Good Habits to Make the Multi-Cloud Work For You – Part 2 of 2 / by James Kelly


This article was originally published on September 12 at Data Center Knowledge

In my previous article, I talked about the state of infatuation with hybrid and multi-cloud environments. Would you be surprised that in the stresses and mania surrounding IT cloud strategy, some folks fixate more on the playing field than the game itself? You probably already know that you’ve got to get your head in the game in this unforgiving age, and a winning strategy for digitally speeding and feeding the business across the multi-cloud is not: taste the rainbow; it’s choosing and consuming cloud wisely.

Too bad that how you do so isn’t obvious, and as if it wasn’t difficult enough to anticipate technology turns ahead, there are so many captivating cloud services that might lead you down treacherous roads to traps and debt. But there are also well-known tactics emerging that you can model to ready and steady your organization for change and success. Like most, if your journey has already begun, you’re picking these up along the way and adjusting your habits as you go.

You know how bad habits are easy to form and hard to live with? Similarly, it’s very easy to jump into multi-cloud or unwittingly let it happen to you. At this precipice, the warning signs and early stories of cloud lock-in, overwhelming multiple-cloud context switches, runaway expenses, and situational blindness, are hopefully enough to grab your attention. Multi-cloud is inevitable; these fatalities are not.

A multi-cloud platform is a powerful environment, and it requires proper preparation so you can control it, instead of it controlling you. With that, here are four of the best preparations I’ve seen, like good habits that are hard to form, but easy to live with.

1. Unify Your Toolchain

In the eternal deluge and disruption of new tech tooling and systems, remember those good old-fashioned IT values of standardization and consolidation? Don’t throw those babies out with the ITIL bathwater.

As you embrace cloud and bimodal IT with new and improved tools, you might lessen the reins on your traditional values, using public cloud and building private cloud infrastructure alongside your physical and virtualized data centers. In loosening the reins or spinning out agile side projects, just watch out for the trap of hasty developers rolling their own stack or going stackless/serverless, only to get caught in a web of proprietary cloud services.

Don’t rush an obstinate knee-jerk to block this neither. Think of a unified toolchain effort as one with the developers to rationalize a base devops pipeline, cluster, and middleware stack, that could serve 80 percent of projects.

  • Your tools need to work on any cloud infrastructure, and if they can work with your legacy infrastructure, even better.
  • Freeing yourself from lock-in of cluster and pipeline orchestration tools and infrastructure-as-code lifecycle management: keep them untethered from any specific underlying IaaS, with portable shims like Terraform.
  • While you don’t want to throttle developers back from using services outside of your stack – they’ll go around you anyway – encourage managed open-source-based services. Then incorporate such services into your middleware toolchain as it matures. Tools like Helm, make it easier to manage services yourself, more than ever before.

If you’re a lean IT shop, let’s face it, following this to the letter may take you away from getting to market ASAP. Maybe you’re a startup or in that mode? You don’t just want, but need, to focus on developing your core competitive technology, not a portable multi-cloud toolchain.

How do you balance moving fast, employing low-hanging SaaP, with the concern of vendor and architectural lock-in?

If a tool is a competitive differentiator, then you should probably build it. Otherwise, remember there are a lot of open-source tools that are glued together with reference implementations of other open-source tools: large projects like Kubernetes and Spinnaker are easy to adopt with a bunch of pre-canned sensible defaults. Another option is to choose managed open-source services, that are more easily insourced later or offered by multiple cloud vendors.

Finally, software design is probably the most important and challenging factor of all. Architecting for scale is obvious, but flexibility enables business agility; so consider not only today’s lock-in, but also getting locked out of a competitive advantage tomorrow. Assembling API-driven (capital ‘S’) Services from micro-services is a well-established pattern to do this, and I’d recommend software alchemists investigate evolutionary architecture from ThoughtWorks for more wisdom.

2. Connect Your Clouds

 Connection was a given in the world of hybrid cloud. That still holds true. However, cloud bursting, the most bombastic of all use cases for hybrid cloud, is the least common. Multiple clouds need to be connected together for many more realistic and common use cases:   

  • Imagine pipeline automation that includes environments or steps split across clouds. Dev/test can happen anywhere, but you may have higher requirements for staging/production.
  • Secure data replication for warehousing or distributed applications, and backups for disaster recovery and avoidance.
  • Split application tiers, where there are different non-functional requirements for the various application tiers like sovereignty, security, scale, performance, etc. that must be met in various geographies or optimized with split economics. Some applications may be split because of functional requirements too because certain clouds have unique advantages that others can’t reproduce.

Such cloud interconnections demand higher security than using the internet, and often clouds simply require a secure connection back to your enterprise staff or users. Beyond security, unique routing and legacy layer-2 unicast or even multicast connectivity could be an application requirement. While there are cloud-vendor tools for basic security and networking, you can also search for your own software-defined and virtualized security and networking solutions that are agnostic to any cloud infrastructure, unifying this toolchain too and incorporating it into your infrastructure-as-code policies.

3. Harmonize, Unify and Simplify Policy

If you have software deployed or scaled across multiple cloud locations, the configuration, monitoring and automatic-response systems may get unwieldly unless you seek to elevate your orchestration across clouds. Of course, there are cloud management platforms for this. With or without them, you can also do some multi-cloud management with your own centrally harmonized configurations and management as code. A further step might unify configuration and management with global controllers, but with the track record of humans causing most errors, be careful with your blast radius for a fat-finger typo.

Another trend in provisioning models and APIs is abstraction, which can be at many levels like multi-cloud orchestration, individual stack, pipeline or application. By making things more intuitive and concise for humans and leaving the execution to your software machinery and machine learning, you’re likely to improve the lives of your operators, your applications and your application users.

4. Hold Up Before You Speed Up

Cloud will move you faster, and if that’s not enough cause for care, even with no IT strategy, you’ll still end up with multi-cloud in no time: multiple owners, vendors, regions, and availability zones. The increased danger is that multi-cloud can multiply messes and mistakes. Preparation in building a platform is key, and like many things that take a bit of time upfront, it’s worth the effort in the long run.

Consciousness to hold up isolated quick gains as short-term one-offs, that generally beget debt down the road, is the critical gambit that will return long-term payouts in adaptability and speed atop a united multi-cloud platform.

IT leaders know that digital transformation is a journey, not a destination. With continuous learning, the first of all healthy continuous IT practices, mastering the tactics and good habits for structuring your multi-cloud platform and using the ins and outs of devops atop it, can be fun and rewarding. It allows safe acceleration and agility for IT, and it’s essential to sustainably advance the speeds and smarts of your business.