How can enterprises handle the complexity of multiple clouds? 30 IT leaders articulated the challenges and delivered insightful recommendations.

Article by Eric Knorr, CIO

In June 2020, CIO held its first CIO Think Tank, a series of virtual roundtables that brought together 30 IT leaders to unpack one of the most important issues in enterprise technology today: managing multiple clouds. The roundtables also featured IDC Research Director Deepak Mohan, IDG B2B Editor-in-Chief Eric Knorr, and cloud executives Deepak Patil and Bradd Lewis from Dell Technologies.

The objective of these discussions was to identify the key challenges associated with multi-cloud management and to offer a roadmap for IT leadership — as well as the technology industry — to overcome those obstacles. All participants drew on their own experience and knowledge to describe strategic and tactical approaches to selecting, provisioning, and maintaining multiple clouds for maximum business and IT benefit.

Multi-cloud is so new and evolving so quickly that the panel participants were not in universal agreement about its definition. Yet a consensus emerged: Multi-cloud has evolved to embrace not just multiple public IaaS (infrastructure as a service) and PaaS (platform as a service) clouds, but also private, on-premises clouds. The only substantive disagreement was whether SaaS (software a service) should also be included; most thought it should be.

All 30 participating IT leaders were in the financial industry, where security, availability, and regulatory compliance are paramount. With the intent of providing guidance amid constant cloud flux, this report captures and consolidates the thinking of forward-looking IT leaders in a complex multi-cloud world.

Multi-cloud challenge No. 1: Governance

Every experienced IT leader knows what it’s like to manage disparate systems and platforms. But dealing with multiple clouds — particularly those that include a broad range of PaaS functionality — raises the ante, because they are essentially vast ecosystems of services. Developers and/or lines of business within organizations have been known to go off on their own to build cloud applications or consume public cloud services without IT’s knowledge, let alone blessing. “I hate to use the word governance, because I know that has a negative connotation,” said Ryan Brown, chief enterprise architect for cloud at Visa. “I’m not saying to put handcuffs on my developers if they say something new is great in Cloud XYZ, but we need to have some guardrails.” “Look, ‘governance’ is the right word, but we’ve also got to play that up against agility,” added Aon’s Putcha. “I did try, to be honest, to be very heavy handed and governance oriented, and we just didn’t move fast, because then we have 20 people with an opinion and a decision by committee, and absolutely nothing took place.” That clampdown was in response to “people going off on their own,” which led to wasted money and effort along with the risk of exposing data in unmanaged cloud ecosystems. Today, Putcha has taken a middle path: policy-driven, self-service automation. “You get to do whatever you want within this space, but we limit the blast radius,” he said. “There’s good governance and bad governance,” said Richard Wiedenbeck, CIO at the insurance company Ameritas, who, like Brown, prefers to avoid the G-word due to its “negative connotations.” Instead, he said, “We have a sign we put up that says, ‘We want to make well-informed, thoughtful and purposeful decisions about technology balancing cost, risk and value.’ That’s a mantra for everybody. It can’t be, ‘I just want my thing.’”

Multi-cloud challenge No. 2: Interoperability

Every cloud has its own way of doing things, resulting in a lack of interoperability that was problematic for most of the roundtable participants. Eddie Contreras, chief information security officer and executive vice president at Frost Bank, lamented that “you get these really good vendors, and they have some really good development platforms, but they don’t work well with others.” Sankara Ramakrishnan, principal architect at MetLife, agreed: “If you want to move from one vendor’s platform with a capability to another vendor’s platform … you virtually have to rewrite those applications.” Likewise, FINRA Chief Information Officer Steve Randich has a substantial investment in an AWS analytics implementation that, for practical purposes, can’t move anywhere else. “It would be very difficult for us to take all of our big data processing and 200 petabytes of data and move it over to Azure without major re-architectures and major re-automation and rebuilding our security infrastructure, among many other things,” he said. “There is a lack of standardization today,” asserted Fiserv’s Singh. “I think we all feel and see that. A workload running in an X manner on one cloud platform will run in a different manner on another. If you had standards, that would obviously be a propellant for anybody to get ready to embark on this journey of multi-cloud.”

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About the author(s)

Eric Knorr is the Editor in Chief of IDG Enterprise.