Enterprises are increasingly finding themselves with hybrid multicloud infrastructures to manage, either by design or by happenstance. By 2022, more than 90% of them worldwide will rely on a mix of private clouds, multiple public clouds and legacy platforms to meet their IT needs, according to IDC.
Many factors are at work. For example, “it’s often convenient for large Microsoft shops to use Microsoft Azure cloud services that plug directly into Microsoft software products” for integration simplicity, said Jeremy Gannon, Senior Systems Engineer at Kelser Corporation, a managed IT services company in Glastonbury Conn. Yet those companies might also require unique or best-of-breed cloud capabilities offered by other providers, he said. They’re also likely to retain certain workloads in private data centers for cost, security, or performance reasons.
Another contributor to mixed-cloud infrastructure: service subscriptions procured by a department other than IT. More than half the global respondents to the Nutanix Enterprise Cloud Index (ECI) 2020 study (57%) agreed, for instance, that their company’s application developers frequently circumvent their IT organizations.
As their infrastructures expand for these and other reasons, experts from Forrester Research and elsewhere advise enterprises to develop cross-cloud governance and data management strategies and to adopt cloud-agnostic management tools and container technology to simplify operations.
Hybrid clouds connected to multiple public clouds can provide businesses with the flexibility to select the ideal computing environment for every workload. What makes a given service or pricing tier “best” might be best-of-breed functionality or a host of other factors, such as server or storage cost, data transfer fees, performance, uptime, latency and security.
If configured properly, for example, hybrid multiclouds afford “potentially greater security through diversity of services,” said Davis Hake, Adjunct Professor of Cyber Risk Management at the University of California, Berkeley, and co-founder of Resilience Insurance, a company that provides coverage against ransomware and other cyber-attacks.
Yet many businesses are now seeing the downside of so many choices as complexity rears its head. For example, Gannon pointed out that the security benefits of multicloud diversity hinge on proper implementation.
“It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it,” he said. “If you use resources across several cloud providers but don’t understand how they all work, you’ll be in a worse [security] situation. If you plan things out, with the right configurations, then being spread across different buckets and regions with more segmentation [helps keep a] breach in one place from taking down the organization.”
While public cloud services from hyperscale providers use similar technologies, they’re all architected differently. “There are simply no interoperability standards in the multicloud world” for linking them, blogged Piotr Domek, founder of Nubeasoft, an IT recruitment and staffing company in Frankfurt, Germany.
Each cloud provider takes a different approach to configuration with its own set of templates for spinning up server, storage and database instances, agreed Gannon, often requiring separate skillsets to configure and manage. And, generally, the more integrated your applications are with a particular cloud provider’s infrastructure, the greater the depth of your capabilities are—but the more you’re also locked into that vendor, wrote Domek.
Taming the Chaos: Governance, Tools and Containers
To avoid inflated cloud costs and security risks that multicloud complexity can create, enterprises need a governance plan and a solid data management strategy to control their multivendor cloud implementations. Governance helps enterprises make sure they don’t overspend or leave themselves vulnerable to security breaches, noted research company Gartner in its April 2021 Market Guide for Cloud Management Tooling.
Non-IT procurement, for example, tends to increase service costs. Those cloud instances might also become abandoned, leaving the company unwittingly paying recurring costs for unused services and creating potential vulnerabilities.
To strike an optimized balance among cloud cost, risk, and value, it’s imperative that businesses set governance rules and constraints about usage without being so restrictive that they hamper innovation, wrote Domek.
From an operations perspective, using an abstraction management tool removes the complexity of having to deal with multiple native system management interfaces, according to David Linthicum, Chief Cloud Strategy Officer at Deloitte Consulting, in a white paper, “What You Haven’t Considered About Managing Multicloud.”
Such cloud management platforms (CMPs) deliver a unified console for multicloud operations and integrated applications, data and security policy management across all of an organization’s cloud environments. These cloud-agnostic tools are available with broad, overarching functionality, while more targeted applications for functions such as cost control, security, and governance may be available to plug into the platforms.
Gartner estimates that there are more than 100 CMP vendors as of 2021 and recommends using these platforms in conjunction with public providers’ respective cloud-native tools.
“Assess your need for both broad and deep functionality,” the researcher wrote in its Market Guide. “The broader a tool’s set of capabilities, the higher the risk that functionality in each capability is shallow. Point solutions achieve deeper functionality due to a narrower focus.”
Nutanix Cloud Platform is a cloud-agnostic CMP, for example, that also supports applications such as Nutanix Flow Security Central for security compliance status visibility and remediation across multiple cloud environments. Similarly, the Nutanix Beam application plugs into the CMP for holistic, cross-cloud cost control. The application discovers, tracks and audits workload instances across dissimilar cloud environments and lets IT create policies to automatically move workloads to different services or pricing tiers under certain conditions.
Visibility into all cloud utilization in this manner helps keep expenses under control, an important capability as the long-term economic benefits of public cloud usage are coming into question: conservative estimates suggest that public cloud services cost two to three times as much as buying and managing private infrastructure over time.
Cross-cloud container tools similarly ease application migration complexity, according to Forrester. Container technology contains not only an application, but all its dependencies, including libraries, binaries and configuration files, which move as a unit, and it masks the underlying foundational differences that cause incompatibilities.
As part of its CMP, Nutanix offers a virtualization environment that supports Docker containers and is Kubernetes-ready.
Enterprises are adopting multiple cloud platforms for a variety of reasons, and
there’s no magic number of clouds or services mix that meets the objectives of them all. While all organizations face increasing complexity, each must use its own internal criteria to determine the combination of cloud providers, services, and pricing tiers that best balance value, cost, and risk.
Maintaining control over growing hybrid multiclouds requires data management strategies that embrace strong governance, cost control, and security measures. Enterprises can gain substantial assistance in enforcing their strategies by capitalizing on a growing array of available cross-cloud management and container tools.
Joanie Wexler is a contributing writer and editor with more than 25 years of experience covering the business implications of IT and computer networking technologies.
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