Digital transformation is underway, and most enterprises have embraced the shift to a cloud-first footing. That’s no secret. However, if cloud migration wasn’t disruptive enough for many businesses, firms now need to also be able to anticipate—and lay the groundwork for—a multi-cloud environment. That’s the IT world these days: solve one challenge, and four more appear.

The challenge of multi-cloud is not an easy one to overcome. Only those organisations that deploy solutions and services capable of operationalizing data will see success. IT will need to make sure all the moving parts adhere to governance and compliance protocols, and this will only be possible if the right tools are used.

Multi-Cloud: the challenges

An issue with a multi-cloud environment is the spread of shadow ITClick To Tweet

IT teams in most organisations are already under great pressure to juggle multiple software platforms, server instance types, security policies, operating system images and application-specific requirements. Every project turns into three or four projects because every app and service need to be tweaked to fit each cloud platform. This can lead to a constant rewriting of the entire deployment instruction script and ultimately, cloud sprawl.

Another issue with a multi-cloud environment is the spread of shadow IT. In many companies, the manual processes used to deploy and manage cloud services can take days or even weeks to complete. Once the services are available, end users are disconnected from lifecycle operations and must rely on help desk interactions to get their jobs done. This process is often slow and tedious and leads to significant delays for end users trying to complete their tasks. It is not surprising that users feel the need to find an alternative and figure it out on their own with the swipe of a credit card, putting them outside the control of their IT department.
Operationalisation tools will be essential

As a result of the rapid development of the multi-cloud environment, there’s an equally fast emerging market of multi-cloud management solutions and services. To remain agile in the multi-cloud world, you should focus on tools that have the following features:

  • A blueprint design tool that is cloud-agnostic and translates well when moving from one cloud provider to another. If the project starts with a clear blueprint, one that is easy to create no matter what provider you’re working with, IT teams will find that overall, the hours of work it takes to create and deploy cloud services will be significantly reduced. By abstracting the different elements of the creative workflow, blueprint design tools also simplify the design of cloud services by auto-generating an execution plan. This plan will bring together all the up-to-date elements of the blueprint and automatically generate corresponding service catalogue items.
  • Easy-to-set compliance. Governance (g. approvals, quotas, permissions) and compliance (e.g. data centre selection, security settings) policies should be defined independently and applied at run-time across any cloud.
  • Single-pane control panel. Developers who want to test their code on a multi-tier test environment (g: development to acceptance to production) should be able to do so with a simple click of a button.
  • User portal with drag-and-drop ease. A good user experience is key if you want to prevent shadow IT. The easier it is for the end user to find and access their personalised service catalogue and launch new services, manage lifecycle operations of stacks or individual resources, and manage consumption against costs, usage and quotas, the less likely it is that they will try to find an alternative solution on their own.
  • A single system of record. This should discover and manage all cloud resources and provide seamless integration with incident, problem and change management. This type of system will automatically route issues and requests through the standard IT processes.

Be Ready for the Next Shift

The incessant acceleration into the cloud and multi-cloud environment is making it imperative for businesses of all sizes to be ready if they want to future-proof their operations. The tools that will help you set yourself up for success in an ever-shifting tech-scape do exist, but businesses need to ensure they are deploying the right ones. Not all vendors and providers are the same, and not all organisations can cope with the same level of disruption.

The kind of seamless automation we envision for developers and users in the multi-cloud environment will allow a business to scale nimbly as their cloud usage increases exponentially. And, that is something that will put a smile on the face of everyone in the C-suite and the IT department. That a multi-cloud environment will be a reality for most enterprises in a few years is undisputed, but how many of those enterprises will be ready to make the most of it remains to be seen.

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Allan Leinwand is chief technology officer at ServiceNow responsible for overseeing all technical aspects and guiding the long-term technology strategy for the company.  Prior joining ServiceNow, he was chief technology officer – Infrastructure at Zynga, Inc., where he oversaw the company’s infrastructure technology. Throughout his executive career, Leinwand was a venture partner for Panorama Capital, an operating partner for JPMorgan Partners, and founder of Vyatta, an open-source networking company, acquired by Brocade. He was co-founder and president of Proficient Networks and was vice president of engineering and chief technology officer for Digital Island, from inception and through its IPO and secondary offering. Leinwand was also an early employee of Cisco Systems, Inc. and performed both individual contributor and managerial roles for the company.

Leinwand currently holds a bachelor of science degree in computer science from the University of Colorado at Boulder. He served as an adjunct professor at the University of California, Berkeley.