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Shining a light on the enterprise appeal of multi-cloud deployments

With market watchers predicting that enterprises will increasingly favour the use of multiple cloud providers, we take a look at what is driving the trend, and its drawbacks

Rather than settle for the services of a single cloud provider, enterprises are, in time, expected to want to source off-premise capacity from a variety of suppliers.

The 2016 Right Scale State of the Cloud report suggests that 82% of large enterprises favour this approach, prompting them to think more carefully about how they choose a cloud provider.

According to market watcher Gartner, the trend is being driven by the fact that cloud customers are increasingly aware of the merits and drawbacks of individual providers, which enables them to make informed decisions about where best to run specific workloads.

Mark D’Cunha, product manager at Pivotal, told Computer Weekly at the Cloud Foundry Summit in Frankfurt that parts of the industry have been surprised by the speed at which enterprises are looking to adopt a multi-cloud approach to IT consumption.  

Pivotal runs Cloud Foundry, an open source application lifecycle automation platform, originally proposed by VMware, which aims to help enterprises adopt a multi-cloud approach to hosting applications by allowing them to run in public or private cloud environments.

Multi-cloud is definitely coming faster than we thought it would, which has made us move forward with our plans,” says D’Cunha, citing the efforts of Amazon Web Services and its competitors to court enterprises in this area.

“We have seen how Microsoft has made Azure a priority, aggressively pushing cloud on to customers,” he says. “And Google has made it a priority, too.”

D’Cunha points to Google’s attempts to change the mindset behind virtual machine (VM) deployment. 

Pre-emptible VMs

What has changed is the emergence of pre-emptible VMs, a cost-effective way of offering cloud compute instances. The key element of these is that they only last up to 24 hours, making them highly suitable for batch processing and fault-tolerant deployments.

A big advantage of pre-emptible VMs is that they are up to 80% cheaper than Google’s regular instances and, because prices are fixed, enterprises know exactly what they will pay, which is music to the ears of finance directors.

But ease of management requirements mean there is a limit to how many cloud providers CIOs are likely to want to entertain, says D’Cunha. Three suppliers would probably be enough for most enterprises, he adds.

“One means supplier lock-in, while any more than five is too complicated,” he says, pointing out that the more suppliers an enterprise introduces into a cloud environment, the more likely it is to run into problems with management and system compatibility.

The RightScale report backs this view, and suggests that enterprises should run an average of 1.5 public clouds for applications and 1.5 public clouds for experimenting, plus a similar number of private clouds.

Attracted by flexibility

Despite this complication, businesses are seemingly attracted to the idea of multi-cloud because of the flexibility it offers.

Take car manufacturer Volkswagen, which has declared that, by 2025, it wants to have overhauled its business entirely by branching out into new directions, underpinned by a more agile approach to software development.

Roy Sauer, head of group IT architecture and technology at Volkswagen, says the key to this plan is to build a multi-cloud platform.

“We are looking at three providers at the moment – IBM, AWS and Microsoft Azure,” he says, “but we are still very much in the pilot phase and have not decided who will be the core public provider. We hope to come to a decision by the end of this year.”

Volkswagen is an advocate of open source, but is considering using proprietary cloud providers within its multi-cloud setup. “We can decide what to do with workloads, as long as we can migrate back for another public cloud,” says Sauer.

Multi-cloud appeal

This flexibility exemplifies why so many companies are eyeing the multi-cloud route, but cost could also be a big part of the equation. CIOs will inevitably ask whether using one provider rather than another will help them cut costs.

“I know of a customer of ours that suspends services at the end of the day, at 5pm, and then bring them up again at the beginning of the next day. In doing this, they will save 25% of their costs,” says D’Cunha.

It is also thought that a multi-cloud approach could halt the spread of shadow IT within some organisations, because it will reduce the need for line-of-business departments to experiment with other cloud providers.

“The whole idea of multi-cloud deployments is to defend against shadow IT,” says D’Cunha. “It makes for a much more controlled and secure deployment, as a policy-managed multi-cloud is a great defence against shadow IT.”

Read more about multi-cloud

  • Virtualisation giant VMware reinforces its commitment to helping enterprises manage multi-cloud deployments with AWS partnership.
  • Google uses cloud user conference to outline how its commitment to innovation, low prices and new datacentre regions is helping it stake a claim in its competitors’ customer bases.

While enterprise interest in multi-cloud deployments is on the rise, it is essential to ensure CIOs have the right skills in-house to negotiate this new mode of IT consumption, says D’Cunha.

CIOs will be asking themselves whether they will be able to make judgements on which clouds to deploy and where, he adds.

It is apparent that the trend towards multi-cloud implementations is gathering pace, says D’Cunha, but it is harder to determine what is driving it.

“It really depends on the customer,” he says. “Some are retro-fitting workloads to services, and some are looking for greater redundancy by running workloads in two instances.”

There are probably a thousand reasons for moving to a multi-cloud deployment, but whatever the reason, there is little doubt that it is a growing trend – and not likely to be reversed.

“If you can deploy more simply, you can do it a lot faster,” says D’Cunha. “It’s like in agriculture when horses were replaced – we’re at that combine harvester moment. This is the moment of automation.”

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