Multi-cloud might appear to be a new trend, but in fact it has been a topic since the early days of cloud. In 2020, with many South African organisations using two or more clouds and cloud services.
However, the current zeitgeist of technology transformation has put multi-cloud on everyone's lips. According to Dell Technologies, almost everyone is engaged in some form of multi-cloud arrangement.
81% of respondents to Gartner surveys are using two or more different public cloud providers. Forrester's surveys place that figure at 86%. IDC has been running multi-cloud conferences for several years. Even if you go back to the start of the cloud wave, conversations about multi-cloud and managing such environments were already happening.
Multi-cloud and its practical manifestations have become so commonplace that it's gained status as the prime cloud strategy. Multi-cloud can be defined as when an organisation uses different public, private clouds and Software-as-a-Service to support specific workloads and applications. These can be dynamic and temporary assignments - the purpose of multi-cloud is to use the right cloud provider at the right time for a specific workload or application.
Keeping cloud flexible
Multi-cloud represents a maturation of the cloud market, explained Tom O'Reilly, Global Chief Technologist and strategic advisor at Dell Technologies:
"Most companies use more than one cloud today because it makes sense to do so. The principal advantage of the cloud is that it offers flexibility and choice over what traditional infrastructure could. Once companies got used to this, they naturally looked for more flexibility across different providers."
Yet while many use multiple clouds, very few are doing so effectively. As companies indulged in their new-found flexibility, they neglected to future-proof their cloud investments.
"We would see a lot of consumption in markets such as the US and Europe. They would use cloud, but not think about it or apply it strategically. And then, all of a sudden, organisations are seeing a lot of challenges when they've done that. So when they go the multi-cloud route, they end up with technology silos that have independent operating models."
The market is finding itself stuck at these new opportunities. Cloud can form new siloes and diminishing returns from established skill sets. O'Reilly noted that those investments were focused on the first wave of current modernisation, such as storage, networking, compute and virtualisation towards converged infrastructure.
Such gains were crucial, but they are not the final destination. Unfortunately, many treated them as such or, more likely, didn't consider that more radical changes were still in the pipeline.
"That's the biggest challenge that I've seen," said O'Reilly. "It's organisations saying: 'How do I take advantage of the skills that I already have in-house?'"
Using what you have
In many markets, particularly South Africa, that question often settles on VMWare. Most companies have built strong VMWare skills over the past 10 to 15 years. So when a decision is made to include Azure, AWS, GCP or another hyperscale cloud environment, which can be highly-beneficial to increase technology capability, agility, flexibility and IT maturation, organizations don’t want to lose the investment they already have in their people, processes and in-house technologies.
Yet the issue isn't VMWare. The hypervisor is supported by practically all the major hyperscale cloud providers. Instead, the barriers materialise when a company's cloud strategy didn't anticipate using those skills in more dynamic environments.
"A thought exercise that I like to have with customers, especially executives, is to think about five years from now. Will what you're doing now be sustained four to five years? Maybe a new platform arrives and they'll have a better offering that you'd like to take advantage of. Will you be too invested in a particular cloud environment? Will you be able to switch to the new offering? If the answer is no, then what do we do?"
Every organisation will have different answers. But there are some shared experiences that everyone can apply. Organisations should use partners who are familiar with various cloud environments and work towards aligning their solutions with those. For example, VMWare's comprehensive support among hyperscale platforms is testament to it and Dell Technologies' efforts with those providers.
O'Reilly also encouraged his customers to establish standards for themselves: "When it comes to elements like virtual machines or Infrastructure-as-a-Service, wouldn't it be nice to be able to deploy something in the same manner, whether it's on my data centre or in the cloud? Things like microservices, containers or functions (serverless) - can I build a capability to have these as services, and then have the choice of where I want them to land?"
Cloud is growing up
Hybrid cloud is the evolution of this. Where organisations can leverage the great value of multiple clouds, but have a consistent infrastructure layer, a consistent operating model, and enables consistent service delivery to the business. This hybrid cloud approach is the result of a maturing cloud market. Organisations can do much more with what they have, taking advantage of the best on offer in a fluid market. But it requires them to be flexible and plan forward. Putting a cloud strategy on auto-pilot will lead to new silos and skills shortages. This is why, despite having an overwhelming market presence, multi-cloud intimidates and worries firms.
"It's a pendulum swing. A few years in the US, everyone rushed towards public cloud and running 100% of their applications in the cloud. But factors such as cost, user experiences and security have revealed the gaps in cloud strategies. Hybrid-cloud isn't new. It's the result of the market realising those nuances exist and must be factored in," he concluded.