The concept of the public cloud has sparked a great deal of excitement and interest among IT executives. Many are improving business agility and achieving superior results with cloud services. This, in turn, drives further investment in cloud.
Aside from the common expectations of agility and OpEx consumption pricing, some are drawn to the idea of expansive, highly centralised multi-cloud strategies. These executives envision managing multiple vendors with ease, orchestrating all processes efficiently and seamlessly moving workloads across different clouds. And of course, they can capitalize on every new feature and price drop along the way. Central to this panacea: a third party cloud management tool, with hooks into a variety of underlying cloud providers.
However, the true value of multi-cloud management is hard to quantify. Reality and expectations don’t always match up.
The perks of multi-cloud management
There are many benefits of multi-cloud management, especially for IT execs who need help managing basic infrastructure lifecycle tasks on various clouds. This allows users to reap the efficiency benefits of a third-party provider, while removing a lot of challenges associated with traditional infrastructure. Multi-cloud management integration can give customers access to a familiar interface, usually an on-premise virtualization tool, to access instantly scalable resources in the public cloud.
While this multi-cloud scenario is not necessarily a way to gain a competitive advantage from cloud, it can make the day-to-day lives of IT staff easier.
Challenges to multi-cloud management
However, reality often comes with a host of unexpected problems. Firstly, cloud interoperabilityis not a given and can be quite difficult to achieve. Workloads cannot simply be shifted from one place to another, even if the “ideal” of cloud suggests otherwise. From managing service provider APIs, to monitoring usage, and managing identity and access requirements, there are many challenges that IT executives face when trying to make multi-cloud management a reality for them.
Keeping up to date with innovation also takes time. New features from each cloud provider need to be integrated into the 3rd party management tooling. By definition, the vendors will always be a few steps behind the latest features from each cloud provider. This results in a “lowest common denominator” UI where users typically end up only doing very basic VM operations across clouds. While this is perfectly functional, the element of competitive advantage – the whole point of cloud, and improved IT-business alignment – is notably lacking in this scenario.
Building an enterprise cloud strategy
Taking both the challenges and perks of multi-cloud management into consideration, being able to craft a practical enterprise cloud strategy remains a key concern for IT executives. Such strategies should not feature multi-cloud management focusing on portability at the infrastructure layer. Instead, leaders should focus on offering self-service and on-demand capabilities, under the backdrop of a management framework which still adheres to existing IT policies like governance, permissions, and billing transparency.
Portability is important. However, this should be a priority above the infrastructure layer, such as at the run-time, middleware, and application layers. This is where open-source Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) offerings and containers come in to play.
What makes PaaS and containers different than the multi-cloud management approach at the infrastructure layer? Consider the following three benefits often associated with multi-cloud nirvana in comparison to leveraging PaaS or container technology instead:
- Freedom from lock-in (interoperability). With Cloud Foundry and Docker, there is broad capability to easily move apps around different infrastructure providers. Both platforms are open-source to boot. That means more options for the customer.
- Access to innovation. Both services, in part because of their open source nature, have thousands of contributors working on new capabilities all the time.
- Pricing arbitrage. This is still a false promise – after all, you don’t move to cloud only for cost savings. But if you are not satisfied with a current vendor for whatever reason – service, reliability, shallow product portfolio or otherwise – PaaS and containers gives you a path to move workloads where they run best.
PaaS, therefore, rather than multi-cloud management should be an essential component to the long-term vision of any cloud strategy. The incremental gains from multi-cloud infrastructure are no doubt helpful, but are not enough on its own, and definitely not a nirvana within which to carry out a successful cloud strategy. Instead, using the benefits of a multi-cloud world through application instances and containers are where true transformative and competitive advantage lies.