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An IT pro's survival guide for multicloud computing

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Determine if a multicloud strategy is right for you

Sometimes, one cloud just isn't enough. Consider a multicloud strategy to more efficiently tackle your IT challenges.

Editor's note: This article is part one of a three-part series on multicloud strategies. Click here to read the...

second part and here to read the third part.

If they aren't already, most businesses will soon be using public cloud services. The cloud is the perfect model to juggle issues with in-house technical support, agility of IT resources and cost. There are cloud providers that specialize in all of the common business or financial capabilities that could lead to compelling cloud business cases. In fact, that's the problem for many users. Considering their own varied needs and the growing specialization of cloud providers, many organizations are apt to choose more than one service provider and use multiple clouds.

A multicloud strategy lets you align each cloud offering to each need, but this setup also introduces complexity. In a multicloud model, it's easy to lose control and, if you're not careful, miss the whole value proposition. With the right precautions, though, a multicloud strategy offers a number of benefits.

Understanding the multicloud model

When you have the option to run multiple clouds, it is difficult to understand why businesses would think a single cloud could optimally address their IT challenges. After all, each of the three cloud service models -- infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS) -- targets a specific business case. IaaS is VM hosting that targets capital cost and geographic presence, but doesn't affect software licensing, technical support costs or business agility. PaaS offers software licensing benefits and reduces platform software support costs, while SaaS turns an application into a service, eliminating almost all of the traditional IT costs.

Because businesses rely on personal productivity tools such as office suites and collaborative software, hosting the central server components of these tools with PaaS can eliminate problems with software updates and synchronizing features across desktop and central platforms. This also reduces the need for IT support, and gives end users better applications.

It is difficult to understand why businesses would think a single cloud could optimally address their IT challenges.

But the company's core applications need a different kind of support from the cloud. Ideally, you'd have resilient applications that run even if local power is lost, and ones that can expand or contract their capacity depending on workload. For this, you'll want cloud-bursting capabilities, and IaaS offers the most control, security and governance support. It's like an elastic data center.

Some line departments have yet another need. Their workers may require customer management, analytics, data modeling or other specialized functions, delivered anywhere in the world and kept current with regulatory requirements and productivity enhancements. SaaS has become the preferred delivery strategy for this kind of cloud service, and it's particularly valuable in cases where the inertia of internal IT processes is simply too great to let the business keep pace with competition.

When is a multicloud strategy right for me?

So which cloud is best for your company? There is no single choice that will be best, and attempting to settle on a single cloud model will create compromises and minimize benefits. So why not use multiple clouds?

If you believe in the cloud and its future evolution, if your business faces competitive or regulatory pressures, or if your company might be involved in a merger or acquisition, then you are the perfect fit for multiple clouds.

Other factors could also make your company a potential candidate for a multicloud strategy. These would include dependence on multiple hosting platforms in the data center, or widely distributed servers.

Another driver is a loose business-unit structure, which often arises when one company acquires another. Each of the business units from such deals is likely to have its own IT policies and drivers, and may already have its own "ideal" cloud provider. In the long run, though, an organization will need to unite IT applications and services. That means multiple cloud choices must be united as well.

Next Steps

Tools for streamlining multicloud management

Using multiple clouds is the next big thing

Migration tools play key role in multicloud environments

This was last published in January 2016

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What were the factors behind your decision to deploy a multicloud strategy?
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Every company will use multiple clouds, it's just that many people forget that SaaS is "cloud". No single company will offer everything. Salesforce for CRM, Citrix/Webex for Conferencing, ADP for Payroll, Workday/Oracle for HR, AWS for new applications, GCP for Machine Learning, Azure for Office 365, GitHub for developer code...and the list goes on and on. 
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If you're considering a multi-cloud path, it's highly recommended to look at a PaaS platform that can run on multiple clouds. Don't force the application to be changed between cloud infrastructure. 
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According to a recent Enterprise of the Future survey of 1,000 global IT decision-makers, 86% of companies will be interconnecting multiple clouds across multiple locations by 2020. While many enterprises start their cloud computing efforts with a private cloud, a private cloud is not cost-effective or scalable in the long run. However, public clouds lack the required level of enterprise security.

Container technologies such as Docker, LinuxContainers (LXC and LXD) and CoreOS enable enterprises to build cloud-native applications for hybrid/multi-cloud migration.

Equinix recently wrote about the Enterprise of the Future survey and hybrid/multi-cloud migration: http://bit.ly/20n1lCN

Jeff Rutherford
commenting on behalf of IDG and Equinix
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One factor that led us to a muticloud approach was our CDN partner requiring us to geographically distribute our load when we perform a load/performance test on our sites. That wasn’t possible with a single cloud provider, so we went with multiple providers.
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