Safely navigating through a worsening threat landscape, controlling burgeoning IT complexity, and protecting gargantuan amounts of data are key to maintaining customer confidence. Going it alone, without attempting to tap into the power of the multi-cloud providers seems like an increasingly foolhardy move.

According to Foresight Factory’s recent F5 sponsored Future of Multi-cloud (FOMC), disruptive technologies, new strategic imperatives, and evolving governance practices are radically reshaping business and consumer paradigms.

Usage demands are already massive for both consumers and enterprises. Netflix users alone consumed more than one billion hours of video content per week in 2017. Meanwhile, almost five billion videos are watched on YouTube every day. In an average month, eight out of ten 18-49-year olds will watch YouTube-hosted content. As the FOMC report unanimously concludes, businesses need a strong multi-cloud strategy now.

A faster moving future

According to FOMC expert David Linthicum, Chief Cloud Strategy Officer at Deloitte Consulting, the cloud will continue to develop “at a constant rate of innovation.”

Rapid technological innovation and hyperscale providers’ deep pockets mean that change could well be multi-cloud’s only constant. The pace of change is accelerating both in terms of software and hardware. RightScale’s 2018 State of the Cloud report recently identified machine learning as the most popular public cloud service in terms of future interest. 23% of respondents plan to use it, and another 23% are experimenting with the technology today.

Other developments include new serverless architectures enabling enterprises to cut down on time-to-market and simplify processes. It could also enable provider agnosticism and make it easier to benefit from the multi-cloud. At the same time, the development of new software and hardware features has created an unprecedented innovation arms race in the cloud. “Amazon is adding ten servers into the cloud pretty much every week, and that is going to be ongoing for the next five to ten years. The same applies to Azure,” says David Linthicum.

The necessity for hardware to keep up with the demands of both consumers and enterprises is also apparent in fields such as the Internet of Things (IoT) and edge computing. By 2019, IDC predicts that 45% of IoT-created data will be stored, processed, analysed, and acted upon close to, or at the edge of, the network.

While the major cloud providers tend to dominate the innovation discussion, there is also plenty of action happening on the (increasingly blurred) margins.

“You are going to see more regional clouds provided by telcos, among others, to deliver specialist services to specific areas. Sometimes a local cloud is much more important than having something that is generic,” explains Roy Illsley, FOMC expert and Principal Consultant at Ovum. According to the 2017 Cloudify/IOD State of Enterprise Multi-Cloud report, Software Defined Networking and Network Function Virtualisation (SDN/NFV) are the most critical emerging technologies for the telecommunications, defence and space industries. Containers are much more important for the software, networking and IT services industries.

Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) that can integrate new technologies for specific industry verticals will become increasingly valuable. Examples of specialist companies able to constructively mesh into the multi-cloud mix include Navantis, a Canadian vendor that uses Microsoft tools to help companies with application modernisation and integration. It also specifically specialises in Canadian regulation.

“You should have at least two of the hyperscale providers and maybe one speciality provider,” advises Eric Marks, FOMC expert and VP of Cloud Consulting at CloudSpectator. “This way you can have competition at the hyperscale level combined with the specialist services of the smaller provider. The smaller provider’s prices could also influence the others.”

Having multiple cloud service providers means enterprises can quickly migrate workloads based on their needs at any given time. It also improves enterprise flexibility by avoiding reliance on a single vendor. 47% of industry influencers surveyed by Logic Monitor see vendor lock-in as one of the biggest challenges for organisations dealing with the public cloud today.

Innovation into the future

Inevitably, workloads will change in the future, influenced by factors such as the need to process data generated from IoT and other nascent technologies. The abstraction of the various layers and constant adaptation to new services do, however, impact on flexibility and cost. While enterprises want to be flexible, it can be difficult when tools that manage different cloud services and containers are hard to find. In addition, maintaining multiple cloud service providers can also be costly, depending on the size of a workload.

Dashboards that can be used to monitor multiple cloud services while also providing granular information will be the most common addition to IT professionals’ tool-kits over the next five years. Simple management dashboards are already available, but the incorporation of new technology will be vital. Looking ahead, an abstraction that can reach throughout the whole stack, integrating cloud services, containers and serverless functions will become standard.

No single cloud option best serves all infrastructure demands. The era of cloud migration is swiftly accelerating, and the future of the multi-cloud world is set to open a wider spectrum of profitable opportunities for businesses, including improved agility, greater scalability, better aligned operational costs, as well as a clearer focus on business retention and expansion. With advanced security, combined with cloud automation solutions, organisations can dramatically improve their ability to efficiently orchestrate cloud usage and manage their operations more effectively.

Historically, the cost has been the primary differentiator when choosing a cloud vendor. That is changing. Today, it is more about what the cloud can enable rather than upfront expense concerns. Now is the time to take control of your future.