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Multicloud management is all about the integration

Do several cloud applications, platform as a service and a data center make a company multicloud? Not necessarily, says consultant Judith Hurwitz.

Organizations today have an assortment of on-premises and cloud IT operations. They have some prepackaged cloud...

applications: maybe Salesforce for customer relationship management and Microsoft Office 365 for email. They may be doing some experimentation on Amazon Web Services and open source Cloud Foundry for software development. And they store their highly regulated data in their data centers.

Are they managing multicloud environments? Hybrid? Both?

The answer, according to Judith Hurwitz, is neither -- that is, unless all the components are woven together and perform, like a choir, as one unit.

The CEO of Needham, Mass., consulting outfit Hurwitz & Associates wrote the book on hybrid cloud -- or, at least, co-wrote the For Dummies series book on it -- and she tackled misconceptions about multicloud management for CIOs and other IT executives at the IBM InterConnect convention in Las Vegas earlier this month.

"It's not about throwing clouds together and just hoping for the best," Hurwitz said. "It's really about how you integrate, how you connect and how you optimize all of the services."

A cloud by any other name

At the most basic level, hybrid cloud is a combination of different forms of cloud computing. The most common recipe is part public cloud -- so AWS or Microsoft Azure and software-as-a service applications -- and private cloud, internal IT operations that have public cloud features, such as being able to dial computing resources up or down.

Multicloud is often thought of as data and applications spread among several public cloud services to mitigate the risk of data being lost, to have more options in case one provider or another goes up in price, say, or because certain applications cost less or perform better in certain clouds.

(There is also hybrid IT -- a more generic combo of in-house and cloud IT resources.)

But the terms are often confused or used interchangeably. And to Hurwitz, they don't really matter: An IT environment is multi or hybrid if its components -- whether they are a variety of cloud applications and a private cloud, for example, or cloud infrastructure services and some on-premises software -- are tightly coordinated and operate smoothly and consistently.

"Multicloud management is an effort to have a very complicated, hybrid environment act as though it's one single system that knows how to act and understands all its parts," she said. "It means that I'm thinking of [the components] in a more seamless way, where I'm exchanging data, where I'm moving workloads" from one piece to another when performance of one cloud goes down or the provider of another experiences an outage, as AWS did in February.

Consultant Judith Hurwitz discusses multicloud management at the recent IBM InterConnect in Las Vegas.
Consultant Judith Hurwitz discusses multicloud management at the recent IBM InterConnect in Las Vegas.

The multi, hybrid manager

The reasons for a multicloud, or hybrid, environment are clear: Businesses need different ways of handling different types of data and applications, Hurwitz said. They'll put their transactional data that needs to be highly secured in their data centers, for example, while new projects go in the cloud -- "to do a pilot, nobody is going to go out to buy a server to build the software; they're going to go to the cloud," Hurwitz said.

Multicloud management, she said, should bring some order and consistence to the mix. First, the environment needs to be self-service, so a developer can order up the resources -- the computational power, the storage, the tools -- and get going on a project. And it requires a catalog of the cloud services that companies want their developers and business users to use.

Companies also need visibility into their multicloud environments and governance -- they need to see what's running and not running and for what purpose. And they need to make sure they're meeting their own rules and regulations and those of the countries they're in. For example, if a company operates in the European Union and doesn't adhere to the General Data Protection Regulation, which addresses Europeans' data privacy and the export of personal data, and will come into force in May 2018, "it can cost you a lot of money," Hurwitz said.

Companies 'just want computing'

Whenever organizations evaluate a new cloud service, Hurwitz said, they need to take into account how it's architected so it can be used in combination with other services in a multicloud environment.

"The traditional, monolithic application is antithetical to cloud computing. Where we're going with cloud is much more modular, flexible services that are linked together through APIs," she said.

The real value of multicloud management is the opportunity to mix and match -- to get the most cost-effective services, the most innovative services -- and to tailor those services to the problem at hand and to changing business demands, Hurwitz said.

"What do companies want? They just want computing," she said. "They don't care which cloud it's sitting on, they don't care what data center, they don't care what network. They just want computing, and they want it to work predictably."

Whether that computing is called multicloud or hybrid cloud? No, they don't care about that, either.

Next Steps

Hybrid cloud: What's in a name?

Real portability in multicloud strategies remains elusive

Mistakes on the way to hybrid cloud architecture

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