Gartner predicts, “By 2021, over 75% of midsize and large organizations will have adopted a multi-cloud and/or hybrid IT strategy.” Meanwhile, IDC says it expects 2021 to be “the year of multi-cloud as the global COVID-19 pandemic reaffirms a critical need for business agility”.
While the big public cloud providers tout themselves as one-stop shops, covering all of an organization’s cloud, data and compute needs, the reality is quite different. In practice, enterprises of all sizes are turning to multi-cloud and increasingly hybrid IT environments, with requirements for infrastructure to be deployed across traditional, cloud and edge compute environments.
In this article, we will look at some of the top drivers behind the move, why edge is an increasingly critical part of a multi-cloud/hybrid IT infrastructure, three primary challenges connected to managing this kind of approach, and paths to help solve them.
Top 6 Drivers Behind Multi-Cloud and Hybrid IT
Organizations operating and serving customers locally and/or globally need to consider how best to make their applications available, responsive and high-performing no matter where the end-user (or end device) is located. There are many more drivers behind the move towards a multi-cloud and/or hybrid IT approach. Here are the top six.
Multi-cloud and hybrid IT environments offer great flexibility. Many businesses are turning to these models with the desire to avoid vendor lock-in, and gain from the ability to leverage best-of-breed solutions, depending on the specific needs of the task. Another benefit, particularly for medium and large enterprises, is the flexibility for different business units within the same organization to use different cloud/edge providers for different services.
Modern applications are adopting a more modular style or microservices-based approach, enabling them to span more than one cloud provider or consume services from different clouds. Kubernetes clusters (orchestrating containers), for instance, are often used to simplify multi-cloud management
3. Resilience of Systems
Multi-cloud or hybrid IT can help protect a company’s critical business application and data, and ensure availability by offering backup and recovery capabilities. It also provides improved disaster recovery in the event of an unexpected incident, from a power outage to a natural disaster - by offering the ability to replicate your resources in another cloud/type of compute away from the affected area.
Multi-cloud and hybrid IT allows businesses to scale their storage up or down across regions depending on real-time demand. Ideally, there is a seamless transition between providers, allowing businesses to invest in the level of space, security and protection they need for each data segment.
The ability to select the services that best meet the needs of the business also allows businesses to take advantage of cost efficiencies, while avoiding vendor lock-in to a single provider’s fixed network and/or software stack.
A multi-cloud strategy, particularly one that leverages edge computing, allows businesses the maximum opportunity to optimize for performance. Cloud computing has inherent performance and latency constraints, such as the synchronization of huge amounts of data with online storage. A hybrid approach to IT infrastructure enables the leveraging of edge computing and processing of data locally while using the cloud to transmit and store only the necessary data.
Edge Computing, Multi-Cloud and Hybrid IT Infrastructure
Multi-cloud complexity is expected to grow even more with the adoption of more distributed applications, such as edge/IoT and machine learning as noted in a recent Flexera report.
Edge computing is increasingly becoming an important part of a multi-cloud/hybrid approach to IT infrastructure as CIOs work out how to:
- Guarantee digital performance for their remote employees working at the edge of the network;
- Manage the integration of emerging technologies such as AI, IoT and blockchain;
- Handle the volume and velocity of data generated in an always-on digital landscape and from sensors and IoT endpoints
- Increase resource efficiencies; and
- Reduce friction and speed up innovation for developers.
As noted in the CRN 2021 predictions,
“By integrating the network edge into their cloud strategy, developers have the ability to easily deploy services at the edge without having to be concerned with the operational overhead of managing more infrastructure… With integrated development and deployment pipelines, developers can move application services and functions from the cloud into network edge locations. This will help create more responsive and dynamic applications.”
Edge Computing and Cloud are Complementary
According to Santhosh Rao, Senior Director Analyst, Gartner, “Cloud computing and edge are complementary, rather than competitive or mutually exclusive. Organizations that use them together will benefit from the synergies of solutions that maximize the benefits of both centralized and decentralized models.”
For edge computing to work best alongside the cloud as part of a hybrid IT infrastructure, the edge should be where network-sensitive and latency-critical applications run. One such example is AI inference taking place at a regional edge, with model training and tuning occurring in the centralized cloud. Edge and cloud need to talk to each other, for instance, about how much transfer of data should happen between them vs. being locally stored at the edge.
3 Challenges of a Multi-cloud/Hybrid IT Infrastructure
Challenges connected to running a multi-cloud or hybrid IT infrastructure include complexity, a lack of skills, provisioning, IT interoperability and integration, application certification, and change management/tracking. Let’s examine three of these challenges in more depth.
While working with multiple clouds offers a great deal of flexibility, it naturally brings with it an additional layer of complexity that needs to be carefully managed. Deploying to and maintaining a single cloud instance is dramatically different than orchestrating workloads across hundreds or thousands of endpoints. Businesses that use a multi-cloud and/or hybrid IT approach need to crystallize their approach into a formal strategy. One tangible way to deal with complexity is to use abstraction to map complex data from the cloud or edge into the type of visualization you need for each specific task.
2. Lack of Skills
IDC’s META CIO Survey 2020 revealed that 39% of respondents saw “a lack of skills as an obstacle, hindering their rollout of cloud strategies”. The lack of public cloud and edge platform expertise is driving organizations towards rethinking how they approach their infrastructure needs. “To achieve success in their multi-cloud journeys”, says IDC, it “advises businesses to take stock of their applications and develop a phased modernization roadmap for each one, thereby enabling them to make appropriate cloud decisions for the multi-cloud era.”
In a multi-cloud set-up, before you can deploy applications to one cloud provider, you need to provision more than one environment. A lack of unified provisioning tools means that IT has to serialize much of public and private cloud service delivery, which often results in bottlenecks. There are ways to help streamline this process, such as through Infrastructure as Code (Iac). IaC allows DevOps teams to establish more repeatable processes through automation. Benefits of this include improved speed, greater consistency, reusability of code, more flexibility, and more straightforward version control.
Building and Managing a True Cloud/Edge Deployment Model
When you think beyond major cloud providers to a true cloud/edge deployment model, consider the challenges of managing workload orchestration across hundreds, or even thousands of, edge endpoints. Section fills this gap for teams who don’t have the resources and/or expertise to build and manage these complex systems. The Section Adaptive Edge Engine intelligently and continuously tunes our customers’ edge delivery networks to ensure that edge workloads are running the optimal compute for the specific application based on real-time traffic demands.