The growth in multi-cloud computing has picked up pace in the last eighteen months. Recent research from Computing, in partnership with Oracle, indicates that multi-cloud strategy will make up a steadily increasing proportion of enterprise infrastructure over the next three years.
There are multiple, overlapping drivers of the increasing role of multi-cloud strategies in enterprise computing. It reflects the general shift towards hybrid, heterogenous computing and storage environments. Enterprises want to be able to leverage CSPs against one another in order to obtain the most competitive pricing and also ensure that they make the most of the various specialisms that each CSP has to offer.
The digital divide
Perhaps above all else comes the desire for greater levels of corporate agility. Even pre COVID-19 the business climate was unstable and unforgiving. The pandemic has highlighted, in the most brutal way possible, that businesses need to be able to react almost instantly to changing market conditions. Those that cannot are already, sadly, falling by the wayside.
The digital divide is much discussed, but the pandemic has thrown it into razor sharp relief. The ability to adapt to and fulfil changing expectations of customers without having to waste time navigating organisational barriers is at the heart of agility. Being able move data and workloads around different clouds to optimise their performance is a vital component.
It can be tricky to unpack the challenges that organisations are facing when trying to make multi-cloud work because many of them are inextricably linked. For example, challenges around interoperability contribute to those of application migration and data portability - and vice versa.
Many organisations still face considerable barriers to multi-cloud arising from a lack of standardisation between CSPs. If you can't transfer data and applications seamlessly between CSPs then your multi-cloud strategy is going to struggle to become a reality. As containerisation and microservices have matured, the real-world portability of applications around different cloud environments has improved to some degree, but interoperability remains an obstacle for many organisations.
Cloud management headaches
Another challenge facing the enterprise is the continually cited issue of management complexity. The move towards hybrid infrastructure comes with intractable management challenges. The whole point of cloud - its flexibility - is also what can make it so difficult to manage because infrastructure can have a lifecycle of hours.
Many organisations have ended up in a situation where the complexity of their infrastructure makes it very difficult to gain full visibility of it. This lack of unified visibility of multiple cloud platforms, as well as on-premises infrastructure, has adverse consequences on performance monitoring, diagnostics and remediation, security and compliance, resource capacity planning and control of costs. You can't manage what you can't see.
These challenges are preventing many enterprises taking cloud to the heart of their businesses and rearchitecting core business applications such as ERP, finance and accounting functions and other key line of business applications. Such applications are often unwieldy, bespoke and highly fragile. Businesses want to modernise these tools to utilise new data streams and increase their agility but they are being held back, partly because of the nature of these applications, but also because the challenges arising from multi-cloud amplify the ones that the applications themselves already pose.
Many of challenges that enterprises are experiencing with visibility and management of a distributed infrastructure can be ameliorated by a unified infrastructure management platform which should be purpose built for a multi-cloud environment. The platform should be able to monitor, manage and analyse cloud services from multiple vendors as well on-premises and private cloud infrastructure and provide complete visibility across what will be a necessarily distributed architecture.
Such a platform should use automation to analyse workloads to determine where they will be optimally executed, apply financial analysis to the mix to determine the most cost-effective destination and be capable of applying security and compliance policies.
Standardisation in the cloud
Leaders in multi-cloud are architecting on open standards. A great proportion of hyperscale cloud provision has been built on such standards so it makes sense to build on standards like OCCI for remote management of cloud services infrastructure. In the meantime, common APIs to enable data portability across multiple clouds are available, as are platform agnostic containers and adaptors which can bridge the gap between different clouds. Development for a multi-cloud architecture necessarily involves these components.
The selection of cloud management and development platforms is a crucial determiner of whether enterprises can turn the promise of multi-cloud, with easily portable workloads, data and applications running in optimal environments on the most commercially favourable terms, into a reality.