Understanding Multi-Cloud for the non-IT Executive

Increased productivity powers economic growth. A recent replay of Planet Money discussed the power of well - power. The ability to do more with less increases efficiency of a system. Increased efficiency leads to gains in productivity. Thus increased economic activity. It’s a simple concept of economics.

Public cloud is another example. Small and large businesses alike take advantage of what appears infinite scale of services from AWS, Google Compute, and Microsoft Azure. The services are cheap and highly effective when used in chunks. However, organizations have discovered moving entirely to these services exclusively proves cost prohibitive.

Similar to renting vs. owning a car. When used in bursts, car rental is more economical than ownership. The inverse is true as well. Everyday usage becomes cost prohibitive. Most car owners deploy a hybrid. A commuter vehicle for daily use (private cloud) and rental for specialty use (public cloud). In the world of technology, this is called multi-cloud.

Multi-cloud is the art of leveraging services from multiple cloud provider and your on-premises IT assets. On the surface, every organization has various clouds. For example, a company could use Salesforce.com for CRM and Workday for human resources. While multiple clouds, the setup isn’t what the industry refers to as multi-cloud. To understand multi-cloud, you must comprehend the challenge of integrating public cloud with existing technology operations.

Scale breaks things

Some of the most successful public cloud projects start outside of traditional IT groups. It’s typical for AWS’ sales teams to target groups such as R&D or Marketing. These groups consume cloud services that power data-driven business initiatives such as micro-targeted marketing campaigns.

Non-IT groups discover managing technology at scale difficult - even when outsourcing the technical details. Look no further than data loss in the news. Merely miss-configuring an obscure setting on an AWS service may result in an embarrassing headline or a competitor accessing your entire customer database.

Or public cloud sprawl occurs. What started as a project using Google’s Machine Learning to increase sales turns into a 6-figure a month services bill. As a result of the expected complexity, business leaders look to return management of all technology back over to professional IT managers.

Square peg - round hole

Traditional enterprise IT shops charter typically include – Controlling Cost, Securing Data, and Reducing Risk. To achieve these goals, CIO’s implement standards that conform and scale across an entire global organization; introducing the public cloud into this existing structure disrupts. Remember AWS directly solves challenges of verticals such as marketing not IT charters. For example, navigating IT procurement designed to optimize cost isn’t part of the base design of the AWS’ offering.

The industry is waking up to the challenge. Every major IT vendor offers a solution to manage the multi-cloud problem. Like most transformation, the solution includes a combination of people, process, and technology. As executives integrate public cloud into existing IT operations, the teams must consider the original goal of engaging public cloud. For most customers, the public cloud is about agility. How do business leaders leverage technology for a competitive advantage?

If a vendor (or employee) is promising to sell you a tool that solves your multi-cloud challenge, ask the tough question of how will it enable the business to enjoy the benefits of the public cloud without compromising charter of existing enterprise IT.

I think you’ll find, it isn’t as simple of throwing public cloud projects over to IT. It may require a complete revisit of the charter and culture of the CIO’s organization.