Samuli Kunttu, Presales Consultant
Innovation is key to enterprise growth. Businesses that are continually able to add value to existing products and serve new customer needs stand to reap the benefits of protecting and enhancing their market position. The ability to innovate rarely comes by chance, however. It needs a solid strategic basis on which the business can build. The technological innovations that would allow organisations to set themselves apart from competitors – prominent examples of which include AI, IoT and edge computing – require a new approach to how and where data is managed.
The appetite for innovation has brought a wave of interest in multicloud capabilities. Multicloud is a simple concept, yet often misunderstood. In plain terms, it’s an architecture that allows a company to connect to multiple different cloud services without being locked in to any one vendor or solution. Practically speaking, though, it represents a major shift away from the inherent limitations of on-premises data centres, towards realising the true range of choice and flexibility the cloud offers. Building an IT strategy on multicloud can transform how IT is consumed across the enterprise, better aligning business capabilities with customer demands.
The evolution of enterprise cloud
To understand the attraction of multicloud, it’s important first to understand how it fits with the evolution of enterprise IT. For decades, the IT needs of the enterprise have been served by closed, on-premises estates based on predictable upgrade cycles. The ability to add new services and capabilities was contingent on what that infrastructure, along with the organisation’s budget and skills limitations, would allow.
The advent of cloud computing brought significant changes to the way enterprises consume IT. Hyperscale Infrastucture as a Service (IaaS) providers such as Microsoft Azure and AWS brought new solutions to enterprise customers, allowing businesses to take advantage of virtualised computing resources, such as servers, storage and networking, in a ‘pay-as-you-go’ fashion. This is easy and fast to consume compared to traditional, CapEx-based IT.
On top of this, an array of Software as a Service (SaaS) vendors entered the market, offering standard enterprise applications such as resource management, customer relations and payroll services ‘on demand’, all without the need for enterprises to build their own solutions or host software locally.
The issue many enterprises are now facing, however, is that they are navigating this new paradigm without a coherent strategy. They have adopted many different cloud-based services, but these are not being optimised in a way that allows new capabilities to flourish. Creating a formalised structure allows cloud service adoption to better match the enterprise’s needs, enabling the platform to scale and new solutions to be added with minimised risk.
How multicloud can support innovation
Even without a documented plan in place, companies are finding that multicloud is becoming more relevant to them and are having to work out how it fits with their existing IT infrastructure. This has typically led to an uptick in adoption of hybrid strategies, where the company combines their on-premises private cloud with access to public clouds such as AWS and Azure.
The next step is to formalise use of these platforms as part of a multicloud strategy, removing frictions from accessing the resources required for innovation-focused initiatives. Enterprises that embrace these opportunities stand to benefit in a number of areas, including:
Finding the most suitable cloud solution for each task
No two cloud providers are alike. Each has its own area of specialisation and distinct range of offers it can make available to customers. As a business, you want to be able to capitalise on the different capabilities of each provider, based on which best fits your needs and cost parameters.
Multicloud creates the opportunity to use the latest innovations and technologies across different providers. The hyperscalers are in perpetual competition to offer more to enterprise customers for less, and it’s business that stands to benefit most. Multicloud provides organisations with the ability to architect their cloud infrastructure so that they’re running workloads in the right place at the right time, changing destination and platform as needs dictate, or as new opportunities oblige.
Enabling a new consumption model
Enterprises are looking for easier, more fluid ways to run their core services. Utilising the ‘as a service’ option, businesses can choose where to run their workloads. This allows them to find the arrangement that’s best suited to their business, factoring in practical considerations such as local connections to virtual private cloud connections. They get all the benefits of cloud services, such as reliability, availability, and security, without having to architect solutions themselves. This presents a significant cost saving when properly managed and aligned with business needs.
Further, multicloud provides businesses with faster access to a comprehensive range of SaaS applications. Allocating time and resource into creating services for standard functions, such as payroll or customer databases, often doesn’t yield adequate returns. So, being able to adopt an ‘off-the-shelf’ option presents the attraction of quick activation and lower up-front cost commitments, allowing resources to be reallocated to serve other needs.
Facilitating a ‘test, measure and scale’ culture
The driver for moving to public cloud providers should be innovation-focused, rather than specifically directed towards supplementary benefits such as cost savings. Boosting the business’ innovation potential requires a culture of experimentation, where new initiatives can start and be allowed to ‘fail fast’ as part of the process of discovering which can sustainably generate value. To enable this process of continual learning and activation, the organisation may need to make use of different development models and data analytics to find the cloud approach that best fits their business goals.
Multicloud provides the ability to select the cloud capabilities needed for these workloads. The organisation can build the competence to run applications on several platforms, enabling faster time to market along with greater ease of management – especially with SaaS applications. Cost savings and efficiency can then come as long-tail benefits from finding an optimal multicloud strategy.
Exploring advanced capabilities
The drive for innovation comes not only from the IT side of the business, but also from business leaders seeking to make sure the enterprise doesn’t fall behind competitors. Senior management are therefore becoming more interested in topics like AI and machine learning, and want to understand how they can help secure an advantage in the market.
Embracing multicloud is a major foundational step in creating an AI platform. The company can spin up services in the cloud as repositories for the data sources they want to process, without the need for physical on-premises systems. They can then access the range of services they require to run AI operations. Data analytics tools, for example, are available on major public cloud platforms ‘as a service’, so can be utilised where and when they’re required without an ongoing commitment.
It’s often the case that AI projects don’t need massive compute capability in their early stages, but needs will change as the environment evolves. Multicloud provides the flexibility to balance requirements across multiple environments, enabling, for example, the ability to manage data mining on-premises to reduce cloud costs.
Among our customers, we’re seeing strong interest in exploring how multicloud can help get AI initiatives into pilot stages. We’re implementing solutions such as NetApp’s Cloud Volumes ONTAP, enabling them to consolidate data management and storage services in public cloud locations and run analytics in a data-efficient and cost-effective way.
For many enterprises, the multicloud journey has already begun. Every day, various teams and departments are using cloud-based services and solutions geared towards a range of business requirements. The opportunity that’s being missed is to consolidate these services into a coherent framework where capabilities are matched specifically against needs. Not only does this serve to streamline usage of cloud services, it helps to highlight common needs and create cost efficiencies.
To embrace the opportunities available, businesses need to start thinking in a multicloud way. They need to review what services they are using, assess whether those are the right services, identify duplication and find opportunities to reconfigure services to optimise benefits. The very point of multicloud is that the business shouldn’t be locked into any one cloud service. Solutions must therefore be architected in a way that allows for rapid and seamless changes to the location, scale and choice of cloud service as requirements evolve.
As the enterprise landscape evolves, enterprises are realising the importance of effective data management. The ability to manage data over – and in – all cloud locations is increasingly becoming a key driver of competitive advantage. With multicloud flexibility built into its architecture, a company is free to innovate without limitation.