As cloud continues past the chasm and toward the peak majority on the technology adoption curve, it’s become clear that organizations aren’t choosing either public or private cloud—they’re choosing both. In a recent IDC study, 73 percent of respondents said they're adopting a hybrid cloud strategy, with most defining a characteristic of hybrid cloud as subscribing to multiple external cloud services. That wording matters because “multiple external cloud services” implies an internal one as well, which means that most technology leaders are looking at deploying workload on at least three cloud platforms.

Before the management of a successful multi-cloud strategy can be understood, we must explore the underlying reasons for taking that approach. We should also look at how the players have changed from the traditional IT buying cycle.

Why More Than One Cloud?

The simple answer is that applications are not as homogenous as they used to be, so no one size fits all with respect to hosting them. Some have highly sensitive data that leaders are only comfortable keeping behind the protection of a physical network firewall. Others have less sensitive data, or leaders have more trust in public cloud offerings so that other factors, like matching capacity with highly variable workloads, win out.

Another class of applications have differing high availability needs and require data replication in multiple places. Network latency with respect to where customers are located drive some decisions, while others have compliance issues that require data to reside within certain geopolitical borders. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but the point is that there are lots of reasons that drive the decision to use multiple clouds.

Just as important, though, is who is doing the developing.

Who Is Developing Applications?

In 2017, every company is a software company. As an example, Kohl’s employs software engineers, and not just in its IT department where software development was land-locked in the 1990s. Line of business teams use software to create innovative solutions to engage customers. Why? Because software is “soft,” and it’s easier to roll out changes quickly than it is to make some physical change to a store, a brokerage or any other interactive experience.

In that IDC study previously referenced, 21 percent of respondents were VPs or directors in line of business teams, and their voices are certainly heard when asked about benefits of cloud maturity:

The traditional IT buyer is phenomenal at many things, but creating additional revenue is not one of them. Gartner has a webinar entitled “By 2017 the CMO will Spend More on IT than the CIO,” and this chart shows why because organizations outside of IT that are responsible for bringing in revenues can reap huge rewards by doing so.

How Cloud Management Platforms Can Help

Different kinds of applications and developer audiences pose a different kind of challenge than we’ve faced as an industry before. The key to being successful with a multi-cloud strategy, then, is to raise the control point above the individual cloud consoles with a Cloud Management Platform (CMP).

CMPs give IT systems administrators the control they need to keep use of resources efficient, even if they reside outside their data center. But at the same time, CMPs provide an interface that enables a line of business team to provision resources on demand using a self-service portal that doesn’t result in the IT department slowing the process down with a week’s long ticketing process. Instead of being the bad guy and encouraging the line of business teams to engage in Shadow IT, the traditional system administrator can become the hero that makes resources available to constituents in a few clicks.

ICMPs automate provisioning by interacting with cloud APIs, abstracting the details of each from whoever has been given permission to do those self-service, on-demand application deployments. So, IT gets control through governance so they can dictate who is allowed to deploy what applications on which cloud, and have the ability to meter and bill them once there. Line of business teams retain their need for speed and can continue to innovate at an accelerated pace.

Using this single pane of glass to manage multiple clouds, everybody wins.


A 20+ year tech industry veteran, Pete Johnson is the Technical Solutions Architect for Cloud in the Global Partner Organization at Cisco Systems Inc. He can be found on Twitter at @nerdguru.