This content is part of the Essential Guide: An IT pro's survival guide for multi-cloud computing

Overcoming complex multi-cloud management challenges

Deploying multiple cloud platforms offers the enterprise greater flexibility and choice. But multi-cloud management is still a pain point for IT.

At one time, IT managers were leery about infrastructure as a service (IaaS) platforms from Amazon Web Services, Google and other cloud providers -- and for good reason, too. Public cloud's shared resources and multi-tenant environment prompted legitimate security concerns. But times have changed, and a variety of factors are now pushing organizations toward public IaaS. While this creates new system design possibilities, it also presents new management challenges.

As more organizations move toward multi-cloud environments -- where organizations deploy a mix of IaaS platforms -- these management challenges grow.

IaaS market evolving toward multi-cloud model

The initial wave of public cloud services from providers including AWS, Google and Dropbox had a distinct consumer feel. Consequently, enterprises were skeptical about their ability to meet business needs such as scalability, security and compliance.

However, these public cloud vendors gradually began to see value in the enterprise IaaS market, along with an opportunity to offer differentiated and higher-margin services. Additionally, established enterprise vendors, such as IBM, Microsoft and Oracle, began targeting the public IaaS market.

As more organizations move business-critical workloads to the cloud, public IaaS adoption is expected to rise. And, as this change occurs, chances are good that corporations will use multiple public IaaS providers.

These multi-cloud environments can drive better value and offer more flexibility than single-cloud deployments. Multi-cloud environments provide redundancy, which mitigates the risk of data loss and downtime. These environments also help organizations avoid vendor lock-in with public cloud providers.

Multi-cloud management and integration challenges

Despite many benefits, multi-clouds can be difficult to manage. Typically, these cloud services emerge autonomously; they are purchased to meet specific business needs, at times, with little to no IT input -- which creates inefficiency.

Multi-cloud integration is also an issue. Ranging from operating systems to protocol stacks, public IaaS providers use different technologies to build and support their cloud services. For example, AWS has a distinct Linux flavor, whereas Microsoft Azure is Windows-centric. Therefore, software portability is limited or completely unavailable.

While major cloud providers offer capable management platforms, each focuses mainly on its own cloud applications. Consequently, IT must deploy and maintain multiple management interfaces, which raises costs and lowers troubleshooting efficiency.

Because public IaaS is a pay-per-use service, customers receive regular usage bills. This also complicates tracking IaaS costs and billing in multi-cloud environments.

Tackling multi-cloud management issues

Rather than a set up a series of standalone IaaS systems, enterprises should connect them and consolidate maintenance functions. Standard architectures make it easier to adopt a multi-cloud strategy. OpenStack and CloudStack are two approaches gaining momentum, but these aren't widely deployed.

So, how can companies more efficiently manage multiple cloud provider environments? Auditing is a sound first step. Before an organization can monitor cloud services, it must first identify the specific services its employees use.

To help efficiently manage multi-clouds, third-party cloud brokers can source, price, compare and procure cloud services. Once selected, these brokers often handle an enterprise's cloud integration, management and accounting responsibilities.

Additionally, there are multi-cloud management tools, such as RightScale Cloud Management, that can monitor usage, performance and costs across multi-cloud environments.

While enterprise interest in public IaaS continues to grow, these services share few common design points. As a result, if a proper multi-cloud management strategy isn't in place, managing multiple IaaS platforms can place a burden on IT.

About the author:
Paul Korzeniowski is a freelance writer who specializes in cloud computing issues. Based in Sudbury, Mass., Korzeniowski has been covering technology issues for more than two decades and can be reached at 
[email protected].

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