverage public and private clouds. However, the deployment strategy of multi-cloud involves multiple public clouds and virtual and physical cloud infrastructure in private clouds.
- In a multi-cloud infrastructure, separate cloud services are aligned to separate processes. In a hybrid cloud setup, however, the components typically work in unison.
The Benefits of Multi-Cloud Infrastructure
Though the benefits of the cloud are tangible irrespective of the infrastructure that a company embraces, several aspects make a multi-cloud setup beneficial in the long run. According to Gartner, more than 75% of mid-sized to large organizations will have adopted a multi-cloud strategy by the end of 2021. Now, some key factors have resulted in this increased push for multi-cloud adoption, such as:
1. The Liberty to Opt for Services from Multiple Vendors
Companies cannot expect to get the best-of-breed cloud services from a single vendor. It is here where multi-cloud adoption can help them select the best services for specific requirements from multiple vendors. For instance, a company might go with a particular cloud vendor to run fully managed (PaaS) workloads but leverage a different cloud provider’s robust AI and ML services to drive standalone analytics initiatives within processes. A multi-cloud infrastructure infuses flexibility in the cloud infrastructure, allowing companies to optimize their analytics workloads better. Data analytics involves a meticulous data engineering process such as data discovery, data integration, data processing, data warehousing, and more. Shifting to a multi-cloud infrastructure provides a company with the opportunity to select specific cloud tools to manage each of these processes.
2. Negate the Risks of Vendor Lock-In
A multi-cloud infrastructure allows companies to opt for cloud services from multiple vendors and helps distribute workloads on multiple cloud platforms depending on requirements while reducing vendor dependency. With multi-cloud, companies have the option to migrate to a different cloud service provider depending on changes in strategy, pricing models, or service level agreements (SLAs).
3. Enhanced Network Performance
By allowing companies to extend their networks to multiple cloud providers, a multi-cloud infrastructure leverages fast and low-latency connections to enhance application response times and deliver a satisfactory user experience. In this setup, companies can opt for cloud services from a provider based on their proximity to the provider regions for maximum speed and network uptime.
4. Infrastructure Resiliency and RobustDisaster Recovery Mechanism
Multi-cloud environments make it easier for companies to allocate redundant workloads across different cloud platforms to manage disaster recovery effectively. In a multi-cloud setup, companies can create workload replicas across two or three cloud platforms. During downtime, anyone of these replicas can continue to function.
5. Data Sovereignty
A multi-cloud setup makes it easier for companies to comply with data sovereignty laws and regulations because it allows data storage within the same country or region from where it was collated.
The Challenges of a Multi-Cloud Environment
While the benefits offered by a multi-cloud environment make it a compelling proposition for companies looking to operate a diverse range of applications, a multi-cloud strategy can turn out to be highly complex if not properly managed. Multi-cloud environments come with some inherent challenges that companies need to be prepared for. For instance:
1. Escalating Costs
With multiple cloud providers, companies may find it challenging to manage ad-hoc service costs, subscription costs, etc. Cloud services providers often come with distinct billing and subscription models that can become too complex to manage. Without proper cost management and consumption plan, companies may lose a significant amount of money due to wasted resources.
2. Complex Management
In a multi-cloud environment, companies need to monitor application setup and configuration across diverse cloud platforms constantly. Managing applications, especially when application components are stored in different clouds and workloads are scattered across cloud resources, can be challenging. Big data management and operating a data pipeline in the best of circumstances where data sources are scattered remains an arduous task for many companies. Now, when data teams are asked to maintain data pipelines in an environment where huge clusters of constantly changing diverse data sets across multiple clouds and on-prem platforms, this essentially becomes a nightmare. To ensure that a multi-cloud infrastructure performs to its full potential, companies need to train IT adequately staff about all the cloud platforms implemented and create necessary integration channels wherever required. Ultimately successful management of multi-cloud infrastructure boils down to how well a company evaluates the key attributes of the cloud solutions at its disposal and aligns the same to serve specific needs.
3. Security Risks
Security requirements are expected to become more stringent going forward as the complexities of multi-cloud infrastructure increase. Cloud service providers often come with adequate security services, which may become inadequate as data and workloads get disseminated across cloud platforms. To devise a resilient security mechanism, companies need to embrace an end-to-end approach to security where proper controls and stringent access rights are implemented at the right touchpoints.
4. Steep Learning Curve
Leading cloud service providers regularly introduce new services and upgrades, which makes the multi-cloud space highly dynamic. Business leaders and data teams need to stay abreast with these constant updates to ensure that end-user adoption of a particular cloud solution is seamless. Rapidly changing cloud technology and regular updates coupled with talent crunch can make it difficult for a company to derive maximum value from its multi-cloud initiative.
5. Risk of Non-Compliance
Companies need to comply with different data regulations such as PCI, PII, GDPR, and HIPAA in a multi-cloud environment. Without a robust compliance mechanism in place, companies can become vulnerable to the risks of data theft and loss.
Orchestrating a Robust Multi-Cloud Adoption Strategy – Best Practices
With the right adoption strategy, companies stand a better chance of negating the challenges of multi-cloud environments. The following are some of the best practices that companies need to follow to ensure that their multi-cloud infrastructure delivers the best outcomes:
- Data governance: While devising a multi-cloud strategy, companies need to focus on creating a strong data governance program. That way, every end-user can have complete visibility on the location of data, irrespective of the cloud platform where it is stored.
- Workload distribution: Another important aspect that companies need to keep in mind while charting out their multi-cloud strategy is integration and management. Companies must have well-thought-out strategies for data pipeline monitoring, ITSM integration, patch management, and application lifecycle management. Standardizing the consumption patterns based on requirement and cloud service type is also essential. For instance, companies can choose Microsoft Azure for .Net application development and at the same time leverage data labs on Google cloud to build analytics capabilities. That way, companies can effectively distribute workloads across multiple cloud platforms and, in the process, reduce wait time, enhance application response, avoid service level agreement violations and reduce chances of downtime.
- Integrated systems: To reap tangible returns from a multi-cloud environment, companies need to develop an integrated system of resources. Integration makes it easier for companies to constantly monitor disparate cloud networks, schedule maintenance for applications, and identify potential threats to the cloud infrastructure.
- IPaas: By leveraging an IPaas (Integration Platform as a service) solution, allows integration of cloud services from multiple vendors seamlessly. An IPaas solution can serve as a backbone for a multi-cloud enterprise architecture by enhancing system connectivity between various cloud environments and allowing cloud vendors to analyze, assess and synchronize data securely and quickly. It can also simplify integration processes with reusable data modules to facilitate practical self-service analysis.
- Containerization: In order to ensure seamless migration of workloads between cloud platforms and easy application maintenance, organizations need to bundle specific applications within containers. This packaging significantly enhances the portability of the application and its workloads within diverse runtime environments. Containers can prove to be particularly beneficial for microservices environments, where an application is developed in a way where its components are further broken down into sub-components for easy portability.
- Security: Implementation of proper security protocols is key to negate known and unknown threats in a multi-cloud environment. The right security posture will entail complete visibility and control of all applications across the cloud platforms with robust access control, data security, network security, application security, and audit trails.
Cloud as a technology has fast evolved from private to hybrid and now multi-cloud. And, since the benefits significantly outweigh the inherent challenges of a multi-cloud environment, it will become the de-facto standard for cloud deployments for companies looking to avoid vendor lock-in and optimize diverse application workloads in the future. To capitalize on the opportunities presented by multi-cloud, however, companies will need to ensure that they have a robust management mechanism in place. After all, data will remain scattered across public, private, hybrid, and on-premise platforms and companies need to secure and manage it adequately irrespective of the environment it resides in.
Gunasekaran S is the Director of Data Engineering at Sigmoid and has over 20 years of experience. He is an advisor to customers on Data Strategy and Data Platform design and implementation using modern technology stack. He has experience working with customers on Retail, CPG, BFSI and Travel domain and helps them drive towards becoming a data-centric organization.
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