One of the bits of wisdom that became widely accepted early in the cloud computing era was that an organization that uses multiple providers should be able to save money -- in effect, pick the most cost-effective way to deploy its workloads. In reality, the opposite is often true.
A variety of factors makes the reality fall far short of the hope. Even so, many businesses have embraced multi-cloud computing, and, experts say, the right mix of techniques and tools can help rein in costs to some degree and make multi-cloud more workable.
According to research from Enterprise Management Associates, 42% of survey respondents listed the desire to control cloud costs as their top 2018 IT operations priority.
A reality, whether by design or not
Many organizations will use multiple clouds -- if they aren't already.
"Most companies don't choose multi-cloud. They have it thrust upon them because that is the reality of how people work," said Edwin Yuen, an Enterprise Strategy Group analyst.
Yuen said ESG's research showed just how far this trend extends. If SaaS offerings, such as Office 365, are excluded, 81% of organizations already use two or more cloud providers and 51% use three or more. "So it is not an expectation that people may become multi-cloud sometime in the future; they are multi-cloud now," he said.
The survey also revealed that organizations are generally multi-cloud because of technical decisions made by IT, not, as some had supposed, because of shadow IT.
When asked about the difficulties of multi-cloud computing, survey respondents told ESG that the biggest challenge was simply trying to understand what they had running where and how much it cost them. For example, what is the billing cycle? What are the names of the different tiers and levels? What are the performance measures? In many cases, the specific language each provider used to describe particular things left customers baffled.
Tools can help, right?
The market is full of tools designed to help organizations deal with cloud management headaches. While these products can provide answers, they are not yet widely implemented or accepted. Of companies that have a management tool for multi-cloud computing in place, Yuen said, only 60% of them actually use it. "There are still some challenges to meet," he said.
The available tools vary in their capabilities -- some put lots of information into a single interface, but without really translating it in useful ways.
Edwin Yuenanalyst, Enterprise Strategy Group
The second level of management tools gets past basic performance measurement and service-level agreements. These agreements aim to provide information on how to apply a security policy and an operational model that is consistent.
"So, in other words, it is important to not only see the resources but get help in applying them," Yuen said. For example, if a tool has the ability to apply an operational security policy, it is helpful if enterprises can apply the policy with one button rather than several -- and even more helpful if it can apply across many different clouds.
That capability has just started to emerge.
Yuen said he puts vendors into two categories. The first group includes a lot of the cloud vendors or startups, as well as companies that traditionally worked within the cloud and are oriented toward application monitoring. Usually, he said, "They've worked within the cloud API, so you get log analytics and more integrated monitoring from them."
The second group includes some on-premises systems-management vendors that are extending into the cloud. Those vendors, in particular, Yuen said, not only help customers to integrate their clouds and identify problems but also try to remediate those problems. "Remediation is more difficult, but we're seeing more of that from both kinds of vendors," he said.
More clouds mean more bills
Deepak Mohan, an IDC analyst who argues that organizations should avoid the multi-cloud approach whenever possible because of added costs, pointed out that many of the major cloud vendors have tool sets that can be helpful. The problem is, he said, they usually only work within one cloud. Plus, each cloud will present different monitoring and control challenges.
"You may have to deliver your own capability or rely on a third party that goes for a lowest common denominator approach, but that usually means you get something that doesn't work very well," Mohan said.
Mohan believes that one viable option is Fog, the Ruby cloud services library. It enables users to create a control plane that's already built to plug in to each cloud.
A litany of vendor options come from Hyoun Park, CEO and principal analyst at Amalgam Insights. Examples on the cloud-service management side include the following:
- CloudHealth Technologies, which was acquired by VMware in 2018;
- Microsoft Azure Cloud Cost Management, which came from its 2017 Cloudyn acquisition;
- IBM Cloud Brokerage Managed Services Cost and Asset Management;
- Hewlett Packard Enterprise's offerings from its Cloud Cruiser acquisition in 2017; and
- Nutanix Beam, from the Minjar acquisition.
In addition, there is what Park considers the stand-alones, a group that includes Cloudcheckr and Cloudability.
In the IT-expense category, vendors include Tangoe, Calero Software, Sakon and VCom Solutions.
Each can help you get closer to a single pane of glass, Park said. "It is no coincidence that acquisition is a big part of the story, as every leading cloud service provider wants to have its own view of cloud platforms," he added.
Perhaps because there is a shared need to better manage multi-cloud computing use, ESG's Yuen said, the available offerings will probably evolve toward the middle and provide three benefits: identifying which resources are there, figuring out the status or problems associated with them and then remediating issues.
"It is difficult task to do all three. But … that is what people will want from this solution and that is where things are going," Yuen said.