It’s Time to Prepare for a Multi-Cloud Future

Clouds are on the horizon. No, not just outside your window, but in every corner of your business. Your business likely needs more than one cloud-based service provider. So in a multi-cloud world, where do you turn for your 30,000-foot view?

It’s the next chapter in a story that we’ve seen rapidly unfolding over the past few years, and for good reason. Cloud solutions offer clear advantages when it comes to cost, scalability and reliability. For small- and medium-sized enterprises, it’s meant hassle-free access to the newest and best cloud-based tools or freeing up precious time and IT resources previously spent on maintaining a room full of servers.

And increasingly, businesses aren’t content to settle down with just one cloud-based service provider. In a TechRepublic survey from this past June, two-thirds of respondents said their companies currently use or plan to use services from multiple cloud-based providers, with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure leading the way as the most popular choices. Google Cloud and Oracle Cloud were in the middle of the pack, with IBM Cloud, Alibaba Cloud, Tencent Cloud and Fijitsu Cloud Services capturing smaller portions of the market.

That’s right — the future is multi-cloud. And in many ways, it’s already arrived, ushering in new IT strategies, new ways of doing business and fierce competition among cloud providers.

Growth, and Competition, in the Forecast

These forces are reshaping the playing field: Research firm Gartnerpredicts “exponential” growth in the worldwide public-cloud services market, which they expected would surge by 17.5 percent in 2019 to a size of $214 billion and reach $332 billion in just three years. Growth has largely been driven by cloud infrastructure services, Gartner also reported, and more than a third of companies see cloud investments as a top-three investment priority.

But multi-cloud goes far beyond infrastructure. It also encompasses the many cloud-based tools an organization needs to do business, meaning if your company already uses various cloud-based services for accounting, CRM, marketing automation, analytics, etc., then congratulations! You’re already playing in the multi-cloud sandbox. (Hint: Your next stop should be locking down a solution that unifies all this data from disparate places to give you one authoritative, big-picture overview.)

This landscape is sparking fierce competition, with industry leader AWS facing sharper challenges in the marketplace. Take, for example, Microsoft’s recent launch of Azure Synapse Analytics, a giant leap forward from its Azure SQL Data Warehouse that has already sparked excitement for its ability to unify data warehousing with big-data analytics, and because of its integrated-partner ecosystem (including data warehouses).

And that’s not the only win for Microsoft’s Azure cloud lately. In October, the software giant snagged a massive and highly competitive $10 billion defense contract over AWS. Another recent shocker came from Salesforce, which announced in November that it would be using Microsoft Azure to power its marketing cloud, even as it has existing deals with Google Cloud and AWS, making it a prime example of enterprise multi-cloud strategy.

Five Advantages of a Multi-Cloud Approach

As the Salesforce case in particular demonstrates, the showdown between cloud providers is just getting started, and many enterprises are beginning to consider whenandhow — not whether — they’ll shift to a multi-cloud strategy. Here are just a few reasons to seriously consider it:

  • Using multiple cloud-based tools and providers allows you to utilize the best strengths and capabilities of each one.
  • A variety of partners can combine to cater to your unique needs and scale with your business as it grows.
  • While the cost of using multiple providers is certainly something to consider, it can actually prove to be a cost-effective way to piece together subscriptions in a way that prioritizes what matters to you most.
  • Spreading out among vendors avoids the trap of becoming locked in to any single provider.
  • Finally, though the complexity associated with a multi-cloud approach can be challenging for security, it can also offer greater protection against DDoS attacks.

What’s the Bottom Line for SMEs?

To a small- or medium-sized business with Salesforce ambitions on a shoestring budget, this can all seem (rightly) daunting. Concerns about the complexities involved remains one of the most frequently cited reasons that companies hesitate to jump into a multi-cloud approach. This concern is especially relevant to startups with small engineering teams, who are mostly concerned about building out the core product and not tending to the company’s own internal IT needs.

For companies in this position, a step into the multi-cloud future should begin with a close scrutiny of any cloud vendor, combined with an honest assessment of the company’s needs and capabilities, both now and over time. Are the solutions user-friendly? Will they scale as the company grows? Can the solutions help the company create a single source of truth with minimal maintenance? What’s the cost, in terms of both time and money, of not adopting a multi-cloud approach? These are just a few of the key questions that SME leaders should ask at the outset.

Finding a Silver Lining

So how can a business prepare for this reality amid a fast-changing IT landscape? It helps to look for a silver lining. Yes, a multi-cloud strategy can present complications, but best-in-breed tools for various parts of the business are increasingly cloud-based, and this trend will only accelerate. Enterprises may well find the significant benefits to be worth the headache.

But even as things change, the ultimate goal for organizations of any size remains accessing better insights in the moments when they matter most. As providers duke it out for dominance and market share, smart businesses will invest now in providers that seamlessly integrate with various cloud providers and make it easy to view data across the enterprise, no matter where it lives. It’s the difference between being caught in a fog and finding that all-important single source of truth — that view from above the clouds.

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