How to Create a Multi-Cloud Strategy

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A multi-cloud strategy is a formal business approach that acknowledges that a company’s needs are best served by using multiple clouds for its range of operational and technology functions. Cloud services can be engaged to provide more computing power and storage, to scale capacity while only paying for resources you use, as part of a disaster recovery and failover plan, or simply to avoid vendor lock-in with a single cloud provider. Whatever the reason, businesses need a formal strategy for managing their operations in a multi-cloud environment. This article explains how to create such a strategy and looks at the benefits and challenges of a multi-cloud approach.

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How to Create a Multi-Cloud Strategy

Many companies move into multi-cloud usage without even realizing it–at least until they begin to experience cloud cost overruns or cloud failures, run into a contract problem with a cloud provider, or find that their different clouds won’t exchange data with one another. Without a multi-cloud strategy in place, they can’t effectively manage their multi-cloud deployments and costs.

Which means that a multi-cloud strategy is actually a management strategy for both present and future use. Here are seven high-level steps to create a multi-cloud strategy.

1. Identify the Cloud Services your Company is Already Using

With the growth of citizen development and user departments with independent technology budgets, an enterprise’s IT team may not know exactly how many cloud services are being deployed company-wide. The first step in multi-cloud strategy development is to identify all of the different cloud services the enterprise is subscribed to and how those services are being used.

2. Define Present and Future Business Needs for Cloud Services

To better understand usage, the business needs to sketch out a best-guess roadmap of cloud business needs and services now and in the near future. This process should involve IT, management, and stakeholders from across departments to make sure the roadmap is as comprehensive and accurate as possible.

3. Develop an Internal Cloud Services Procurement Process

Having a plan for managing multiple clouds and vendors addresses cloud risk management. The formalized cloud procurement plan defines up front the requirements and conditions for any cloud services provider bidding to become part of the IT ecosystem and enumerates guidelines to which IT and all user departments must conform.

4. Create a Cloud Services Request for Proposal (RFP)

The process should also produce a formalized cloud services provider RFP that anyone company-wide must use when procuring cloud services. Together, formalized procurement and RFP processes can eliminate some of the multi-cloud chaos—for example, one department signing an agreement with a vendor without first checking if they’re able or willing to exchange data with other cloud vendors in the company’s ecosystem.

Pertinent RFPs questions for vendors include the following:

  • Will their cloud interoperate/exchange information with other clouds?
  • Will they furnish a recent security and governance audit? Vendor standards should match those of the enterprise.
  • What are the contract termination conditions?
  • Do they have disaster recovery and failover features? How often do they test disaster recovery?
  • Does the company own the work and applications it develops with cloud resources?

5. Determine the Skills and Tasks Required to Manage the Cloud

Internal skills and tools that IT uses to manage on-premises systems, servers, and networks are different from those needed to manage the cloud. If IT chooses to move systems, applications, and data to the cloud, it will also have to actively manage those assets—or outsource it to the provider.

In most cases, especially when using a public cloud services provider such as Google, Microsoft Azure, or Amazon Web Services (AWS), it’s preferable to manage your own assets. But each provider has its own toolset, which means IT staff must learn multiple toolsets for asset management when the company uses multiple clouds. A good multi-cloud strategy will address staff training and skills development.

6. Make Cloud an Integral Part of Disaster Recovery Plans

A multi-cloud strategy should include a backup cloud resource that’s available in case or primary cloud failure. But it’s equally important to ensure that all cloud-based IT is included in the corporate disaster recovery plan alongside on-premises resources.

7. Maintain Strategic Focus on Flexibility and Agility

Scalability and easy cloud-to-cloud integration and data exchange are the keys to a multi-cloud strategy. If you can’t readily move data from cloud to cloud in batches or in real time, the cloud vendors that you’re using probably shouldn’t be part of your cloud ecosystem. Part of a successful multi-cloud approach is choosing the right clouds and the right vendors.

Learn more about the different types of enterprise storage.

Benefits of a Multi-Cloud Strategy

Businesses with a formal management strategy for multi-cloud deployment are in a stronger position to manage spend and risk. They can also capitalize on other benefits—here are the most prominent.

Best-in-Class Industry Solutions

The days when users and IT internally develop and maintain all core business applications are gone. In their place is Software as a Service (SaaS), the enterprise cloud industry where cloud companies that specialize in particular areas of expertise such as enterprise resource planning (ERP), human resources, sales, customer relationship management (CRM), and supply chain host and provide turnkey mission-critical enterprise systems and support.

Since each company specializes in a particular software niche, there is no single cloud that can provide all of these systems—businesses gain access to the software they need through the use of multiple clouds.

Disaster Recovery and Redundancy

With a multiple cloud strategy, businesses can host and maintain their enterprise IT on more than one platform—if one fails, they can move to another as part of their disaster recovery plan. This cloud failover allows them to keep business continuity without interruption and enables sites to rollover to the cloud if internal on premises systems experience an outage.

Avoiding Vendor Lock-In

With multiple clouds, enterprises avoid being locked-in to a single cloud vendor, giving them the freedom to change cloud hosting options. It also places them in an advantageous position when it comes to negotiating costs.

Geographic Scalability

Cloud vendors locate their data centers in different areas of the world. By using multiple cloud vendors, businesses—especially multinational companies—can find the cloud vendors that have the most proximate data centers to their areas of operation. This can reduce the latency of cloud transactions and data exchanges and facilitate access to localized cloud support.

Challenges of a Multi-Cloud Strategy

While businesses that maintain a multi-cloud approach reap many benefits, there are also challenges. Here are the most common.

Need for Broader IT Expertise

IT may have the tools and know-how to manage internal, on-premises resources, but when it moves assets to the cloud, staff must familiarize themselves with vendors’ proprietary asset management and security/governance tools. There is no universal toolset.

Complex Data Transfers and Integration

All of a company’s systems need to exchange data with one other, which only works if the systems integrate. Integration is easier with internal systems—either vendors provide a mechanism or IT codes its own. But with multiple cloud vendors hosting a variety of different enterprise systems, data integration—and the ability to move data securely between clouds—gets more complex. Secure encryption adds another layer of complexity.

More Administrative Work and Audits

When a company engages services from multiple cloud providers, the time and cost of managing contract and performance increases with the addition of each new one. Auditors who monitor internal systems for compliance, security, and governance may also need to examine mission-critical cloud service providers, increasing cost and efforts.

Vendor Cooperation

Because cloud vendors compete with each other, there might be issues with vendor cooperation when IT wants to effect data or system integrations between two different platforms or when it chooses to rehost systems with a new vendor and terminate a relationship with a former vendor.

How to Choose the Right Cloud Provider

Every company has unique needs and requirements when it moves to a multi-cloud ecosystem, but there are some general guidelines to keep in mind when you choose cloud vendors.

  • Does the vendor operate data centers where your operations are located? Multinational companies will want to secure services from cloud vendors that can converse in local languages and provide data centers proximate to their centers of operation.
  • Does the vendor practice state-of-the art security and governance? A cloud vendor’s security and governance practices should match or exceed internal standards; review their latest IT security audit before signing a contract.
  • Does the vendor offer training and support? If the vendor is hosting resources, it’s helpful to know if it offers training on the tools needed to manage assets on the cloud platform (or a full outsource option). With SaaS vendors, ask about end user training.
  • Does the vendor ensure that data is secure and will integrate with other clouds and on-premise systems? Verify vendor data encryption and security guarantees as well as their ability to move data to and from other clouds.
  • Does the vendor have a disaster recovery plan and performance metrics? Many cloud vendors offer only “make best effort” promises for getting systems and data back if there is a failure. Look for vendors willing to commit to metrics for data and system recovery times.
  • Will the vendor agree to cooperative termination support if a contract is ended? If contract termination becomes necessary, it’s best to work with a vendor that offers cooperative support in the form of a service level agreement (SLA) metric for de-implementation performance.

Most cloud vendors will not have an SLA for de-implementation written into boilerplate contracts. Businesses should consider adding one as part of negotiations—it’s worth the effort.

The Bottom Line: Strategy for a Multi-Cloud Approach

A solid multi-cloud strategy can provide guidance on how to choose the right providers for enterprise information needs and for how to manage cloud performance and costs. A strategic multi–cloud document also informs top management and users on major cloud objectives and expectations.

We are rapidly approaching a point where almost every company, regardless of size, will use multiple cloud vendors. Developing a multi-cloud strategy is no longer an option–it’s a necessary part of business.

Learn everything you need to know about cloud storage pricing to get started on your own multi-cloud strategy.

Mary Shacklett
Mary Shacklett
Mary E. Shacklett is a contributing writer to Enterprise Storage Forum and Datamation. She's also president of Transworld Data, and as an IT consultant and analyst has covered every aspect of IT with more than 1,000 published articles. She has a B.S. degree in Comparative Literature and Education from the University of Wisconsin, an M.A. degree in American Studies from the University of Southern California, and a JD degree from William Howard Taft University in Orange County, CA. In her spare time, Mary writes fiction, plays jazz, and manages a 75-acre forest.

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