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Why multi-cloud is not always the best way to scale your business

Written by Wed 24 Jun 2020

Cloud experts from a variety of sectors took to the virtual stage to weigh-in on best cloud practices

Businesses should not overcomplicate cloud strategies and choose multi-cloud when simpler approaches could be more effective, said panellists on this week’s Cloud Expo Europe webinar, hosted by Techerati Academy (full recording available here).

Cloud experts from OVHcloud, YOOX Net-a-Porter, Smythson of Bond Street and the UK Government’s Digital Service were asked to advise optimum cloud tactics in light of rapid cloud adoption following Covid-19.

In a poll conducted during the webinar, 43 percent of attendees said coronavirus had forced them to accelerate existing cloud plans while one in ten said they had rolled out new plans in response to the pandemic.

Simplest approach

When asked by moderator Vincent Brain, Managing Director at CloserStill Media, whether organisations should look to multiple cloud providers to simplify swelling cloud footprints, Tom March, Lead Technical Advisor at the Government Digital Service, said companies needed to acknowledge the limitations of multi-cloud.

“We try to say use the simplest strategy you can,” said March. “It’s difficult enough to operate and manage one cloud, why double your workload. Do one thing and do it well.” 

Michele Alessandrini, Global Head of Site Reliability Engineers at online luxury fashion retailer YOOX Net-a-Porter, said for the majority of greenfield and enterprise setups a single cloud strategy would suffice.

“Pushing for more than one cloud provider must be a very careful decision from a business perspective,” he added.

March said going down the multi-cloud route could be powerful but warned businesses should be realistic of what can actually be achieved:

“The theory that with a flick of a switch you can move from AWS to Azure is unrealistic. We’ve seen better results by reaping the benefits of specific cloud providers rather than spreading the business across multiple clouds.”

Alessandrini, who said Net-a-Porter only relies on more than one [cloud provider] ‘depending on need’, added that given current labour market friction, multi-cloud might limit business scalability.

“On paper [multi-cloud] is fantastic as you have APIs and web portals, but the reality is when you start you face a skills shortage and therefore lack the ability to scale very effectively,” he said. “In these times, with many companies struggling with hiring, you have to pick your battles carefully — and scaling more than one [cloud] is a battle.”

A later poll revealed 20 percent of attendees considered their cloud setup public or cloud-native. 54 percent described their environment as hybrid cloud, while 21 percent said they had a multi-cloud architecture and 5 percent said they had no cloud.

Vendor lock-in

Panellists cautioned that before opting for a single-cloud strategy businesses must ensure they have a solid exit strategy to avoid provider lock-in.

“A key part of due diligence is looking at how long you are locked into a contract,” said Eoin O’Connell, Head of Information Technology at Smythson of Bond Street. “The longer you lock yourself in the better it looks on your financial statement, but three years is not a long time in IT.”

“It’s like a marriage – if you’re stuck trying to get a divorce it can be more costly than getting into it into the first place,” he added.

However, March warned it was impossible to completely avoid lock-in and said ‘chasing’ it could lower business capability.

“It’s about balance. It’s true that if the vendor changes strategies you have to change with them. But it also offers a lot of benefits. For instance, take serverless (when you’re effectively only working with business code) — it’s debatable if it’s harder to leave if all you have to do is migrate business code into a new environment.”

Daniel Pascua, Global Product Manager at OVHcloud, Europe’s largest hosting provider, said OVH ensures it gives customers the flexibility to have as many or few cloud providers as possible. “It’s open for them and we don’t force them,” he said.

Managing cloud sprawl

All panellists warned businesses must be careful to avoid cloud sprawl (the uncontrolled proliferation of cloud instances, services or providers) when rapidly escalating cloud initiatives.

When asked by Brain how to avoid cloud sprawl, Alessandrini said it was more effective to educate technical teams about the cost element of cloud and give them freedom to operate than enforce strict policies.

“The way we manage it is by scaling knowledge and centres of excellence to different actors within the organisation, so every team understands what they are doing. That way the financial aspect enters the daily life of your people. If you keep the knowledge flowing and give them the tools to understand the cloud, then it’s done. It’s a matter of trust.”

March added restricting cloud engineers increased the risk of “shadow IT”, where developers spin up instances anyway. “It’s most important to give developers cost awareness,” he said.

O’Connell said for most SMEs auditing is a “conversation they should be having on a quarterly basis”. In the final poll, 38 percent of attendees admitted they had no auditing process in place to manage cloud sprawl, while 45 percent said they audited at least monthly or quarterly.

A big thank you to all our panellists for contributing to another excellent discussion, don’t forget to sign up to our next live event where security experts will investigate whether Zero Trust is the best way to secure digital businesses from cybercriminals.

Written by Wed 24 Jun 2020

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