Community Blog Deriving Maximum Value from a Multi-Cloud Environment Approach

Deriving Maximum Value from a Multi-Cloud Environment Approach

In this article, we look at some of the top considerations when adopting a multi-cloud environment approach to your architecture.

By Alex Mungai Muchiri, Alibaba Cloud Tech Share Author. Tech Share is Alibaba Cloud's incentive program to encourage the sharing of technical knowledge and best practices within the cloud community.

What Is It?

A multi-cloud approach entails the use of several providers for your computing or storage needs in the cloud as part of your system architecture. Some industry experts refer to it as a Polynimbus strategy. When using a multi-cloud approach, several environments come together to allow assets, software and application distribution in a heterogeneous architecture. When used effectively, the combination of several public and private clouds eliminates the risks associated with a single provider. The approach is different from a hybrid cloud, which is the bringing together several cloud services under one continuous use-case. You can have resources running under different cloud services providers to minimize potential downtime or system failures. A typical example would be having different providers for your SaaS and IaaS solutions or settling for one type of service e.g. IaaS but from different providers. In such a setting, the workloads would run in different clouds or have it distributed across the providers, what is referred to as an active-active approach. In a different setting, the workloads could run in one of the providers with the other acting as a backup, what is known as an active-passive approach.

Most major cloud services providers today have robust systems that are very reliable. Nonetheless, major failures are not unheard of and in recent times, one of the largest providers, Amazon, was affected by a major failure in its Irish hub. Causes for such failures could be anything from electrical faults to software malfunction but their impact is massive owing to lost revenue, lost customer trust or even security gaps. Any IT executive would flinch at the mere idea of infrastructure failure but such failures are not exactly unheard of. That, coupled with demands to meet customer needs means that there is a need for reevaluation of the approach to cloud computing to keep at the top of the game. One of the realizations for any organization that has moved its operations to the cloud is that today's IT requirements may not be fully met by a single cloud provider or may not be flexible enough to accommodate changes. A provider typically standard configurations for all their customers, which is not always the requirement for their infrastructure. This is leading to the emergence of a new trend in the market encouraging the adoption of multi-cloud approaches.

A multi-cloud approach is beneficial because it allows the distribution of data and application across heterogeneous infrastructure and meets your system requirements. Furthermore, it enables the provisioning of workloads across servers and minimizes risk, which is a clear advantage over the single cloud approach. While this sounds all good, it is a relatively new concept and its usefulness is mostly contextual. Largely, applications that are too complicated in their setup and too customized are not suited for the multi-cloud approach.

Some Reasons to Adopt a Multi-Cloud Strategy

There are many chances to adopt cloud solutions and with the associated benefits of cloud computing, adopting a multi-cloud strategy can be very strategic for your organization. Before that, it is important to adopt cloud-native development that enables the creation of programs that are highly optimized and free from developer terms of use. In such use cases, a multi-cloud approach can help organizations deliver on their mandate better than if they employed a single cloud approach. In particular, the following reasons make a multi-cloud approach very strategic:

Minimize Infrastructure Risk

IT is the backbone of service delivery today and disruptions are catastrophic. While it is impossible to completely eliminate downtime, it should be minimized by reducing the risk of network outages and security incidents. By spreading the application resources across several providers, an organization can greatly reduce risks.

Guard against Price Fluctuations

Cloud pricing is flexible and most providers will provide a monthly, yearly or even a pay as you go plan. However, companies that make extensive use of resources can negotiate better rates from providers. To do that, demonstrate to your provider that you can switch to competing providers if they do not offer a better deal.

Getting the Best Solution

Another important aspect is getting the right tool for the job. For example, there are many competing artificial intelligence platforms available to analyze and make sense of your big data projects. These services are not built the same, and it may be impossible to get all you need from a single provider. Another thing is regional balance, whereby some countries require citizens data to be stored within the same country. One provider may not be able to meet the regional balance required to serve all your customers.

Best Practices

A multi-cloud strategy is useful but there are important considerations before you get into the bandwagon.

Due Diligence

This is a very important step on your journey towards multi-cloud computing because you anticipate more complexities than in a single cloud ecosystem. As an organization, you need to understand the underlying challenges and how to solve them, including integration and security. Plan beforehand for the choice of cloud providers, managing the switch operation and getting all information for applications to run on your infrastructure. All members of your team should be conversant with the adoption framework that you choose and have them interact with the various solutions so that they can be most productive.

A final consideration is the security risks that emerge from the adoption of a multi-cloud strategy. Prepare to counter all emerging security risks with tools and proper management processes.

Reorganize Your Internal Processes

One of the most important things that need to be done is reorganizing your organization so that cloud deployments and infrastructure can be handled by a dedicated team. That way, solutions can be deployed better and security can be enhanced. You may need to acquire additional skill such as cloud architects, product managers and solution engineers to align IT to business. Most organizations today employ the concept of private cloud and public cloud for differentiated services offering. It is important to consider aspects such as cost, security, and privacy of data when making these reorganizations. Applications and programs can be audited to determine which should go to which cloud, which need to be rearchitected, which need to be scaled, and what opportunities exist to improve service delivery.

Audit All Your Deployed Applications

This is a very crucial step towards adopting a multi-cloud strategy. Evaluate running technologies, their interaction with other applications, and their contribution to the business. Such an assessment really helps when going through the transformation process. You can easily point out which applications you can do without, which are available from providers, and which are core to your operations. Once you find a good fit, you can now start strategizing on moving core applications to a multi-cloud. Older technologies must also be updated before migrating to your new infrastructure setting.

Know Your Priorities

It is very easy to make fatal mistakes when doing a systems migration and therefore, you must be aware of what is a priority. Programs running in different clouds must be closely and properly integrated, requiring having your APIs deployed right. Having a good API design enables services to coexist and deliver a differentiated user experience. If we used a different cloud for the backend services and another for front end services, making it all work smoothly requires a well-designed integration process. Scaling such applications or services is also much easier.

Security and Data Protection

There are multiple challenges associated with the use of multiple cloud solutions. The simple way to deal with the challenge is having proper authentication and rights for different users. Presently, multi-factor authentication minimizes password risks while user rights enhance data privacy. With the use of multiple cloud service providers emerges the need to evaluate how access rights implementation varies across providers. A policy to guard resource access may also be necessary to protect systems from both insider abuse and external compromise. Finally, companies must have a convenient way of managing data encryption keys to prevent unauthorized access. In fact, the biggest challenge in a multi-cloud setup is managing data security effectively.

The Costs

At the end of the day, the cost of cloud services must be reasonable. In fact, the entire concept of cloud computing is based on the democratization of costs and affordability. Keep an eye on your costs and factor in the costs of managing the entire setup as well. That will include the skills, administration, designs, and integrations. Have a simplified management structure to manage costs and make use of tools that automate tasks such as scaling, administration as well as deployments.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

A multi-cloud strategy is not an easy one to deploy due to some very common pitfalls. Knowing these challenges prepares you better for success over the long term.

Insufficient Competency

Cloud computing is a very technical subject and adopting the multi-cloud strategy can only make it even more challenging. Equip your team with sufficient knowledge or brace yourself for painful punishment in the future.

Failure to Anticipate Complexity

In this respect, you need to design complexity. While the allure of flexible deployment, ease of scaling and optimal management comes with multi-cloud, it also means more complexity. Have a clear strategy in mind with regards to design and operations and not to assume that your workloads will integrate seamlessly across clouds. Factor in all architectural complexities and anticipate all associated complexity.

Not Having a Growth Strategy

It is easy to assume that things will work out well just because you have shifted to a multi-cloud strategy but that is rarely the case. You must have a clear growth strategy for your deployment which entails having a very clear definition of what you intend to achieve. You must also have a clear understanding of the infrastructure demands of your applications. Plan for the future use and how you intend to expand your services and keep track of all cloud services that are compatible with your current and future requirements.

With these considerations, you will be more prepared for a multi-cloud strategic deployment.

Alibaba Cloud Multi-Cloud Support

Alibaba Cloud is one of the most versatile cloud services providers of our time and has been preconfigured for support of a multi-cloud architecture. Specifically, there are a number of tools that you can use for data management for such ecosystems. Follow this link to have a view of all available tools that may be useful for you when porting systems, downloading and uploading data between cloud service providers. It is a list of both open source software and some custom-developed by Alibaba Cloud. Some noteworthy tools in the list include DataWorks, MaxCompute Client and Data Transmission Service (DTS). The Alibaba Cloud DTPlus tools will help with synchronization of data, uploads, and downloads of data as well as migrations. Sqoop, Kettle, Flume, Fluentd, LogStash, and OGG are some openly available tools you will find on the list.

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