Trying to decide on a cloud provider can be a complex business. Yet it's not a technology any enterprise can afford to ignore if it wishes to remain competitive.
In 2017, the total spending on public cloud solutions alone is set to reach $122.5 billion, an increase of 24.4 per cent over 2016, according to figures from IDC. The research firm also forecast public cloud spending will reach $203.4 billion worldwide by 2020, so it's clear that the appetite for these services is not set to slow down any time soon.
But with so many options to choose from, and with each business having its own unique requirements, finding a single provider that can meet all of a company's needs is likely to be an impossible task. Therefore, the obvious solution is for enterprises to adopt a multi-cloud approach, where they use a variety of cloud platforms from different providers to meet individual needs.
Why adopt a multi-cloud solution?
The biggest benefit of a multi-cloud approach is the flexibility it affords. Some providers will specialize in certain services more than others, so being able to move between multiple tools to leverage the best solution, at the right time, from the most appropriate provider will be essential if businesses are to operate as effectively as possible.
The use of multiple providers often also goes hand-in-hand with a hybrid cloud strategy, where businesses can take advantage of the scalability and cost-effectiveness of public options, while retaining the high level of control and security that private alternatives provide.
Multi-cloud is clearly seen as the way to go by many businesses. Rightscale's 2017 State of the Cloud Report revealed 85 per cent of enterprises now operate in such an environment, with cloud users running applications in an average of 1.8 public clouds and 2.3 private clouds.
But while the benefits are clear to see, managing multiple cloud providers comes with its own set of challenges. So what do IT managers need to keep in mind in order to make sure this strategy is a success?
How do you keep control of your data?
A key question to consider is how you handle data across multiple clouds. There are two elements of this: namely, data sovereignty - where your data is physically stored and how it is handled - and data locality, which relates to how it is prepared and stored for processing in the global cloud environment.
Determining what data is stored on which cloud will be a key consideration in this. The ability to store and process data in the most appropriate location, depending on regulatory, security and efficiency needs, is a major benefit of a multi-cloud approach. However, sooner or later, workloads will need to be moved across clouds.
Computer Weekly notes: "Tools must be in place to enable the easy and effective movement of workloads across the multi-cloud environment. This means containerization is a must ... By ensuring workloads are essentially small, self-contained images, such mobility becomes possible."
Generally speaking, data needs to be stored as close to the relevant compute resources as possible, in order to ensure performance is high and costs are low. Tech Target observes that copying data in and out of a cloud will often increase expenses, so it makes sense to keep these tasks in the same cloud where data is generated where possible.
Should you use a managed cloud partner?
For many businesses, the simplest way of dealing with these issues will be to secure the assistance of a managed cloud services provider, who can handle all the day-to-day aspects of the technology and monitor multiple cloud providers to ensure they are delivering the service they promise.
Ideally, these providers should help businesses to observe and control all their cloud deployments from a 'single pane of glass', which offers one solution and point of contact for all services.
As each provider will have its own set of service level agreements (SLAs), it can be challenging to keep on top of all these without help. An effective solution should be able to pull together all availability and performance information, as well as "have the ability to carry out synthetic transactions against defined services and applications, show overall system health, and monitor response times and latency," states Compare the Cloud.
However, this route may not be for every enterprise, particularly if there are worries about ceding control. In this case, businesses can still take advantage of multi-cloud management tools in order to meet the challenges of this environment. Meenagi Venkat, Vice-President of Technical Sales and Solutioning at IBM Cloud, said: "Such tools can help you to configure, provision and deploy development environments, as well as integrate service management from a single, self-service interface."
However a firm chooses to go about managing its cloud, attempting to monitor and control each individual cloud manually will likely prove to be a complex and time-consuming struggle. Putting in place a clear plan, embracing management tools or even partnering with an expert in the field can take much of the hassle out of multi-cloud environments.
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