How SMEs can manage multi-cloud for maximum efficiency

By Simon Michie, below, CTO, Pulsant

All small and medium-sized enterprises want to use cloud environments to power growth, innovation and efficiency. And as organisations use applications from different vendors or seek specific storage or security requirements, deploying data and workloads with several cloud vendors has become normal practice. The Flexera 2022 State of the Cloud Report, found that 89 per cent of organisations globally now follow a multi-cloud strategy.

For many organisations, however, multi-cloud environments have sprung up without a well-defined strategy, often in response to sudden events and opportunities. Even where there is a more measured approach, organisations have architectures characterised by growing complexity.

Multi-cloud deployments have become part of hybrid cloud architectures that encompass on-premise and virtual private cloud environments. In the Global Hybrid Cloud Trends report for Cisco, 47 per cent of respondents employ between two and three public Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) clouds. But unfortunately, this rambling architecture has become difficult to manage for performance and cost in the absence of more effective tools than those provided by the big names in public cloud.

As multi-cloud architectures expand, they start drifting away from the support of business requirements. IT departments have lost sight of where their data and workloads are, running up costs that are difficult to quantify because of complicated fee structures. In many organisations, a lack of adequate governance allows developers to spin up, test and develop Virtual Machines (VMs) in the cloud which then becomes neglected. In the Thales 2021 Data Threat Report, only 24 per cent of organisations responding said they fully knew where their data is stored.

Poor management denies organisations all the advantages

Poor management of hybrid cloud means agility, flexibility, and the ability to innovate and use new applications are declining for many organisations. IT departments are also in a weak position when it comes to the next major development in infrastructure – edge computing. According to Flexera’s research, organisations calculate they waste as much as 32 per cent of cloud expenditure, which is a very significant amount of money.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024

This is the opposite of what should be happening. A multi-cloud strategy should endow an SME with many advantages in terms of performance, agility and cost. For SMEs with small IT departments and limited budgets, multi-cloud should offer the flexibility to access vendor-specific capabilities they would otherwise struggle to obtain. They may, for example, host their web applications on AWS and Exchange servers on Azure. Multi-cloud also helps avoid vendor lock-in, which is important to organisations wanting to pursue a best-of-breed approach. A business enjoys a wide choice over where to locate data and how it wants to access it, whether for compliance, latency, or cost reasons.

When, however, performance drops off and the promised agility fails to materialise as costs mount, IT decision-makers find themselves in the hot seat. No leadership team wants to see increasing cloud investment without much in the way of results.

 Inadequate tooling and scarce skills

IT leaders need to regain control. Overall loss of visibility often arises from the need to use several cloud tools, each specific to a vendor or deployment. SMEs lack any tool that gives them a central view of all the resources they use across the entirety of their hybrid architecture.

Lack of expertise and insight into cost and performance often mean organisations are no longer certain which cloud service is best for specific workloads and how expansion may affect expenditure. Infrastructure sprawl is increasing security vulnerabilities and inflicting unexpectedly high costs, such as the cost of data egress from the major cloud providers. Nobody can be sure that if the business reaches the limits of resource capacity in one cloud, it has the architecture to auto-scale to meet its extra needs. These are critical pieces of knowledge for all businesses. Having workloads in the best possible environment for performance and cost is how businesses make hybrid architectures deliver what they want. So too is the ability to expand cost-effectively to meet changes in demand.

Many organisations follow a hybrid cloud strategy because they have legacy applications that do not work in the cloud, but also because they want to maximise security by keeping sensitive data on-premise.

When hybrid environments are lost from view because of their complexity, however, all this is compromised. It becomes extremely hard for an organisation to be certain it meets data sovereignty requirements. In this area, lack of expertise is a particular problem for SMEs. In the 2022 Flexera report, 78 per cent of SMEs said this was one of their top challenges.

 Next-generation tools restore control

Any organisation with hybrid environments that include multiple clouds must know if its infrastructure is architected correctly, working efficiently, and how to improve it at a time when IT talent is scarce and costly. Increasing complexity means it is no longer advisable to rely on the multiplicity of vendor-specific tools. These remain specific to each big cloud provider and are not equipped for edge computing. Instead, organisations need to deploy one of the next-generation cloud management platforms that span all environments, irrespective of where they are.

These newer solutions are designed for hybrid cloud and address the complexities of multi-cloud environments, addressing all the security, cost and management difficulties that arise. They are capable of giving SMEs the central visibility and control they need with reporting tools, high-performance storage, workflow automation and advanced security.

Enterprises benefit from faster deployment, and the ability to extend advanced orchestration capabilities to the edge. For protection, organisations can also implement role-based access controls and encryption, using a single cloud management portal, significantly reducing risk and improving visibility for IT compliance teams. Organisations gain the capability to choose providers and services for the best value. They can deploy, allocate and migrate resources wherever required, using a plan developed in collaboration with the platform provider.

 Preparation and configuration

Preparation should take the form of a workload assessment using best-in-class software to identify the usage of every server and the benefits and disadvantages of the many different cloud environments.

From this point, it is possible to make informed recommendations about workloads in line with the business objectives of each deployment. The process should accommodate the organisation’s probable AI and machine learning needs and requirements for data orchestration, security, and compliance. Configuration then tunes the different hardware and software elements to be fully interoperable.

Organisations should also ensure they have maximum flexibility and resilience via cloud on-ramps such as Megaport, which provides high availability of cloud services and the ability to add or alter cloud connections as requirements change. Fast fibre connectivity with the main public cloud providers’ hubs is important for the low latency Industry 4.0 and IoT edge applications that depend on high-speed, high bandwidth.

The deployment of next-generation hybrid cloud management platforms is now really the only way SMEs can bring themselves the major advances of cloud and edge computing. Within hybrid architectures, multi-cloud environments are generating serious management headaches and cost overruns that IT departments must resolve. It is only through next-generation tools they can gain control and achieve the full potential of their multi-cloud environments in terms of efficiency, innovation and organisational agility.

SME Publications/ SME XPO 2024