Matt Jeavons (Head of Transformation)
Organisations are re-evaluating the way they approach IT in order to address new needs and embrace opportunities. For many, the transition from managing IT on-premises towards blending private capabilities with the opportunities of public clouds has arrived in a fragmentary way. The barriers to adoption of cloud-based solutions such as software as a service (SaaS) are low, so areas of the business can spin up services without them being part of a business-wide IT approach. Often by the time IT assesses cloud use, they find a disparate set of shadow IT services already in operation. Multicloud therefore becomes the default, not a strategic choice.
Organisations often see multicloud as a way to derive maximum value from their cloud investments. They typically understand the opportunity, but depending on their level of technological maturity may still have a reliance on legacy IT systems to run their business. It’s therefore vital to understand the organisation’s rationale before ‘jumping in’ to multicloud. While the transition to multicloud no doubt presents a number of hurdles and considerations, enterprise decision makers must weigh the challenges against the opportunities to assess if and how mutlicloud can work for their business.
When enterprises talk about a multicloud strategy, it often detracts from the topic they are really focused on. It’s less about ‘multicloud’ and more about a shift in the way IT functions within the business. This means moving away from the ‘nuts and bolts’ of managing systems, such as backups and upgrades, towards consuming ‘as a service’. IT’s responsibility then becomes more focused on architecting solutions across different cloud platforms.
With well-entrenched IT operations, it isn’t as simple as starting anew with a blank slate. Organisations have various things to consider to avoid the risk of disrupting ‘business as usual’ as they move to formalise their multicloud strategy:
The main challenges with adopting cloud come not from the technology itself, but from management and governance, as these have to change in a more radical way. The organisation needs to be strategically aligned on decision-making around aspects such as cost control, ensuring that the solutions adopted are fit for the organisation’s purposes, and all service agreements have flexibility built into them.
Procurement has to move from a traditional model of capital expenditure, plus predictable operational expenditure over a number of years, to a new model of no capital expenditure and a variable monthly operational expenditure. The desire to move to such a model of financial management has been encouraged by standards such as IFRS 16, which benefits organisations that adopt an ‘as a service’ mode of managing assets. Taking this approach towards budgeting has the potential for greater ‘upside gain’, more closely matching demand against supply and offering a better lifecycle return.
The roles of staff in the IT department will change too. Instead of managing the physical infrastructure (e.g. plugging in cables, patching firmware and hypervisors, upgrading server hardware, managing storage, etc.), technical staff now have to define policies, and manage automation and third-party service providers.
Adopting cloud can complicate management and governance controls as well as requiring a broad range of new skills. These challenges exist in moving to just a single cloud service provider (CSP); a multicloud architecture can – and most likely will – multiply them.
We tend to think of cloud adoption as a technology problem – in reality many of the problems are at a human level. Roles are changing and technology is only one consideration. The speed of innovation, particularly around public cloud, means that organisations need to work hard to keep up. Having a five-year IT strategy that’s reviewed at intermittent periods doesn’t work in such a dynamic environment. How cloud services match with business needs should be reviewed at a cadence that fits the pace of change within the organisation and the context in which it operates. Difficulties arise where procurement practices haven’t evolved in line with the transition from CapEx to OpEx and aren’t used to budgeting for cloud services.
The challenges, therefore, are not ‘IT issues’ – they need people who can draw connections between business problems and IT capabilities.
We know that the cloud presents a secure model for data management – after all, cloud providers spend millions each year on security and employ some of the best security talent in the industry. What enterprises may find, however, is that while the technology is secure, the way it’s been deployed is not. If the organisation’s processes around the cloud are not robust, then vulnerabilities can creep in.
Many organisations are caught out by security models where services have lacked strategic direction. They may find developers spin up cloud services without adding security controls, then push out into production. This approach not only creates confusion around what services are in use and who has access, but also increases the risk of a public data breach.
Embracing multicloud opportunities
By actively addressing these points, an organisation can begin to look at how the shift from legacy can benefit their business. They should seek to develop a ‘fit-for-purpose’ model that can guarantee the quality of service their IT needs – availability, performance, security and resilience, for example. Some key opportunities offered by a well-organised multicloud architecture include:
Ability to exploit new technologies offered by each cloud service provider (CSP)
A key aspect of a multicloud strategy is the degree of choice it presents. Relying heavily on one provider can create risks, so organisations should seek to have a diversity of providers. Doing so also provides the ability to exploit new technologies offered by each of the chosen CSPs.
Having the ability to seamlessly switch service providers lets organisations balance technical and non-technical requirements as they change over time. Reasons for switching between providers can be predictable (e.g. seasonal demand) and unpredictable (e.g. new competitor enters the market, exchange rate shock or change in regulations).
Ensure supply chain is delivering against need
The supply chain has changed. In older-style IT models, the focus was on service management practices. In a cloud world, these practices are now more dynamic. In addition to considerations around cost and value, organisations need to be able to drive performance out of their supply chain.
Supply chain operations should deliver against organisational need. This requires a framework to be in place to match service providers against business needs. Most organisations will be using multicloud by default as business units will be consuming SaaS services. By understanding what that supply chain should look like, the business can define the capabilities required to match their needs.
Moving to a service-first strategy
Organisations need to find the right provider for different purposes. This poses a range of considerations around service management, such as whether the business should tie into a vendor to use their native tooling or seek a solution that allows openness across different vendors. Which option is best suited depends on the business’ specific needs, but should have structural flexibility to allow it to move in different directions.
It’s often not cost-effective for an organisation to run its own systems for standard functions such payroll and HR, in which case it’s better to consume as a service and focus on revenue drivers. Organisations typically have technical capabilities but there are often gaps in understanding of how architecture and productivity will evolve over time. Cloud isn’t just about technology, but about how people work.
Navigating multicloud with confidence
Before starting on a multicloud journey, organisations need to understand what their goals are. The balance between driving efficiency and operational excellence versus innovating for the new is typically not understood well. Once they have clarity on what they’re trying to do, they’re better placed to understand the capabilities required to do it. This puts the organisation in a better position to be thinking about value, cost and risk over the long term.
Proact has been providing data centre infrastructure solutions and services to enterprises for almost 25 years, and managed cloud services for more than a decade. We bring together a partner network of CSPs, including AWS and Microsoft among others, to help our customers adopt the cloud solutions suited to their purposes. We work with best of breed partners to offer our customers the highest levels of service and support, underpinned by our strong investment in the training and certification of our team.
An example of our strong partner relations, we work closely with NetApp to tie together consultancy and solution offerings. NetApp’s Data Fabric services align closely with the goal of using different providers but keeping data in a multi/hybrid cloud location. This means organisations can move data between providers easily and drive down costs through efficiency.
A recommendation that applies across all businesses would be to start slowly, but be prepared to accelerate as they learn from experience and are able to automate more of the migration steps. Innovation in the public cloud is happening at a staggeringly fast pace, so they need to be prepared to re-evaluate decisions as the world changes.
Working to five-year IT strategies and revisiting them every couple of years is unlikely to be effective in the context of such rapid change, so it’s important to re-evaluate IT strategies on a regular basis. Taking a formalised approach to multicloud makes the path towards seamless adoption of multiple cloud services easier to navigate, and puts organisations in a better position to avoid common pitfalls.