Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Managing the Multicloud

Multicloud management tools: Your guide

The use of multicloud is becoming more commonplace in large organizations. Here's what to consider when picking a provider.

How the cloud landscape is shifting in 2019 Larry Dignan and Karen Forrest talk about the top cloud vendors for 2019 and some of the trends that are changing the landscape for buyers.

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Special Report: Managing the Multicloud (free PDF)

This ebook, based on the latest ZDNet / TechRepublic special feature, examines how to play multiple cloud providers off each other and what vendors and tools can help you manage multiple clouds.

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Between deployments of public and private cloud networks, cloud computing has taken charge in recent years. The use of multicloud technology is becoming increasingly popular as organizations take on more workloads and shift business priorities. Some 86 percent of cloud technology decision makers at large enterprises said they are using a multicloud strategy, according to a recent Virtustream report.

Hybrid cloud vs multicloud

Multicloud is often mistaken for hybrid cloud, which uses a combination of public cloud providers and private on-premise infrastructure to handle variable workloads in an efficient and cost-effective manner, according to TechRepublic's Hybrid cloud cheat sheet

"Most enterprise customers define multicloud as using different clouds (a mix of both public and private) for different users, teams, or use cases," said Dave Bartoletti, vice president and principal analyst service for infrastructure and operations professionals at Forrester. This being said, hybrid cloud can be deployed in multicloud configurations and systems.  

"[Multicloud] offers developers a self-service interface to consume services and deploy apps to different cloud platforms, and they offer operations teams a unified place to monitor and track cloud service usage, costs, security, governance, etcetera," Bartoletti added. 

Perks of multicloud

Interestingly, multicloud deployment has grown so quickly that it is on pace, or exceeding, the rollout of hybrid clouds, according to a recent Kentik survey

Multicloud tools benefit organizations as a whole, but specifically development and operations teams, according to Bartoletti. 

This type of cloud computing also helps "development teams to accelerate self-service and delivery speed, or operations teams to govern and control usage, costs, and security," Bartoletti said. 

The main benefits of using multicloud include avoiding vendor lock-in, customized solutions, minimized risks, and cost savings, reported TechRepublic's Melanie Wolkoff Wachsman

Additionally, upon using the multicloud approach, organizations also experienced improved IT infrastructure management and flexibility (33%) and improved security and compliance (30%), the Virtustream report found.

These perks have proven so useful for organizations that nearly three in four enterprises said they plan to reevaluate their cloud strategy within the next two years, resulting in more cloud adoption and investment, the report added. 

Top multicloud providers

With 98 percent of companies projected to use multiple hybrid clouds by 2021, according to the IBM Institute for Business Value, organizations should be familiar with the major cloud vendors.

Most major cloud providers offer multicloud support, meaning that Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform can all be -- and often are -- paired together for multicloud use. 

The majority of multicloud users (58%) said they are actively using more than one of the three major cloud services providers above, according to the Kentik report. The most common combination of cloud services organizations said they use include AWS and Azure, the report added.

However, using well-known and reliable multicloud vendors doesn't mean there won't be bumps in the road or obstacles along the way. This is where multicloud management tools come in.

The best multicloud management tools

There are two main categories of multicloud management tools: Hybrid cloud management and multicloud management as part of a broader solution, according to Grant Kirkwood, CTO and co-found of hybrid cloud solution organization Unitas Global. 

Not many standalone tools really exist, Kirkwood said, with IBM's Multicloud Manager perhaps being one of the first. "These types of standalone tools were implemented as point-solutions over the past five or so years," Kirkwood continued. "They originated in the early days of hybrid cloud by making a single workload span multiple clouds in a true hybrid cloud configuration. Spanning single workloads across clouds isn't as popular as expected, in part because it's relatively complicated for relatively minor gains."

Hybrid cloud management 

Hybrid multicloud management tools are the most popular and developed form of tools. Forrester released an analysis of the best hybrid cloud management vendors in its recent Hybrid Cloud Management Wave report, where vendors were required to have "core capabilities in multicloud management across workloads." 

The report identified the following four vendors as leaders in the enterprise: 

  1. RightScale
  2. Scalr
  3. VMware
  4. Embotics

The following seven were named "strong" choices: 

  1. CloudHealth Technologies
  2. HyperGrid
  3. Turbonomic
  4. Cisco
  5. Micro Focus
  6. BMS Software
  7. Red Hat

Multicloud management as part of a broader solution

Also in the earlier stages of development, multicloud is beginning to be integrated or added onto established IT resources, Kirkwood said. 

"The most prevalent tool of this sort is ServiceNow, because it offers more than just cloud management," Kirkwood noted. "The platform makes multicloud management easier by integrating it with the rest of an enterprise's IT needs. This means that all of ServiceNow's other capabilities become part of the multicloud management, so that users no longer have to integrate different tools in different silos. It is all built-in and native which, from a user experience perspective, is much better. A lot of enterprises already have ServiceNow or are in the process of implementing it."

Because of the wide functionality of solutions like ServiceNow, standalone point solutions will have difficulty gaining ground, Kirkwood added.

How to choose the right multicloud management tool

When deciding which multicloud management tool to use, the crucial factor to consider is user experience, said Todd Matters, chief architect and co-founder of RackWare. "Organizations must consider how much training is demanded of the user, as well as how much that user must understand the underlying cloud technology to achieve the application end goals."

As with any digital transformation initiative, companies must consider the reasoning and goals behind the movement, added Kirkwood.

"There are a lot of reasons that companies look to a multicloud management tool, so defining the 'why' first and then aligning that with the market will ensure the best fit," Kirkwood continued. "Enterprises should also consider the capabilities of the tools that they aren't looking at. This is helpful to create use cases that you may not have thought about as part of the original requirements."

READ MORE ON MULTICLOUD

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Cisco Live 2019: CEO Chuck Robbins pushes multi-cloud connectivity

Top cloud providers 2019: AWS, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud; IBM makes hybrid move; Salesforce dominates SaaS

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In a Kubernetes vs. AWS world, Red Hat may hold the edge (TechRepublic)