Companies of all sizes embraced cloud computing, with organizations deploying workloads and applications across a mixture of private infrastructure and public clouds. The terms multi-cloud and hybrid cloud are part of today’s technology lexicon. Multi-cloud refers to using multiple cloud computing services from different vendors in a hybrid infrastructure. Instead of relying on a single vendor for all its cloud computing needs, a business may use multiple clouds to access best-of-breed cloud services, diversify infrastructure risk and minimize vendor lock-in.
While multi-cloud computing provides impressive benefits, it’s not without challenges. Cloud vendors use different technologies, making it more difficult for IT leaders to standardize on a single set of tools and processes. An increasingly diverse set of infrastructure solutions makes it challenging to manage the performance, security and governance of data and applications that operate across multiple clouds. Constrained IT teams lack the headcount to have a dedicated staff to manage the various clouds.
The 2022 Lopez Research enterprise benchmark survey revealed demand for such solutions, with 72 percent of respondents agreeing that their company needs tools to reduce multi-cloud complexity. When speaking with Lopez Research, potential buyers expressed a desire for a multi-cloud management solution. Ideally, organizations would like to provide an environment where developers can provision services from any cloud provider without understanding each cloud provider’s specific setup and configuration details. However, many IT leaders claimed multi-cloud services were too good to be true.
Simplifying the multi-cloud management challenge
Companies need to simplify cloud management, but the question is how to accomplish such a Herculean task. Recognizing an opportunity, VMware introduced a set of multi-cloud solutions to abstract complexity, similar to how it created virtualization to abstract the underlying hardware layer in the data center.
VMware’s Cross-Cloud services portfolio aims to create a unified way to build, operate, access, and secure any application on any cloud from any device. The portfolio includes services for application development, cloud management, cloud infrastructure, security and networking, and secure user access. At VMware Explore 2022, VMware also introduced a new multi-cloud management portfolio—VMware Aria—which will provide end-to-end solutions for managing cloud-native applications and infrastructure. The portfolio promises to help customers manage their costs, performance, configuration, and delivery across public and private clouds.
For a separate project, I interviewed Vittorio Viarengo, the Vice President of Cross-Cloud Services at VMware, to learn more about the company’s perspective on multi-cloud management. During my discussion with Viarengo, I shared the skepticism I heard from IT leaders. He countered, “We are used to that objection because we heard it with virtualization. There is always a tradeoff between performance versus simplicity when you create abstractions. It comes down to the ability to manage multiple items versus going deep into a specific area.”
The many faces of multi-cloud management
My conversations with large cloud computing providers yield a slightly different perspective. Hyperscalers argue they provide all the management and security tools for their clouds and offer solutions that support multi-cloud environments. Meanwhile, Viarengo says the choice isn’t binary. In some areas, you’ll need to use the specific tools of one cloud; in other cases, you can simplify management by using cross-cloud services. It’s about leveraging the best of both worlds.
He said, “For example, when using VMware Cross-Cloud services, like Aria for management or Tanzu for application development, we never hide the underlying infrastructure. If you’re deploying something on Google or Azure, the company has access to all the underlying APIs. We provide a customer running applications in multiple places, such as on Microsoft’s Azure, on-prem and on AWS, with a single console to manage applications across all clouds. Developers can check the health and performance of applications across locations. Now, if a developer wants to stop a machine learning workload in a specific cloud (e.g., Google Cloud), the developer will have to log in to that cloud to terminate the workload.”
In my mind, Viarengo’s comments surface an important market distinction and opportunity. Often, developers embrace a particular cloud for its specific features, and the buyer would want to preserve those benefits. However, technology leaders also need visibility for application performance and security across clouds. An abstraction layer provides balance for both developers and cloud admins. Viarengo explained that cross-cloud services like Aria address application performance issues and security data risks by providing a company with visibility across all its cloud assets. He said, “Without the visibility and models of Aria Hub and Aria Graph, you cannot answer questions, like how much these applications cost, how are they performing, and what is the infrastructure they’re running on? Have you properly configured the security? Without that model, Operations must collect that information from multiple consoles.”
Monocloud and repatriation are terms we also hear IT leaders discuss. However, IT leaders will not return to the days when most of their applications resided in private data centers or used a single public cloud. Lopez Research expects companies to rightsize cloud computing investments but continue to place workloads in the best location to achieve the task at hand. Sometimes this is a specific public cloud or on-premises. Viarengo said, “If we agree that 75% of organizations are using two or more or more clouds, that is where the value of a cross-cloud service comes in.”
Where do you begin?
While every company is at a different place in its cloud journey, I asked Viarengo to categorize the first several use cases a company should adopt. He shared the following advice. First, a company should anchor its technology deployments to its business goals, such as saving money, increasing agility, or growing revenue.
Viarengo said there are several use cases that many types of companies could employ. One potential use case is the ability to switch deployment environments quickly to meet cost, functionality, or resiliency requirements. Cross-cloud application management, using tools such as ARIA, is another important consideration, as is security. For example, using a service mesh like Tanzu can allow for creating Service Level Agreements (SLAs) and automatically scaling microservices across multiple clouds. Meanwhile, topology visibility and micro-segmentation improve security by ensuring that the same security policies are applied consistently to every cloud in your cloud estate. These are just a few examples of the many possibilities that a multi-cloud management strategy can offer.
Technology never stands still.
The cloud continues to evolve, and so does VMware. Organizations have been working with VMware since the late 1990s; much has changed. At the close of our discussion, I asked Viarengo to share what’s different about VMware that may not be evident today.
He said, “I’d love our customers and prospects to realize this is a new VMware. We’ve been so successful in the private cloud, but over the last five years, we have pivoted the company to address this multi-cloud world. We are using the lingua franca of the native cloud, solving multiple problems with APIs, microservices, and Kubernetes. There are use cases where it makes sense for enterprise workloads to use vSphere and VMware Cloud, but VMware is increasingly investing in solving the problems of native multi-cloud.” The key phrase in this discussion is native cloud. Any vendor that wants to be successful must have a set of solutions designed from the ground up as cloud-native services.
“VMware believes in enterprise pragmatism. We realize that every customer is on a different journey. Some companies have on-premises infrastructure and applications they want to modernize and optimize with vSphere. If they move to the cloud, we can help them move hundreds of workloads in months, not years, with VMware Cloud. If they are cloud-native and building applications across multiple clouds, they have Cross-Cloud services to help them with multi-cloud. We allow companies to adopt the cloud at their own pace. This is what differentiates VMware from the competition and excites me.”
The multi-cloud management problem is real. From where I sit, it’s clear that VMware’s picked up on a market need, but that doesn’t mean it’s without its challenges. Cloud services don’t stand still, so VMware must rapidly innovate to prove it is the cross-cloud provider of choice. Additionally, I expect more software technology vendors to mimic VMware’s approach. Viarengo acknowledges this. Even cloud providers like Google Cloud, with its Anthos product, want to offer a version of Cross-Cloud services. Still, it’s good to see established providers like VMware weigh in to provide support for such a critical use case. CIOs need to focus on creating a multi-cloud strategy rather than firefighting the randomness of supporting multiple cloud services.