Multicloud is here but challenges remain

Multicloud is reality even if AWS is trying to ban the term.

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Despite Amazon recently declaring war on the word multicloud in a leaked document sent to its partner network, the reality is that most businesses are using SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS providers and are already in a multicloud world.

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The recent Cloud Computing Survey conducted by IDC found that the average IT environment has shifted from roughly half the environment to more than two-thirds in just 18 months with SaaS applications now embedded into almost 90% of businesses.

"When we talk about multicloud, [it] is being done in the context of business objectives and business outcomes," Peter Burris, chief research officer and general manager at Wikibon, said at the recent Global IT Summit held by NetEvents.

"The fundamental business objective is to start using data as an asset. The difference between business and digital business is really simple. It's the role the data plays within the business."

He added that if businesses were to treat data as an asset, it would work differently and create different types of "engagement models".

And this is where the cloud changes things. It could potentially move corporate data closer to services such as massively powerful parallel processing systems and new services and applications that allow enterprises to construct new business models.

"So this is not about moving data into the cloud. This is about moving the cloud and cloud services to the data and the natural organisation of the cloud in 10 years is going to reflect a natural organisation of data -- whether it's at the edge, whether it's in the core, or whether it's in public cloud," said Burris.

Over the last decade the "volume, velocity, and variety" mantra has been chanted by almost everyone singing from the big data song book. But the "big data" era has disappeared, replaced by just "data" and that has created new challenges.

In the past, moving relatively small volumes of data was reasonably easy.

"So data was liquid for a while. If you take a terabyte and you try to move it to the cloud from a private cloud you can do it. But if you take an exabyte... it's almost impossible," said Jean-Luc Valente, the VP for product management in the cloud platforms and solutions group at Cisco.

"It would cost $30 million actually to egress that to a public cloud".

Those costs, said Valente, mean data would be retained in different repositories rather than end up being consolidated in a single place.

So while Amazon is telling its partners to not discuss multicloud solutions, the reality is that businesses with data scattered across accounting, CRM, HR, and other cloud services will continue to operate with infrastructure and data distributed across multiple providers. The challenges this poses are significant. Everything from security to business processes and workflow are impacted.

"The application or the data is the new edge [and] networking is at the forefront of it. If you think about it, all networking to date has been built under a different assumption where you had to connect sites together and, again, whether that's public cloud, private cloud, branch offices, data centres, it doesn't matter," Galeal Zino, CEO of NetFoundry said.

"Those networks were built to connect sites. Now that the application is the new edge and data is everywhere we actually need to reinvent networking and the ecosystems around networking to match that new reality".

With this level of distribution, the network is both critical and increasingly complex. That means you can't manage networks manually.

"It has to be done through software. It has to be done through automation -- through powerful automation," added Mansour Karam, CEO and founder of Apstra.

"You have to have the ability to abstract out all of those network services across all of those domains and you have to have the ability to operate these networks, enforce those policies, set these configurations, and verify them remotely,"

Karam added that organisations, in the past, have partnered with hardware vendors because infrastructure making them think they need to buy boxes.

"But in a software first world, this approach is extremely restrictive because ultimately you are limited to those software offerings that that particular hardware vendor supports," he said.

"Rather what we see organisations do in this new world is start by partnering strategically with software vendors so that they define this layer of software first, this service layer. Then once they've done that ... they can go on and shop for the hardware that specifically meets their needs".

As more and more products and services become software defined, the focus for businesses shifts from managing their own infrastructure into configuring cloud services.

Gartner's Innovation Insight for Cloud Security Posture Management report noted that almost every successful attack on cloud services was the result of misconfigurations. The report forecast that by 2021, 50% of enterprises would unknowingly and mistakenly have some IaaS storage services, network segments, applications, or APIs directly exposed to the public internet and at least 99% of cloud security failures would be the customer's fault by 2023.

So while multicloud solutions will address many business challenges, it won't all be smooth sailing.

Enterprises will need to rethink their network architecture in line with changing business processes. All of that needs to be handled within a secure environment that can be effectively monitored and maintained. Legacy approaches to network configuration and management will not work in a multicloud world. 

Anthony Caruana attended the NetEvents Global IT Summit as a guest of NetEvents.

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