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November 12, 2018
By Michael Bushong
In typical enterprise IT fashion, before the industry has even gotten its proverbial arms wrapped around cloud computing, the goal posts are moving.
It turns out cloud likely isn’t the end game after all. Analysts across the industry are already predicting multicloud will usurp the top spot—until the next thing comes along, of course.
However, multicloud isn’t expected to be such a short-lived trend–and partners can play a critical role in this era.
To understand why multicloud isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, it’s first important to understand why it rose to dominance:
Different clouds, different features: Anyone watching the cloud wars knows each cloud provider is betting on its own recipe for success. Amazon’s litany of operational features, aggressive pricing and move to serverless computing make it an appealing choice. Azure believes its software will attract workloads; Google is focusing on data and machine learning. Different applications will find an affinity with different clouds–none are truly one-size-fits-all.
There are no benevolent dictators: As much as people would like these discussions to be purely technical, there are pragmatic financial considerations as well. While cloud providers make it incredibly inexpensive to store data in a public cloud, the savings don’t add up. This is because that data attracts the applications that use it, creating a center of gravity. Those applications bring other data, which, in turn, attract more applications and eventually creates lock-in. And then the enterprise has zero economic leverage to negotiate lower costs. It’s therefore in enterprises’ financial best interests to have multiple cloud vendors to maintain buying power.
Proximity matters: In a completely connected and digitized era, location still matters. Look no further than the service provider market. How many large enterprises have a single carrier for a distributed enterprise? The answer: very few. Local needs are often best served by local options. While the behemoths might offer a great all-in-one package, the needs of the few dictate that there are different providers.
This is true in cloud as well. Not every application will run in some centralized set of resources. Where performance matters, such as in IoT, it is not always feasible to move the data to the application. In fact, it might behoove enterprises to move the application to the data. And that will favor local cloud instances. This may be served by different cloud service providers in much the same way telcos evolved. Or it might favor on-premises cloud options (certainly that’s fueling the bets behind AWS Greengrass and Azure Stack).
All of this means multicloud has the opportunity to let enterprise infrastructure age gracefully.
Most enterprises attempt to avoid complexity by making it a goal to maximize operational diversity. However, somewhat organic and oftentimes unplanned moves occur, and they’re what ultimately drive enterprise IT. For example, an acquisition could bring a new set of infrastructure, applications, tools, processes, and people into the fold. Or, perhaps consolidation in the vendor landscape forces a change in architectural blueprints. The point is, IT is almost never static over any meaningful time horizon. By embracing flexible practices, though, enterprises can overcome the twists and turns.
That’s where multicloud comes in. In many ways, multicloud represents an appropriate level of abstraction, allowing enterprises to build on top of the cloud without having to predetermine what that cloud looks like. Whether an application is hosted in AWS or Azure or in some legacy data center, the operator can specify the important bits and rely on tools to translate those into the underlying commands required to make it all work.
And this is where channel partners can become invaluable. Investing in multicloud and positioning themselves as more than just resellers is key. By having the expertise and tools in place to educate enterprises through change – and support operations in an agile multicloud landscape – channel partners become key players in enterprise IT strategy.
And this gets to probably the most important consideration for this technology — multicloud is more about operations than product.
Cloud and multicloud are not transformative because they change the economics of IT. Enterprises are not renting servers—they are taking advantage of the operational investments that cloud providers have made in a bid to become more agile. The transformative bit is that enterprises are trading some amount of control for more agility.
When compute, storage, and connectivity are largely commodity services in support of an application, the need for fine-grained control disappears. For example, in the networking space, this explains the move toward merchant silicon and open protocols, a trend that has changed the economics and operations of networking to the benefit of users.
It seems obvious that this will repeat in the cloud space. It therefore makes sense to begin with abstraction as a first principle and interoperability as a foundational requirement, as well as to plan explicitly so operations doesn’t become an impediment to growth.
Enterprises will find that how they get to the cloud will determine when they get to multicloud and beyond. For enterprises, planning now for what will certainly be a transition state seems short-sighted at best. Because multicloud is more operations than product, the next evolutionary step will likely be even more challenging–and partners who anticipate this journey have a golden opportunity ahead.
Michael Bushong is vice president of enterprise and cloud marketing at Juniper Networks. He spent 12 years at Juniper in a previous tour of duty, running product management, strategy and marketing for Junos Software. Most recently, he was responsible for Brocade’s data center business as vice president of data center routing and switching, and then Brocade’s software business as vice president of product management, software networking. Follow the company on Twitter @JuniperNetworks or follow Bushong on LinkedIn.
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