The cloud operating model has evolved from an emerging trend to a fundamental backbone in modern business infrastructures – with Gartner forecasting that worldwide public cloud end-user spending will reach nearly $600 billion by the end of 2023.

As organisations continue to embrace cloud technology – including public clouds, private clouds, and cloud principles in dedicated IT environments – they are met with boundless opportunities to drive agility, efficiency and innovation at a pace previously unimaginable. This has led to the rapid increase of cloud-based software-as-a-service (SaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) solutions, granting businesses with fast and easy access to computing resources without the need to invest in, or maintain, expensive hardware or infrastructure.

Yet, alongside the quick expansion of cloud services, we are facing a complex challenge that can impede the agility promised by this technology. Namely, the formation of silos within a rapidly growing multi-cloud environment. 

With more cloud providers than ever using a wide variety of different operating frameworks, businesses must find a way to connect the disparate parts of their cloud environments – or lose the very efficiencies the cloud was built to provide.

The rise of the multi-cloud era

Cloud computing is far from being a new technology, yet the way in which companies use the cloud has significantly developed over the years. What initially started as the use of ‘virtual’ private networks, quickly changed into businesses adopting a hybrid model bringing together both private and public clouds to tailor implementations and achieve more comprehensive cloud service integration.

Now, as cloud technology continues to evolve and new offerings are brought to market, companies are coming to understand the benefits of splitting their cloud usage between more than one provider. This is where the multi-cloud strategy comes in, as it offers businesses the ability to leverage the best elements of different cloud infrastructures while neutralising any negatives, optimise costs across their entire cloud environment, and avoid vendor lock-in. 

The potential of these advantages has led to the rapid adoption of multiple cloud services, with research indicating that 85% of organisations have deployed applications on two or more IaaS providers. A significant jump from 2020, when 70% of companies were still tied to one cloud service provider.

The challenges of a multi-cloud environment 

As is often the case, the opportunities presented by multi-cloud usage come alongside their own unique set of challenges. 

By introducing new services, businesses are adding to the complexity of their IT infrastructure and increasing the workload of their IT teams. As each application operates in isolation, managing the integration, data flow and overall efficiencies of each cloud service can be time consuming, which may prove particularly troublesome for teams already struggling with the ongoing IT skills gap.

Security, compliance, and performance can also become harder to manage across multiple cloud services. While the ability to move workloads to public providers and between IaaS platforms has its benefits, securing data and monitoring vulnerabilities across multiple cloud platforms will require more time and effort. The same can be said for monitoring and enhancing performance, as well as ensuring compliance with any regional legislation in the case of using services from different locations.

To get the most out of a multi-cloud environment, businesses must develop a firm understanding of exactly where their data is going to being stored and anything that might impact its usage, the security requirements across each platform, how easy it will be to move from one solution to another, the process of deleting data and, ultimately, how they can prove its ROI. 

Managing multi-cloud complexities

While the complexities of a multi-cloud environment may be varied, they are not insurmountable. Numerous cloud management tools have emerged that can consolidate multiple cloud applications and allow these to be managed centrally, helping to maintain consistency, compliance, and security across multiple platforms. By using such a tool, businesses can alleviate some of the additional pressures imposed by working across multiple cloud platforms. 

Importantly though, when choosing to go down the multi-cloud route, you also need to decide what your objectives are for doing so and be able to quantifiably measure the ability of each cloud provider to deliver your objectives. It no good selecting a cloud provider because they are the cheapest – only to discover that it does not deliver the performance, resilience, or reliability you need to run your business.

The cloud (and applications running in it) are just a vessel for your business needs, so you need to develop a testing process, that can be easily repeated with each new platform, which allows you to measure what you have already, and then compare that to what the different cloud environments can provide. Comparing “apples with apples” will then guarantee that you pick the right environment for each task.

It is also important to continue this testing process. Just like your own datacentre, cloud environments change over time, and you need to make sure the decisions you made previously are still the right ones now. Using an MSSP to run these tests periodically ensures that you are aware of issues that may be effecting your business, and allows you to either alter the configuration of your cloud environment, or reevaluate your provider section.

A unified path forward

To fully harness the cloud’s potential and maintain a competitive edge, businesses must focus on integrating their different platforms and applications. There are numerous cloud management tools available, providing a solution to dealing with the complexities of a multi-cloud environment, however managing this in-house will still require significant resources and expertise. 

An alternative option would be to outsource cloud management to a managed service provider. This can help those without the ability to manage multiple clouds in-house to develop a cohesive and agile strategy, enabling a smoother flow of data and processes across various cloud platforms, while allowing them to focus on their core business responsibilities.

As the cloud landscape continues to grow and diversify, the need to unify disparate cloud environments increases. Whether this is conducted in-house, or via a third-party, the focus is no longer on simply adopting the cloud, it is now on how to consolidate platforms and optimise them for maximum benefit.

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Rob Pocock is a stalwart employee of Red Helix, working at the company for over 23 years. During this time, Rob has worked upward through company ranks, joining the Red Helix team as Product Manager in 1999, to now working as Technology Director. Prior to joining Red Helix, Rob was a network engineer at AEA Technology and is an expert in telecommunications, network security and data handling. Rob is also a specialist in the transformative business potential of 5G and will play a key role in Red Helix’s goal of demystifying the challenges associated with the implementation of the 5G network.

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