We are all witness to the unabated growth of the cloud, and its increasing complexity. Providers diversify, and many specialised cloud providers emerge on the market occupying niches for demand that are not well served otherwise. Taking this approach further, we look at the different cloud options and how a multi-cloud strategy can help you improve business value.
Looking at the service portfolio of the 'Big Three' cloud providers (i.e. Amazon, Microsoft, Google), there is no doubt their offerings and services continue to grow and expand - the latest being AI driven features to existing services, or entirely new services with AI at its core. Buying into the feature deluge also has its own hidden drawbacks and risks, as we've highlighted before - especially if one decides to go 'all in'.
Looking a bit closer, we can see the service portfolios have grown not only in broader support for genuine IT workload development and operations, but also in services that are more on the "business side" of things: Remote desktop support Active Directory support and operation, Office applications, Service Desk operations and much more. Despite that, there are many areas and services which are not covered. And that is where specialised cloud service providers are carving their niches, typically in the "Software-as-a-Service" (SaaS) service model satisfying the needs for specific business applications.
A brief recap of cloud service models
We differentiate four different service models of relevance:
On-premise (whether deploying a private cloud or traditional IT services and applications) requires you to operate your own data-centre, however big or small, including power, connectivity, staff, facilities, equipment, and whatever else: You own every tangible product, and increasingly the CAPEX in your books - whether you use it at saturation or barely above idle state.
Hybrid cloud means that while some of your IT estate remains in your own data centre, some of its operations is located in the (public) cloud. This raises a few information governance and information & cyber-security questions which are outside of the scope of this article. The cloud provider is chosen according to a set of well-defined requirements (well, we hope that is the case - if not, contact us for help or better yet - sign up for a free workshop).
(Public) Cloud deployment means that you are implementing a more or less strict 'cloud first' policy of deploying everything in the public cloud - using one cloud provider - unless it is not possible for technical, physical, regulatory or other reasons. In practice, however, hybrid cloud, public cloud, and multi-cloud deployments overlap in the sense that often some IT infrastructure remains on-premise. Yet it is worth differentiating these based on the most prevalent deployment pattern and operation your IT estate is presenting.
Multi-cloud simply means you diversify operating your IT estate across multiple cloud providers based on some sub-sets of your requirements being matched better by one cloud provider than others. For example, cloud providers differ in pricing for their on-demand or reserved instances: Provider A is (much) cheaper for on-demand instances than provider B, but more expensive for long-running, reserved instances. Why not combine both to increase cost efficiency across your entire IT estate?
Being multi-cloud without realising?
Many organisations are in fact already operating a multi-cloud infrastructure without knowing it: Three of the most popular business functions using external cloud services are:
- Human Resources - payroll, PAYE, HMRC real time information submission;
- Finance - bookkeeping, invoicing, VAT reporting, EC sales lists, etc.;
- Website - often the parts not concerning operating/offering the service or product portfolio, such as the organisation presentation and description.
While this can be described as using multiple cloud providers, it often is not being multi-cloud, let alone having a multi-cloud IT strategy.
The difference is a solid multi-cloud strategy has an overarching scope, in which all internal and external IT resources you use are embedded and guarded by common strategy and policies regarding procurement, information security, cyber-security, service management and operations.
Multi-cloud IT service management
Part and parcel of a multi-cloud IT strategy must be a plan for how to manage the resources across different service providers.
The shape and content of this plan depends highly on your requirements, and capabilities of the chosen (or short-listed) cloud services. Many SaaS providers offer programmatic access to their services through API endpoints accessible over the Internet, allowing you to automate and integrate their service with the rest of your IT estate. But they typically do not offer an interface for you to manage and operate the service itself. On the other hand, PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) and IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service) providers offer exactly that, an interface to manage the usage and operation of your services. However, these are usually incompatible to each other, which opened the market opportunity for cross-provider tools such as RightScale, Scalr, VMWare CloudHealth.
How to begin
A multi-cloud strategy is not for everyone. If you are at the beginning of your cloud migration journey, or right in the thick of it, you first need to figure out why you migrate, and why a multi-cloud strategy might be the best option for you - or not.
Our blog offers many resources on how that journey may (or should) look like, about a well-architected IT landscape needs to look like, financial aspects of a cloud migration, and more technical articles about micro-services and how to exploit API-driven architectures in the cloud, and many more.
You could decide to go it alone, which is a valid choice. But do you have the resources and expertise? Despite the cost, contracting third party experts is in the long run a good investment.
Digital Craftsmen is a specialist managed cloud provider offering decades of experience in deploying and managing multi-cloud solutions across many different public cloud providers using state of the art hardware, management and operational tool such as VMWare CloudHealth(TM) and others. We are ISO 27001 and UK Cyber Essentials Plus certified, and operate our service management and service desk using ITIL playbooks.
To speak to a craftsmen - email us on firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 3745 7706