Making your multi-cloud platforms work for you

 |   Patrick Quesnel, Azure Business Group Engineering Lead at Microsoft ANZ

These days, there are almost as many varieties of digital cloud as there are clouds in the sky. From on-premises to public to hybrid to multi-cloud – the list is growing. Most New Zealand organisations have at least considered their cloud migration strategy, but the real question is how do you manage it efficiently, compliantly and securely, enabling innovation and ensuring you’re getting a consistent result, no matter which cloud you choose?

Cloud is a strategy, not a place

The key thing to remember is that cloud is a strategy, not a place. It’s not just where you host data but how you manage it and make the most of the ‘right-cloud’ choices available to you that matters.

While public cloud remains best of breed for scalability, security and rapid innovation, the truth is we’re operating in a multi-cloud world. IDC research shows up to 89% of businesses in the Asia Pacific region will adopt a multi-cloud strategy, where some parts of their business will be in the public cloud and some will be in on-premises infrastructure (as with hybrid cloud), but at the same time using a range of service providers for different platforms.

To back that up, another survey conducted by The Harris Poll and sponsored by Microsoft, found 86% of all business decision makers, IT professionals surveyed from medium to large US companies plan to increase investment in hybrid or multi-cloud environments. However, 95% say those technologies have already been critical to their success.

As Erin Chapple, Corporate Vice President, Azure Core PM and Design wrote in her blog, the survey shows most organizations are choosing these technologies with strategic intent because of the significant opportunities they create. Companies are deploying additional clouds for specific purposes, such as a cloud just for AI, with multiple cloud providers. Nearly all survey respondents agreed they need to be able to adopt cloud in some areas of business while retaining other business information on premises, primarily for regulatory reasons.

However, this also opens up its own challenges. Add in IoT and edge computing and all of a sudden organisations can have a whole world of complexity to deal with. While many businesses would like to modernise their environment to public cloud, it’s not always a simple lift and shift. It often requires re-engineering. So, they move systems gradually, as and when it makes sense for their business, running multiple infrastructure estates across on-premises and public cloud.

The result for many organisations is that their multi-cloud environment has low interoperability. The IDC research shows more than a third (36%) of businesses are experiencing issues with different systems that don’t “talk” to each other or they’re not maximising the innovative potential from their multiple cloud environments. Naturally, this isn’t ideal.

Microsoft’s answer to this was investing in a way to make all cloud solutions work together.

We are committed to customers’ need for flexibility, which is why we built Azure to be hybrid by design and we continue to invest in enabling the use of cloud-native technologies anywhere. As part of our ongoing investment, in 2019 we delivered Azure Arc – the foundation of our current approach to hybrid and multi-cloud. Azure Arc provides a centralised way for customers to manage, govern and secure their entire digital landscape across datacenters, edge and multiple clouds.

Azure Arc is a game-changer, providing a single “dashboard” view across multi-cloud platforms, enabling them to streamline their security posture using Sentinel or Defender for Cloud across their entire infrastructure. Resources don’t move from where they are, but businesses can see them all through a unified dashboard, allowing them to be managed, governed and secured at scale. The thinking is that if you can’t bring your infrastructure into Azure, Microsoft can bring Azure to your entire Infrastructure estate, including edge computing.

Securing your multi-cloud estate

But no matter what tool you’re using, or which environment you’re operating in, getting the security settings right is a must. Traditionally, good security has been seen as an add-on cost to the business – but smart organisations are now realising its strategic importance, with top security not only positioning them ahead of the competition, but enabling them to engage in innovation and manage multiple environments with confidence.

The security operations center (SOC) must keep pace with safeguarding identities, devices, data, apps, infrastructure, and more. Further, your team must take stock of evolving cyber risks in this multi-cloud, multi-platform world, and identify where blind spots may exist across a broad new set of users, devices and destinations. When you combine these business needs and rising concerns, it’s clear that security is the defining opportunity and challenge of our time. For organisations to fully embrace their multi-cloud strategies, it’s critical that their security solutions reduce complexity and deliver comprehensive protection.

Identities are the foundational piece that makes it possible to deliver apps, data, and services where they’re needed. In a multi-cloud world, the number of platforms, devices, users, services, and locations multiplies exponentially, so securing those dynamically changing identities and permissions, wherever they are, is a core pillar of multi-cloud protection. Microsoft’s recent work with the Department of Internal Affairs to modernise and secure the RealMe platform is an example of how this can be done.

In today’s threat landscape, attacks are coming from anywhere and everywhere, both inside and outside organisations. That’s why it’s critical to deliver comprehensive solutions that organise security, compliance, identity, endpoint management, and privacy as an interdependent whole while extending protection across platforms and clouds.

A fragmented operating model means it’s hard to ensure all parts of your cloud infrastructure are consistently protected, which given the global rise in cyberattacks, is more important than ever. So, how can organisations solve for this?

Azure Arc plus the Azure Security offering, Microsoft Defender for Cloud & Sentinel, are a match made in heaven for organisations running a hybrid/multi-cloud strategy. This combination has the potential to reduce the time and effort it takes for IT teams to investigate breaches across their infrastructure. By arming them with the tools to identify and respond to suspicious activities across the whole IT estate, regardless of whether it’s on on-premises servers or in different clouds, Forrester estimates labour will be reduced by .

A great example of this in action is Prosegur, and how it improved its security posture across public cloud providers. Prosegur selected Azure Arc to manage its servers because it had the capability to deal with both on-premises and other public clouds; a solution they hadn’t found elsewhere. Now it has the flexibility to manage on-premises infrastructure similarly to the cloud in terms of updating security, performance, and log analytics in its web-based console.

Meanwhile, choosing cloud-native tools from the start to build apps can help streamline deployments, no matter which cloud they’re using. Microsoft worked with the Nokia team to develop an approach that gives Nokia a standard way to deploy, operate and monitor its cloud-native applications in whichever environment customers choose, including Azure, AWS, Google Cloud Platform, private clouds or on-premises environments.

Enhancing data as a strategic asset

Like security, data is a strategic asset. Organisations that maximise data insights are the most agile and can pivot to enable them to know their customers better, to deliver more personalised services, create better efficiencies within their business and drive innovation.

And so, how can you maximise the transformational opportunity with a hybrid / multi-cloud strategy? Often, your data and apps are connected, and sometimes you may not be able to move those workloads to the public cloud.

For the Royal Bank of Canada, Azure Arc-enabled data services are powering a faster app pipeline and helping them to deliver on a long-desired IT promise—on-premises database as a service (DBaaS). And for John Deere, Azure Arc-enabled SQL Managed Instance bridges the gap between cloud and on-premises operations. Designed to run in containers on Kubernetes, Azure Arc-enabled SQL Managed Instance is a service that can be created on John Deere’s existing infrastructure.

This flexible approach is resonating. In fact, 78% of the Fortune 500 companies now use Microsoft hybrid cloud offerings. As this shows, multi-cloud doesn’t have to be a headache. Technologies like Arc are now making it possible to modernise any business while still retaining legacy systems and ongoing relationships with different providers. It really is the best of all worlds, enabling any organisation to connect, protect and transform their data into insights, no matter what cloud model they’re using.

The key to success these days doesn’t mean putting all your cloud eggs in one basket. It means having a strategy that enables innovation anywhere, baking in cloud to app development from the beginning where possible and leveraging smart tools to manage security and data and turn multiple environments into a seamless, unified whole. The better experience your business has when managing multiple clouds, the better that will translate into fantastic experiences for your customers.