Navigating the Multi-Cloud Maze

–By John Engates. Republished with permission from Rackspace
Apple made big news earlier this year when it moved its iCloud service to the Google Cloud Platform while also continuing to make heavy use of AWS and Azure.
But according to Larry Dignan, Editor-in-Chief at ZDNet, the real story is that this move in no way makes them unique:
“Let’s replace Apple with any other large enterprise like 3M. The diversification move barely warrants a mention. Why? Every enterprise will have multiple cloud infrastructure vendors as well as its own infrastructure.”
What is multi-cloud?
The term “multi-cloud” refers to any environment where applications are deployed across two or more cloud platforms. Those can include any combination of public clouds (such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, or OpenStack); private clouds (whether powered by Microsoft Hyper-V, OpenStack, or VMware); and dedicated servers.
Why are so many businesses using multi-cloud?
Many large enterprises find themselves managing a multi-cloud state whether they want to or not. Various teams across the business often choose different cloud providers and provision resources to best suit their individual needs. This sometimes happens on an ad hoc basis with little or no input from IT, and is known as Shadow IT.
Other times, multi-cloud comes about according to an explicit strategy to best leverage multiple cloud providers. Here’s an example from David Linthicum, SVP at Cloud Technology Partners, about a unified multi-cloud architecture that marries several best-of-breed components:
“An enterprise can use Amazon Web Services’ Simple Storage Service for storage, Rackspace OnMetal for cloud databases, Google for big data systems and an OpenStack private cloud for sensitive on-premises data and applications.”
So IT shouldn’t try to restrict multi-cloud?
It depends. It’s important for IT to identify and understand the technologies being used within the business, but curtailing Shadow IT entirely is often difficult to accomplish and can stifle innovation.
Although it does introduce new complexities, using multiple clouds offers several significant benefits, and intelligently planning to maximize those benefits is the most effective way to manage a multi-cloud state.
What are the benefits of multi-cloud?

  • Best-of-breed infrastructure. Choosing the best-suited cloud service for each workload allows you to satisfy the unique requirements for each specific use case.
  • Reduced risk of vendor lock-in. Investing in multiple cloud providers gives you more choice as to where you run cloud workloads, which gives you leverage to minimize price hikes and other risks related to vendor lock-in.
  • Added geographical data flexibility. Although the leading cloud providers all have data centers across the globe, companies that require that data for specific workloads reside within particular national boundaries can more easily satisfy those requirements through a multi-cloud strategy.

 Okay, so what are the challenges of multi-cloud?
The chief obstacles introduced by multi-cloud relate to additional complexity. These include:

  • The need to access highly specialized expertise across a larger range of cloud-related technologies
  • Additional vendor relationships and admin interfaces to manage
  • Integration challenges between public clouds built with different technologies (e.g., Azure is built around Windows whereas AWS is more Linux-centric)
  • The need for additional planning around security and governance, due to additional complexity and distribution
  • Ensuring that you’re choosing the right cloud provider for the right workload, often across large application portfolios

How do I decide which cloud services best suit which workload?
It really depends on your business and on each particular use case. For example, if you’re a traditional Microsoft IT shop, Azure may be the best fit for many workloads, with a Microsoft Private Cloud architecture for workloads with stringent security or compliance requirements.
However, you may also want to utilize AWS services like Kinesis if you need real-time streaming data, or Rackspace’s ObjectRocket database-as-a-service if your app requires highly performant MongoDB or Redis.
To make the best decisions, you need cloud experts who understand the wide array of services offered by the leading providers, their strengths and weaknesses and how they map to your specific needs.
This excerpt was taken from an article originally written by John Engates, CTO of Rackspace.
About the Author
John Engates joined Rackspace in August 2000, as Vice President of Operations, managing the datacenter operations and customer-service teams, and created and helped develop the Intensive Hosting business unit in 2012. Most recently, John has played an active role in the evolution and evangelism of Rackspace’s cloud-computing strategy and cloud products. John currently serves as Chief Technology Officer. John is also an internationally recognized cloud computing expert and a sought-after speaker at technology conferences, speaking on the future of cloud computing, enterprise cloud adoption, data center efficiency, green data center best practices, and more.

About Rackspace
The #1 managed cloud company, Rackspace helps businesses tap the power of cloud computing without the complexity and cost of managing it on their own. Rackspace engineers deliver specialized expertise, easy-to-use tools and Fanatical Support® for leading technologies developed by AWS, Google, Microsoft, OpenStack, VMware and others. The company serves customers in 120 countries, including two-thirds of the FORTUNE 100. Rackspace was named a leader in the 2015 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Cloud-Enabled Managed Hosting, and has been honored by Fortune, Forbes and others as one of the best companies to work for.