Multi cloud is the New Cloud Reality.

How many cloud providers is the right number for your enterprise?

As companies move more of their business to the cloud, many ask this question and conclude it is more than one. This is not a fixed answer for all, as processing requirements vary hugely across industries and enterprises. Factors like cost, performance, degree of global operations, concentration risk, hybrid, and scale can all influence this decision. The advantages of a second provider may be the reality for your company.

At Accenture, we chose to work with a small number of cloud providers for our own workloads to help prove out multi-cloud operations, to balance risk our across the ecosystem, and to help compare and contrast cloud service providers to inform our work with our clients. 

The decision to select beyond or expand from a single provider brings complexity. 

It’s hard enough to manage multiple accounts and environments in one cloud provider—just look at the lines of billing you get every month. Doing it across two or three cloud providers adds to the challenge.

Consider, for example, a large global company with a significant portion of its business in the cloud with a single provider. In just one part of the enterprise, it could have a dozen or more accounts covering different stages of the development life cycle. And for each of those accounts, the company must ensure its environments aren’t vulnerable to unauthorized access or use, manage compliance, and keep a handle on costs. That can be daunting. Add a second or third provider to the mix, and the challenge increases exponentially.

How does a company capitalize on the benefits of multi-cloud while minimizing the complexity it introduces?

In Accenture’s experience—both with more than 93 percent of our own business in the cloud and with our clients—the key is to ensure that the company’s ability to manage cloud usage, control costs, set policy, and ensure compliance is universal, not provider-specific.

Managing usage and cost is extremely important, especially in a multi-cloud environment. Providers’ flexible-charge models make it difficult to predict what costs a company will incur and open up vast potential to blow past established budgets. Furthermore, with millions of line items on a single invoice, determining who bought what, and why, is far from easy. Security and compliance, of course, are also critical, and become even more important (and much more difficult) when more than one cloud vendor is involved. And having the right policy in place that covers multiple providers is vital to tracking the resources the company has deployed to ensure they’re compliant and configured correctly.

Get the Right Tools

How does a company accomplish its goals across providers, when each provider’s tools only apply to its own environment (and generally aren’t as robust as they need to be)? This is precisely the challenge a cloud management platform is designed to address:

  • A cloud management platform enables organizations to manage their entire cloud estate from a consolidated viewpoint (sometimes this is accomplished with a centralized control plane or a multifaceted approach to managing cloud services). Integrating with technology from the leading cloud providers, it provides total visibility into all cloud resources to enable companies to maintain security, control costs, and ensure governance across multiple accounts and providers.
  • One of the most desired features of a cloud management platform is cross-cloud tagging. Tagging capabilities enable a company to tag assets throughout its entire environment, regardless of which or how many cloud providers it uses. Tagging, when paired with analytics, gives a company visibility into who’s using which cloud assets and shows how those assets are being used and why. Such visibility is critical for effectively managing total cloud spend, as well as deploying standard policies and controls across these assets.
  • Another cloud management platform capability that’s especially important in a multi-cloud environment is its ability to discover resources. Cloud makes it easy for essentially anyone with a credit card to go online and spin up a new resource. That’s a blessing and a potential curse. Without being able to discover resources, it’s easy for the cloud equivalent of “shadow IT” to proliferate. In our case, by provisioning through the Accenture Cloud Platform from the start and tagging, we mitigate the proliferation of shadow IT and are able to understand our assets from a scale perspective at all times. A cloud management platform enables a company to scan its entire cloud estate to find out what’s being added and assume control over it—which helps control costs, as well as ensure compliance and security.

When it comes to tools, IT practitioners have several options. They can address it themselves or can purchase a tool, toolset, or service like the Accenture Cloud Platform. Building one’s own tools will require ongoing maintenance, support, tracking, innovating, and a dedicated team. Buying vendor tools will most likely involve effort to piece them together. A service like Accenture Cloud Platform leapfrogs these options by providing solutions already pieced together for the enterprise. It brings together lessons learned and different approaches into one place. Picking the right approach will impact a company’s ability to succeed in the cloud, and we think the Accenture Cloud Platform will greatly elevate an organization’s capabilities.

Get the Right People

People are also critical to operating a multi-cloud environment effectively. As a company expands to multiple providers, some skills will apply cross-platforms. But as it starts to consume the specific cloud-native capabilities of each provider, there will be a need to invest in discrete skills on each of the platforms and consideration as to where to make skill investments.

Most companies won’t have the luxury of having discrete teams dedicated to each provider. Nor is it feasible: Most systems and workloads won’t operate in isolation but, rather, will at least be partially integrated across providers in some way. Consideration will need to be made as to where to make skill investments to become fluent across providers and where to be provider-specific—whether it’s security experts, cost analysts, business people, or the subject matter expert creating and operating the infrastructure. Ultimately, some skills will be cross-platform and some platform-specific.

The move to multi-cloud will likely involve change management and retooling of skills. A company, for example, may need to translate its current provider’s approach to security to create an equivalent set of compliance and security processes across multiple providers. If this is the case, people will have to learn an entirely new language and set of products and be comfortable doing so. And that will require a concerted training and development effort and, potentially, hiring new people with the requisite skills. At Accenture, we recognized we would need to retool our people’s skills, and supported an organic, hands-on transformation of skills along with training programs. For many companies, moving to cloud will be the impetus to evolving IT skills and moving the organization into the New.

Another option is to fill the talent gap with the help of a cloud managed services provider (MSP), which can bring expertise in all the “Hyper 3” providers—Amazon, Google, and Microsoft. An MSP can integrate and orchestrate the use of various cloud services, as well as help companies manage their consumption of cloud services across multiple clouds—often through the use of their own cloud management platforms. It also can sort through and assess the thousands of new services the Hyper 3 roll out every year to find those that provide the most benefit.

Be Agile and Comfortable with Change

With the innovations from the Hyper 3 continually rolling out, most companies will eventually find it impossible to operate in a single provider environment. With the right tools and people—and the right governance structure—companies can mitigate these challenges and reap the benefits of this approach.

Accenture was fortunate to have had the foresight to establish a governance structure with a dedicated group that addresses changes and injects them into our organization in an agile way without disruption. No doubt change is constant, and companies should remain open to change down the road. Business requirements may exhaust the capabilities of a provider or other providers may roll out new services that are better aligned with the business. A decision made today may not pan out in six months. The key is to be flexible and ready to move when the time is right.

Accenture has broad and deep cloud experience and is a recognized leader in cloud professional services to include; cloud management and cloud managed services. Find out more about our cloud management platform here

Andrew Wilson

You can follow me on Twitter at @andrewxwilson.         

Andrew Wilson is the chief information officer at Accenture.