Is the cross-cloud approach best for your business?

By 6th December 2017Blog

Did you know that Amazon started out in the early ‘90s as an online bookseller? At the time, the Seattle-based company was so small, that every time a book was purchased, the entire team would gather around to see if they knew who the customer was. Just over a decade later, the company would go on to revolutionise book selling with the invention of the Kindle e-reader. But this isn’t what made Amazon into the behemoth it is today – the company enjoyed remarkable growth by relentlessly conquering new markets and industries, from web services to automotive parts and everything in between.

Consider for a moment what the infrastructure needs for a company like Amazon would have been when they started out versus what they are today. With each new product and service the company added to its offering, they had to track new distribution channels and store and secure new customer data.

Think of Amazon’s evolution from a bookstore to an everything store as being the same as the evolution of cloud from being either private or public to being a bit of both.

Whether you call it hybrid cloud, cross cloud or hybrid IT, more and more businesses are embracing environments that span both public and private cloud, leveraging these technologies to deliver improved products, services and solutionsin innovative ways. According to Brian Timperley, MD and co-founder of Turrito Networks, there is no question that cloud computing can work for (and improve) modern business processes. And there are countless ways for companies to take advantage.

“The idea behind hybrid cloud or cross-cloud is that businesses can slowly make their migration, starting with the most important aspect and following through with the rest if/when it suits them. They can also keep some data locally and some internationally.” Many businesses are under the impression that they need to move everything at once, or that they have to move everything to one location, but this is not the case, notes Timperley. In fact, this approach often sets back decision-making processes, he believes.

Meeting business needs

For Matthew Kibby, regional director at VMware Sub-Saharan Africa, it’s essential to understand the characteristics of your different applications and match these to the characteristics of different cloud platforms. This should all be done while being enabled and confident in your ability to use, gain insights, manage, secure, and deliver across all your cloud environments and application types. As modern businesses of all sizes and across all industries continue to embrace cloud, cross-cloud ensures that all clouds work together and talk to each other.

The first step to modernising your business architecture is a mindset change, says Jonathan Kropf, founder and director for Hybrid Cloud at Velocity Group. “Cross-cloud is not a technology; it’s a deployment mind-set.”

Cliff de Wit, chief innovation officer at Microsoft, cites hybrid cloud offerings as the perfect bridge between the future (public cloud) and the past (legacy apps and on-premise systems), enabling businesses to merge and work across both cloud worlds.

He believes that companies around the world are under pressure to produce business-changing applications that help them engage customers better and empower their employees to do more, faster, and using fewer resources. This requires flexible app deployment, with some apps remaining on-premises, while others are moved to the public cloud. This saves money, simplifies management and maintenance, notes De Wit. Public clouds can be deployed faster than on-premises infrastructures and offer an almost infinitely scalable platform, enabling every employee to use the same application from any office or branch, using their device of choice.

But this approach is not without its risks.

Security in the cloud

Across all of these cloud platforms, businesses need to extend and improve their current approach to security, says Kibby. Unfortunately, traditional IT security models are inadequate against modern cyber attacks and fail to measure up to the modern cyber threat landscape. “Interactions between users, endpoints, applications and data in this new world require a new look at security; security needs to be everywhere.”

While cloud security is typically superior to managing security on-premise, different clouds have different vulnerabilities, notes Kabelo Makwane, MD for Cloud First business at Accenture Africa.  In fact, the responsibility of securing applications and data in the cloud should be shared between both the enterprise and the cloud service provider. The cornerstone of this is establishing a well-defined security operating model, one that allows organisations to achieve high performance and protect their business at the same time. This should include everything from adopting different protocols and technologies to adhering to accepted governance and organisational structures.

When we talk about `enterprise security’, we create the notion that enterprises have higher requirements for security, yet it is critical that any and every business has a robust level of security, stresses Timplerly. What cross-cloud does is create environments with multiple layers of authentication and separation of applications and data. “This makes it much more difficult for sinister characters to a) penetrate and b) harvest usable data.”

It may be relatively quick and easy to create robust cloud infrastructures, but it is vital to work with service providers that understand multi-cloud security, according to Jay Reddy, solutions executive, Dimension Data for the Middle East and Africa. This is especially important as the South African market matures in its usage of cloud and more and more business-critical workloads are migrated to the cloud. “Essentially, you are broadening the attack surface and this needs to be proactively monitored and managed in real-time,” he says.But are we ready?

There are already a large number of businesses in South Africa using solutions from multiple cloud providers, says Reddy. And this trend is expected to continue to grow as the market better understands how to leverage the appropriate services from cloud providers, especially as more and more born-in-the-cloud applications appear. That said, in comparison to the rest of the world, he believes that South Africa’s adoption of multiple clouds is lagging. Reddy attributes this lag to latency issues around moving specific workloads to a fit-for-purpose cloud provider, as well as the complexity involved in managing and securing multiple clouds.

Industry experts assert that the move by big industry players to build datacentres locally bodes well for South African businesses looking to keep apace with their international counterparts. In fact, the South African market is in a favourable position because we can leapfrog our international counterparts and learn from the mistakes they’ve made along the way.

We are certainly moving to a `cloud first’ mentality when it comes to replacing hardware and application deployment, notes Kropf. “It used to be the other way around.” How you achieve this is actually of little concern to the business; what is important is that these platforms and applications are resilient and that this infrastructure adds value to and makes the business more efficient.

This approach removes the big and the small, the cheap and expensive and just provides a platform that is secure and relevant for any business, whether you’re an enterprise, SME or even an individual.

Empowering the digital workspace

Matthew Kibby, regional director at VMware for Sub-Saharan Africa, believes that there are three key areas that businesses must consider when looking to empower their digital workspaces:

  1. Simplify applications and access management. This removes any friction of access and allows employees to get work done in real-time, on any device, without compromising security.
  2. Unify endpoint management and leverage a single platform to manage all applications and devices, regardless of the ownership models in place.
  3. Transform Windows delivery, essentially allowing Windows apps and desktops to be delivered anywhere, to any device, while keeping the apps and data secure in the datacentre or cloud.

Ultimately, digital workspaces are about a lot more than just technology and spaces – understanding things like how teams assemble, collaborate and how work gets done in the digital era is fundamental to delivering on a successful and efficient digital workspace strategy, says Dimension Data’s solutions executive Jay Reddy. “Business processes must also change to enable a new way of working. If you get that right, then a multi-cloud platform can be used to deliver application functionality into that digital workspace, from any place on any device.”

Transformation at the application layer

Wingu GM Thomas Lee believes that the biggest transformation has to happen at the application layer. “Cloud does not mean running the same virtualisation technology you currently use, but in someone else’s datacentre. Digital transformation must occur at the application layer.” Applications can be deployed in any cloud regardless of the underlying virtualisation or hypervisor technology, he notes. Once these apps are deployed, you have time to evaluate new applications based on their business suitability and compatibility with modern cloud services.

“In this model, the business value becomes agility and lower costs,” he says, adding that this is why container technology like Docker is so hot right now. “These technologies enable digital transformation by making applications and their deployment highly portable.”

Key tools for hybrid success

According to Forrester research, the demand for, and adoption of, multiple public and private cloud platforms is driven by a need to secure, serve and retain customers. In order to do so, IT infrastructure and operations professionals need tools that make it easier to:

  • Manage expanding portfolios of public and private cloud platforms: Research from Forrester reveals that hybrid cloud isn’t coming, it’s already here. The management of multiple clouds shouldn’t make your IT manager’s job more complex, which is why they need the right tools to streamline the process.
  • Build and run apps on multiple clouds: A Forrester developer survey found that 34% of enterprise developers have built software for elastic cloud platforms in recent years. Developers desperately need tools to enable them to easily consume multiple public cloud platforms.
  • Deliver, govern, and optimise multiple cloud platforms: Most developers want self-service and fast access to cloud infrastructure, but these services must be cost-effective, reliable and must conform to company regulatory policies. Developers need tools that allow them to encourage adoption and manage usage at the same time.

This article was first published in the November 2017 edition of ITWeb Brainstorm magazine. To read more, go to the Brainstorm website.

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