A lot has happened in the last few years in the technology space. Applications are evolving into living systems integrated with data and infrastructure, with ecosystems moving beyond the boundaries of the enterprise. Initial cloud environments are unable to keep up with the increasing workloads and functionalities. Enterprises are now exploring multi-cloud operating environments for running their systems efficiently and reaching out to a wider customer base. Multi-cloud operating environments offer enterprises a freedom to choose a cloud platform as per their workloads or end-user preferences, while maintaining resilience across platforms. In a recent Gartner survey of public cloud users, 81 percent of respondents said they are working with two or more providers.i
Cloud interoperability refers to the ability of the systems to work efficiently and collaborate effectively across different cloud platforms. It is emerging as an essential element in enterprise cloud strategy as companies seek to mitigate vendor lock-ins, ensure business continuity and navigate through fluctuating workloads. At its core, interoperability requires shared processes, APIs, containers and data models across the multi-cloud environment to enable communication between application components. It also requires dynamic discovery of application components, along with real time data synchronization. These requirements centered around data and application component synchronization across different cloud platforms make interoperability a challenging proposition!
CHALLENGES WITH CLOUD INTEROPERABILITY TODAY
Cloud interoperability offers enterprises the freedom to retain their existing cloud investments while augmenting them with the benefits of new-age cloud solutions. Though it sounds exciting in theory, it is often challenging to implement, owing to the complexities around application integration for different cloud environments. Reliability, performance and security are the primary enterprise concerns for interoperability in multi-cloud environments. And, while reliability and performance are essential for maintaining peak system performance, security plays a crucial role in maintaining resilience across different platforms. Cloud interoperability also requires a single cloud management system, which can track performance on key metrics and manage workloads across cloud platforms. The five key interoperability challenges faced by enterprises today can be summarized as:
FIGURE: CHALLENGES WITH CLOUD INTEROPERABILITY TODAY
WAY FORWARD FOR ENTERPRISES
Efforts are already underway to work around cloud interoperability challenges. While industry bodies are developing common cloud standards, Cloud Service Providers (CSPs) are developing adapters, APIs and containers to facilitate interoperability across platforms. Any enterprise looking to redefine their multi-cloud strategy should consider the following factors for deriving peak performance and efficiency from its CSPs.
Assess the right level of "stickiness" with the existing cloud platform. Enterprises should start by evaluating whether they need interoperability. If the current CSP can support systems through fluctuating workloads with resilience, there may not be a need for interoperability. However, if the enterprises are struggling with their existing CSP, they should start by determining the right level of "stickiness" with their existing service provider and port the rest to a new CSP. It not only provides the ability to strategically negotiate with their existing vendor, but also helps tap into the expertise of a new CSP, thus giving them the best of worlds!
Consider using published adapters to port applications across platforms. Adapters act as a bridge between different cloud platforms by offering the enterprise a necessary toolkit to port and interoperate systems. For example, Accenture provides virtualized SAP HANA adapters for legacy systems, through its partner VMware vSphere. These adapters provide significant cost savings for clients who otherwise would need to secure additional data center resources to support the modern SAP systems.
Evaluate the usage of common APIs and platform-agnostic containers during development phase. Efforts are already underway to develop common APIs, which can work across cloud platforms. One such example is the Microsoft Azure Healthcare API developed using Fast Healthcare Interoperability Resources (FHIR) standard. The API enables data sharing and interoperability between health systems on cloud. Similar efforts are underway to develop platform-agnostic containers such as Cisco Container Platform, Pivotal Container Service, Containership, GoPaddle and Platform9. Efforts are also underway to help enterprises determine the right balance between containers and microservices in their development efforts. Accenture Labs recently patented a "Partitioning Based Migration of Systems to Container and Microservice Based Platforms" (US patent 10198250)ii, a method which offers guidance to cloud architects and developers in identifying the optimum approach to partition an application for packaging into multiple containers. The patented approach reduces the impact on application’s non-functional quality attributes such as performance, reliability and maintainability.
Consider the usage of open cloud standards. Various agencies and organizational groups across the globe are currently developing open cloud standards. This endeavor towards an open cloud standard began with OpenStack, an open source project initiated by NASA and Rackspace. There is another initiative by IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) and the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to develop interoperable cloud standards termed as IEEE P2302TM—Standard for Intercloud Interoperability and Federation. Similar initiatives to develop vendor-agnostic, open source cloud standards are also being initiated by the Cloud Native Computing Foundation and the Cloud Security Alliance. However, these efforts are still in an early development phase and will only gain wide acceptance when they are adopted by mainstream Cloud Service Providers (CSPs).
Multi-cloud strategies to date have been reactive in nature, responding to increased workloads and functionalities. However, as system complexity increases, there is a need for enterprises to redefine their cloud strategy. Next generation multi-cloud strategies need to be smarter and more proactive. Enterprise should not only evaluate economies of scale and cost while redefining their cloud strategy but also anticipate future workloads and vendor lock-ins. This can be achieved by following industry standards wherever possible and working with partners to simplify migration, portability and interoperability. Considering the fast-paced growth of the cloud industry, Accenture anticipates that clouds service providers will soon be more open to collaboration across platforms, with the goal of building trusted relationships with their clients.
i Why Organizations Choose a Multicloud Strategy, Smarter with Gartner, Contributor: Laurence Goasduff, May 7, 2019, accessible at https://www.gartner.com/smarterwithgartner/why-organizations-choose-a-multicloud-strategy/
ii "Partitioning Based Migration of Systems to Container and Microservice Based Platforms", US patent 10198250, accessible at https://patents.google.com/patent/US10198250B1