Don't ignore the complexity of hybrid multi-cloud

Many vendors will argue that moving to cloud brings consistency and simplicity, thanks to service-based delivery models, application access via standard Web browsers and so on. It’s rarely true though – at least, not in the real world.

Oh, sure, if you are able to stay within a single cloud ecosystem you can achieve a fair amount of consistency. Or if you’re a start-up choosing to go Web-only to minimise your capital costs, you can indeed make some things simpler.

But for most companies in the real world, cloud makes things more complex, not less. As our research has consistently shown, single ecosystem companies are a minority, with most having five, 10 or even 20-plus ‘cloudy suppliers’, once you add up public cloud, private cloud, hosted, SaaS and so on. That’s on top of all that traditional on-site IT, which shows no signs even of shrinking, never mind disappearing altogether.

I don’t often hear cloudy vendors acknowledging that hybrid complexity though. Yet lots of them now have a strong multi-cloud message. whether they’re coming from the cloud side, like Rackspace and CloudHealth (now part of VMware), or more from the systems side such as HPE, SUSE, and of course both IBM and Red Hat – acquiring additional multi-cloud capability was stated as a major reason for the Red Hat purchase.

That’s why it was refreshing to see acknowledged complexity as a subtext underpinning several of the keynotes at the recent BMC Exchange customer event in London. The message was that BMC – which has been pushing its multi-cloud management capabilities for some time now – fully understands the challenge of working across multiple hybrid services and wants to help you manage it. Whether it can keep to that message in the long term, only time will tell – but the signs are good, as it’s one of the few software companies with both the technology breadth and depth to make sense of it all.

Cloud, what is it good for? Huh!

Look at the relative immaturity of the public cloud, the shortage of cross-cloud standards, and at how the relationships around key portability-enabling technologies such as Kubernetes are shifting almost week by week. It’s clear that cloud isn’t the panacea or magic bullet that some would have us believe.

Fortunately though, it is very far from being a useless dead-end – it is quite the opposite, in fact. The real benefit of cloud, the benefit that trumps all that multi-cloud complexity, is at least as much conceptual as technical. What cloud does, most importantly, is to change both mindsets and delivery models.

Cloudy services may be like a swan on a swift river – all smooth and graceful on the surface, but lots of frantic paddling underneath – but by appearing accessible and easy-to-use they change people’s attitudes to and expectations of IT. Better still, mechanisms such as APIs and the use of a standard user-interface in the browser make it relatively easy to get software tools from different sources working together.

Indeed, the default assumption now is that they will work together. And that’s important because easy interworking is a big part of what’s liberating innovation and creativity. Software developers don’t think twice now, and nor should they – they turn first to the cloud, whether that’s to source tools, store data or run services.

But pretending it’s as easy to provide those services as it is to consume them would be extremely dangerous. Software development is a highly skilled task, even more so now that secure-by-design and privacy-by-design are becoming the norm, but it’s quite different from the task of building and operating multi-cloud infrastructure. That’s why it’s good to hear companies such as BMC acknowledge the complexity, even as they also advertise the fact that it is all perfectly doable and workable – with the right tools, skills and preparation.

Read more from Freeform Dynamics’ software delivery research here.

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