8 steps to build a successful multicloud strategy

Increasingly, enterprise organizations are adopting a multicloud approach—the use of cloud services from more than one cloud vendor—to optimize performance, control costs and prevent vendor lock-in. According to a recent forecast from Gartner (link resides outside ibm.com) worldwide end-user spending on public cloud services is expected to grow 20.4% to total $678.8 billion in 2024, up from $563.6 billion in 2023. Multicloud architecture not only empowers businesses to choose a mix of the best cloud products and services to match their business needs, but it also accelerates innovation by supporting game-changing technologies like generative AI and machine learning (ML).

As businesses ramp up services from different cloud service providers, a multicloud environment becomes more complex. To overcome various challenges associated with multicloud, organizations need to map out a comprehensive multicloud management strategy to achieve overall success.

What is multicloud architecture? 

A multicloud is a cloud computing model that incorporates multiple cloud services from more than one of the major cloud service providers (CSPs)—e.g., Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud or Microsoft Azure—within the same IT infrastructure

A simple multicloud scenario may involve a company using two different cloud providers to carry out Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)—software applications (e.g., Webex or Slack) hosted over the public internet.

In a more complex enterprise business setting, however, a multicloud approach typically goes beyond SaaS delivery from different CSPs. For instance, an organization might use Microsoft Azure for storing data, AWS for development and testing new applications, and Google Cloud for backup and disaster recovery

In addition to SaaS, many of today’s modern enterprise organizations rely on cloud service providers for the following cloud-based computing models:

  • Platform-as-a-service (PaaS) provides hardware, software and infrastructure for developing, running and managing applications. A PaaS approach helps companies reduce the cost, complexity and inflexibility associated with building and maintaining a platform on-premises.
  • Infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) delivers compute, network and storage resources to consumers on-demand, over the internet and as a pay-per-use service. IaaS allows businesses to scale and shrink workload resources as needed, thus avoiding the large capital expenditures associated with scaling up traditional IT infrastructure. 

The hybrid multicloud environment

These days, a multicloud environment is typically combined with hybrid cloud—the cloud computing approach that unifies public cloudprivate cloud and on-premises (on-prem) infrastructure. A hybrid cloud infrastructure creates a single, flexible IT infrastructure that supports the interoperability and portability of workloads across multiple clouds. When combined, hybrid and multicloud models provide a hybrid multicloud approach that offers businesses the flexibility to create the best of both cloud computing worlds for migrating, building and optimizing applications across multiple clouds.

The modern hybrid multicloud ecosystem enables cloud-native application development (e.g., microservices, or microservices architecture) and uses an open-source container orchestration platform (e.g., KubernetesDocker Swarm) to automate the deployment of apps across on-premises data centers, public cloud, private cloud and edge settings. Microservices support DevOps methodologies by speeding the development and deployment of software.

According to an IBM Institute for Business Value study, the value derived from a full hybrid multicloud platform technology and operating model at scale is two-and-a-half times the value derived from a single-platform, single-cloud vendor approach. 

What are the challenges of multicloud? 

While a multicloud environment has become an essential part of enterprise digital transformation journeys, the complexity of running multiple clouds and services from different CSPs creates several challenges:

  • Cloud sprawl: One of the biggest challenges associated with multicloud is cloud sprawl—the uncontrolled growth of an organization’s cloud services. Cloud sprawl can lead to excess expenses and overprovisioning (the act of allocating more computing resources than necessary to an application or system). Besides paying for unnecessary or forgotten workloads, overprovisioning can also increase the multicloud attack surface, making it more vulnerable to data breaches or cyberattacks.
  • Data silos: With data spread across multiple clouds and platforms, an organization risks creating data silos. Data silos cause visibility issues and can negatively impact data analytics by preventing teams from sharing a holistic view of consolidated data to collaborate and make business decisions.
  • Security risks: Maintaining strong security measures is a critical component of enterprise cloud adoption. A complex multicloud environment with data moving across private and public clouds poses obvious risks. For instance, an organization may use a single set of security controls when working with a single cloud provider. But in a multicloud environment, the internal security tools managed by an organization combined with the native security controls of platforms from various cloud service providers can lead to fragmented security capabilities and heightened risk of human error or misconfiguration.
  • Uncontrolled costs: More clouds and cloud services translate into more cloud bills. While the pay-per-usage model associated with cloud services is designed to control cloud spend, unexpected costs can crop up due to the difficulty of tracking different CSP pricing structures, overlooked data egress fees and more. 

8 steps for creating a successful multicloud strategy 

Technical and administrative complexities increase when dealing with more than one cloud environment and multiple vendors. While each multicloud journey is unique, here are eight fundamental steps for creating a successful multicloud strategy:

1. Define goals

A multicloud journey begins with aligning business goals with an overall strategic plan. Start by reviewing your organization’s existing infrastructure and applications. Identify workload requirements and goals surrounding business use cases. 

Hybrid multicloud environments support integrated data exchange across multicloud environments, ensuring low latency, no downtime and the smooth delivery of data wherever its needed. For instance, a healthcare organization may seek a multicloud environment so teams spread across different geographies can share data in real time to deliver optimal patient care.

2. Select the best cloud service providers

While most CSPs offer similar basic functionalities, they each offer unique features and services. Whether it’s the high-performance computing capabilities of one cloud service provider or the advanced data analytics of another, a multicloud approach lets you pick and choose the best cloud services available to meet your business needs.

Carefully review service contracts as some cloud service providers offer more flexible contracts and lower starting costs. Be sure to have key stakeholders like IT teams use their expertise to weigh in on the CSP selection process.

3. Create a single pane of glass

In a multicloud environment, application platform interfaces (APIs) from various cloud platforms can create visibility challenges. To reap all the benefits of a multicloud architecture requires a central console or platform that creates a single pane of glass for centralized, enterprise-wide visibility. Referred to as a centralized cloud management platform (CMP), this dynamic, secure multicloud management solution allows IT teams to build, manage, monitor and govern their multicloud ecosystems. 

4. Leverage automation tools

The automation of IT infrastructure and processes plays a pivotal role in a multicloud model for enterprise business. With the help of automation tools, organizations can reduce the number of manual tasks traditionally assigned to IT teams. Cloud automation solutions create a software layer that runs on top of virtual machines (VM) in either public or private cloud settings.

By carefully selecting the best automation tools to integrate into your company’s cloud management platform, you can reduce the use of computing resources and save on cloud computing spend. Besides containers and orchestration tools, automation solutions for multicloud include Infrastructure-as-code (IaC). IaC uses a high-level descriptive coding language to automate the provisioning of IT infrastructure. IaC helps simplify infrastructure management while also improving consistency and reducing the need for manual configuration.

5. Build a zero-trust security approach

According to a recent IBM IBV study, the average organization uses more than eight to nine cloud infrastructure environments at any given time, increasing the risk of security threats from bad actors and putting sensitive data at risk.

Managing multiple clouds calls for zero-trust security—an approach that assumes a complex network’s security is always at risk of external and internal threats. Zero trust requires a wide range of security capabilities. These include policies to manage access across all users and privileged accounts with single sign-on (SSO)multifactor authentication. The major CSPs and other cloud service vendors offer multicloud security solutions to help continuously manage threats and ensure resiliency. 

6. Integrate compliance and regulatory requirements

Enterprise-level organizations, especially those with a global presence, must adhere to various regulatory standards (e.g., the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation, the US’s AI Bill of Rights (link resides outside of ibm.com)) across different countries and jurisdictions. Adhering to industry regulations is crucial for organizations in healthcare, energy, finance and many other sectors.

Non-compliance to industry rules and regulations can put sensitive data at risk and lead to legal and financial consequences and reputational damage. Organizations can mitigate these risks and build trust with their customers by integrating compliance rules and regulations throughout the multicloud development and deployment lifecycle. CSP compliance tools that automate compliance updates can be woven into cloud management platforms to help organizations adhere to evolving regulatory standards specific to their industry.

7. Adopt FinOps for cost optimization

A multicloud cloud cost optimization plan combines strategies, techniques and best practices to manage and control costs. FinOps—the cloud financial management discipline and cultural practice—helps organizations maximize business value in hybrid multicloud environments. Along with FinOps, AI-powered cost-management tools can help your organization increase application performance and optimize overall cloud costs.

8. Continuously refine your multicloud strategy

A successful multicloud deployment never ends. Instead, it evolves and offers the flexibility to adapt to changing business needs and harness the latest cutting-edge technologies. By continually reexamining business goals and assessing cloud service portfolios, your business can stay agile, innovate and maintain a competitive advantage.

Benefits of multicloud 

A multicloud provides a mix of services and capabilities that no single platform alone can offer. Multicloud can help your businesses: 

  • Avoid vendor lock-in by choosing “best-of-breed” cloud computing services without the cost or limitations of being tied to one vendor.
  • Gain flexibility based on the best combination of cloud services for pricing, performance, security and compliance.
  • Prevent outages and ensure reliability with backup and redundancy capabilities for data, workflows and systems.
  • Control shadow IT with visibility across multiple clouds.

IBM and multicloud 

Looking ahead, companies will continue to rely on hybrid multicloud solutions for their infrastructure, platforms and applications. According to an International Data Corporation (IDC) report (link resides outside ibm.com), worldwide spending on public cloud provider services will reach $1.35 trillion in 2027. 

As a global leader in hybrid cloud, artificial intelligence (AI) and consulting services, IBM is helping companies create successful hybrid multicloud management strategies. IBM builds on its ecosystem partnerships with AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform so your organization can secure the best mix of cloud-based services to stay competitive in today’s fast-moving digital environment.

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