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How to get a handle on multicloud management

 As enterprises pile more cloud activities onto the platforms of more cloud providers, many IT and network managers are feeling overwhelmed because each cloud provider comes with its own toolset, rules and user demands. In a multicloud environment, this convoluted mixture quickly leads enterprises into a pit of complexity, confusion and cost.

Coming to the rescue are more than a dozen vendors, ranging from IT stalwarts to startups, offering multicloud management tools designed to bring order, control and insight to data centers juggling multiple cloud services. IBMBMC SoftwareCiscoDell Technologies Cloud, DXC TechnologyVMwareHyperGrid, and Divvycloud are just some of the firms promising stable and reliable multicloud management. Many cloud services also provide some degree of management and integration with other cloud providers.

Operating in a multicloud environment makes a difficult task even moreso, says Peter Phillip, general manager of the Houston office of Sparkhound, a digital advisory-services firm. "The complexity of managing, securing, allocating and running a cloud environment is complex enough, but adding multiple environments exponentially increases the difficulty and risk."

Multicloud management challenges

Managing technology assets across multiple cloud service providers is an enormous challenge, says Jason Mao, a senior technology consultant at IT consulting firm Ten Mile Square. "A company needs to manage at least one version of each technology asset, such as configuration, passwords, encryption keys, applications and deployment pipelines, for each cloud provider," he advises. If you want to be able to deploy or redeploy any version of a production environment, such as a container of snapshots of technology assets, you have to be able to track not only revisions of technology assets  but also the relationship among those assets, he says. Such tasks already pose a challenge for any enterprise migrating to a single cloud. "Needless to say, this challenge grows exponentially with additional cloud service providers," Mao says.

Organizations entering the multicloud universe need to find a way to drive consistency across disparate environments, says Varun Chhabra, a vice president at Dell Technologies Cloud. "This allows multicloud environments, whether they be any mix of public, private or clouds at the edge, to be managed, monitored and automated from a single control pane," he notes. "It also breaks down silos and creates transparency across all assets, no matter where they reside, [providing] more control and greatly reducing maintenance time and effort."

For Steve MacIntyre, vice president and shared security services lead at Fidelity Investments, creating a unified management structure was essential for keeping pace with a spiraling number of cloud resources spread across multiple providers. "One of the biggest challenges of managing multiple cloud environments is the need to continually evaluate and display the current state of cloud resources and service configurations in a meaningful way," he explains. "Each cloud environment has its own unique services and capabilities, making it difficult to be able to prevent, detect and respond from a single platform."

Like MacIntyre, Christopher Gerhardt, founder and managing partner of management and IT consulting firm GrayBeard, appreciates having the ability to harness the flexibility of a multicloud environment, using a management tool to strip away the operations complexity inherent in such as infrastructure.

"From a workforce perspective, there's an increase in operational cost that would negate the value of multicloud if we did not have a ... common management solution across our cloud providers," he says. Gerhardt reports that the approach also reduces training time, since his team only needs to be trained to manage services from a single platform, mitigating the requirement for expertise in specific cloud services, such as AWS and Azure. "In the future, if we find it necessary to add Google, it will enable us to do so without significant impact to our staffing model, staff training or consulting costs," he adds.

Cloud-wide monitoring also plays an important role in enhancing and updating the mindset of enterprise development teams, helping them to meet new responsibilities and goals.

"No longer does a development team only focus on business capabilities; they must now focus on multiple dimensions of their application from infrastructure to networking and security," MacIntyre says. Having teams understand and accept their new responsibilities is an absolute must, he notes. "To support this cultural shift, we must be transparent with monitoring, so teams can continually measure themselves against the norm and see quickly where they fall outside the corporate guardrails."

Compliance and security

While cost containment is typically the initial pain point driving businesses to investigate multicloud management solutions, the technology can also be used to address a wide range of other issues associated with operating on multiple platforms, such as oversight, automation and security.

Managing disparate resources and services spread across multiple cloud providers and accounts/subscriptions can be an incredible challenge for systems administrators, observes Chris DeRamus, DivvyCloud's CTO. "In such a complex and dynamic environment, it’s difficult to get comprehensive visibility, let alone be able to audit and enforce security policies, and even determine who's responsible for fixing what."

Organizations in highly regulated industries, such as healthcare and financial services, stand to benefit most from multicloud monitoring tools' compliance and governance oversight insights. "Also, any enterprise with high mergers and acquisitions activity," DeRamus adds.

Vallinayagam Nallaperumal, vice president of the strategic technology group at MetricStream, a governance, risk and compliance (GRC) software provider, says he relies on multiple clouds to provide the highest possible levels of performance and security to the firm's customers. MetricStream's multicloud environment presents two major challenges: a rapidly evolving GRC field and customers with a wide range of unique requirements. "There are data sovereignty and customer-specific requirements to be addressed and, as such, there's no one-size-fits-all-cloud capability available," Nallaperumal explains.

Nallaperumal believes a strong multicloud management strategy is the best way to ensure real and tangible benefits, including cost savings, productivity improvements, simplified cloud administration, accelerated product time to market and, most importantly, bulletproof cloud security and governance. His company uses HyperGrid's HyperCloud tool for multicloud management, which has enabled MetricStream to achieve consistent control and simplified cloud monitoring, Nallaperumal says.

Choosing multicloud management tools

With so many vendors offering multicloud management technologies, finding the right tool to coordinate a specific multicloud environment can be a challenging task.

"The tool should deliver universal monitoring and controls across clouds, including AWS, Azure, GCPAlibaba Cloud and Kubernetes," MacIntyre says. A tool should also be capable of using automation to remediate cloud and container misconfigurations and policy violations, allowing enterprises to achieve continuous security and compliance and realize the benefits of cloud and containers, he says.

Cross-platform and cross-team collaboration capabilities are also essential for achieving complete multicloud control and optimization. "Internal team members should have full visibility into exactly what is being procured and provisioned," says Greg Pierce, chief technologist for DXC Technology's cloud service's division, DXC Concerto.

Other key features to look for include an operations dashboard, visualization services, enterprise reporting and high architecture diagram capabilities.

Scalability is important, too. "The tool itself needs to be able to scale as cost efficiently as the cloud services it manages," Mao says. The tool should also offer the ability to be configured "as-code." "It is, after all, a part of the operations tool chain," he says.

Mao also suggests paying close attention to a management tool's integration capabilities. An offering should, at the very least, include a mature and exposed API that other tools in the enterprise tool chain can integrate with. Optimally, a tool's enterprise software integration should also allow links to alert/notification tools, such as Slack and PageDuty, as well ticketing/change management tools, like Jira and ServiceNow, and ITIL-based service desk offerings, he notes.

Takeaways and advice

Gerhardt warns that when deploying a multicloud management tool, rigid business mandates can be a larger deployment obstacle than technology issues. "Realize that you will quickly hit up against the bottlenecks around management policy before you hit up against tool issues," he explains.

For practicality reasons, it's important to look for a management technology that doesn't require users to possess deep technical knowledge. "Select a tool that mere mortal IT administrators can use and leverage expert SRE or DevOps engineers to set [it] up," Gerhardt advises. When shopping for a technology, he suggests concentrating on each tool's core capabilities. "Focus on adoption of the highest value features around cost management and governance first, then worry about the cool features."

Nallaperumal believes that multicloud management is essential for any enterprise that's moving forward from its initial stage of cloud adoption to a more complex cloud environment. "Understand this is a journey from early cloud maturity needs and requirements to more mature needs and requirements," he says.

This story, "How to get a handle on multicloud management" was originally published by Network World.

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