The multicloud paradox: balancing flexibility with complexity

By 2023, 94% of large enterprises are expected to be running multiple clouds.

That’s according to recent data from Statista. Today, the average enterprise uses eight clouds from multiple vendors.

The benefits of doing so are well understood. More choice of best-in-class services, enabling developers to be more innovative, making businesses more competitive and resilient.

But a multicloud strategy is not all upside. A patchwork of different clouds can be challenging to oversee and secure. Compliance can be more onerous. Skills and knowledge may need to be dedicated to specific clouds or spread thinly across them all, carrying the risk that resources are distributed inefficiently. Keeping track of what is being spent (and whether it represents value for money) can become a significant analytical exercise.

So how does a business solve this paradox? 

The answer is to think about application development in a different way: not in terms of its constituent technical elements—containers, clusters, Kubernetes, service meshes—but as an end-to-end platform, orchestrated through a single console. Do that, and the world of DevSecOps also becomes accessible to non-technical staff, who can easily pull through the operational information they need to make sound commercial decisions.

Budget allocation is a key consideration. In a multicloud set up, there is no uniform way of doing things. Clusters running on different clouds must adhere to different rules and processes, be it provisioning, SLAs, operating systems, patch cycles, storage types or networking systems. Tooling will vary too. So keeping track of where the cost is actually going, and what you’re getting in return, becomes harder the more you ramp up activity. The risk is that areas of overspend or underspend are obscured and left to continue.

Conversely, an overarching application platform affords a single view of all the clusters, and from there an easier way to pinpoint costs and potential for more efficient spending. Waste is further reduced as the platform is able to aggregate and augment different clouds’ capabilities, making it easier to create starndardised and targeted clusters that only access what is needed for the task at hand. Consequently, developers are not encumbered with set up, leaving them with more time to do what they’re best at, and where they ultimately bring most value—making amazing applications.

Compliance is another pain point that can be managed by bringing multicloud workloads together on a common foundation. Data has become one of the most regulated aspects of business. Any efforts to imbue developers with freedom and agility must be balanced with a forensic understanding of the data they are using and generating. The same principle applies to security. Multicloud may increase the potential attack surface, while vulnerabilities can be harder to spot. Securing everything is a challenge when you are protecting many independent fiefdoms instead of one big kingdom.

The application platform seeks to address compliance and security in the multicloud era. By centralising security policies and protocols, it helps ensure consistent standards across clouds. Providing this visibility of data is not only crucial for compliance obligations but can also be harnessed by developers to optimise data flows between APIs. A parallel trend is the shift-left mentality, which embeds security considerations where they should begin: when developers start to write code. This helps improve time to market and agility as well as supporting vital aspects of modern application development like collaboration, repeatability and availability.

Adding this integration and orchestration between clouds is what elevates an organisation’s strategy from multicloud to hybrid cloud. The benefits of hybrid cloud become amplified with the growth in edge computing. The ecosystem is diverse and complex. Edge devices tend to be built with a specific task in mind, and so often come from multiple vendors. That can quickly usher in chaos. But unifying everything with a scalable application platform brings consistency and flexibility that ultimately powers innovation.

It’s the same logic if your IT landscape retains on-premise elements. Enterprises are faced with difficult decisions about how to modernise their legacy applications. Using a common abstraction layer to create interoperability between on-premise and cloud environments  makes it easier to ‘lift and shift’ or refactor specific elements of the code.

All that said, an application platform is a complex tapestry of capabilities and protocols. Engineering one from scratch is likely to be beyond the current resources of many IT teams, and require significant investment, and so risk. What’s more, DevOps moves fast, so any platform would need to be continually improved upon.

Instead, enterprises can do what they have always done when faced with a new technological opportunity, and turn to technology partners that can enable this for them. When more of your headcount can be deployed to front line development instead of back-end engineering, increased productivity is the prize, and market competitiveness should follow.

About the Author

Udo Urbantschitsch is senior director, EMEA Technology Sales & GTM at Red Hat. Red Hat is the world’s leading provider of enterprise open source solutions, using a community-powered approach to deliver high-performing Linux, hybrid cloud, edge, and Kubernetes technologies.

Featured image: ©Ar_TH