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Organizations pursue a multi-cloud strategy for a variety of reasons. Chief drivers include redundancy against potential outages, optimized cost for storage and other technology features, the performance of an application in one cloud versus another, and freedom from vendor lock-in.
A multi-cloud strategy can sometimes tie into mergers-and-acquisitions strategies as companies look to accommodate the IT systems of the companies they acquire. In some cases, multi-cloud might not be a strategy at all, but rather a situation an organization has found itself in. Indeed, this situation commonly occurs after mergers between two companies.
Whatever the case, it's important to keep several items top of mind when approaching and managing multi-cloud environments. Here are my top five.
No. 1: Establish a comprehensive access control plan
In any IT environment, security should come first and foremost among priorities. Security grows even more paramount in a multi-cloud strategy.
Any connective areas between the clouds should receive special attention. You should ensure systems can authenticate users, conduct proper change management and logging, enable multifactor authentication, and manage logins using role-based access controls.
One approach is to use an identity provider platform with multifactor authentication (preferably a non-SMS based product) that supports integration and/or federation with the multi-cloud and on-premises environments. Doing so enables you to centralize enforcement of identify and access management policies. Also, instituting conditional access policies will help strengthen an organization's security posture.
No. 2: Automate wherever possible
There's a saying in IT that if you find yourself doing something twice, automate it. Likewise, IT teams will save massive amounts of time if they automate the most cumbersome areas of cloud management, such as patching, vulnerability scanning and networking.
Not only does automation help speed up these time-consuming tasks, it can minimize human errors and free up IT staff so they can focus on more pressing initiatives.
Cloud providers like to call this automation approach infrastructure as code, or IaC, which will likely require a paradigm shift for IT staff accustomed to traditional methods. And while cloud providers offer their own scripting tools, consider using third-party options like Terraform, which are typically more extensive. And don't forget to use source control with IaC.
For greenfield environments, consider using serverless or container technologies. This makes moving workloads between clouds much easier, because with the latter, applications are self-contained and mobile.
No. 3: Understand cloud resiliency and failover
Related to resiliency is having a verifiable IT disaster recovery plan for the redundancy of all data sets and crucial applications. This might include failover in cloud-to-cloud, cloud-to-IaaS, co-location, disaster recovery as a service or back up as a service.
Ultimately, there needs to be the right architecture and consistent testing to enable such travel between environments. How will you interconnect multi-cloud environments? Using cloud-native VPN products limits you to 1.25 Gbps of theoretical throughput. Is that enough? If not, consider private connectivity options and multi-cloud routers with direct interconnects to all the major cloud providers. You could also deploy Azure Virtual WAN and AWS Transit Gateway networking services to facilitate higher bandwidths.
The bottom line: An organization needs to understand cloud networking to deploy a resilient architecture. One that can withstand local and regional outages if and when they occur.
No. 4: Choose the right interface
Having a single pane of glass to manage all cloud environments is essential to streamlining multi-cloud management. To get there, select a tool that can integrate your environments into a central view for simplified management, real-time monitoring and orchestration.
Vendors such as Microsoft and IBM offer a few third-party multi-cloud management tools. Bear in mind that as an organization adopts a multi-cloud strategy, its footprint may increase, and operations become more complex as the environments grow. This is where cloud solutions providers can help keep environments optimized from both a performance and costs perspective.
No. 5: Know the compliance requirements
When auditors come knocking, companies must show the necessary proof of their IT stance. Not being able to prove you've met regulatory demands could result in hefty fines, lawsuits and lost business, among other issues.
Some compliance frameworks require that user data doesn't leave the country; others may require data be housed in specific regions. Sometimes organizations can avoid certain regulatory requirements when they store data in one regional location versus another. That's why it's essential to fully understand the compliance framework(s) that apply and take steps to meet those requirements within multi-cloud environments.
Tying it all together
Multi-cloud environments have become increasingly popular, and there's no sign of this trend slowing down.
One of the most important aspects of managing multiple IT environments is tying together all tasks and data locations with long-term company strategy. This approach not only dictates an organization's actions, storage and testing priorities, it also helps to ensure alignment with the rest of the business.
About the author
Jacob Picart is a cloud solutions architect at strategic service provider InterVision Systems. With more than 20 years of IT experience, Picart has worked in a variety of technology environments and is deeply focused on the architecture of complex integration projects involving cloud technologies and legacy systems.
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