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Enterprise cloud strategy: Applications and data in a multi-cloud environment

Cloud strategy applications dataSay you’ve decided to hedge your IT bets with a multi-cloud environment. That’s excellent, except, what’s your applications and data strategy?

That’s not an idle question. The hard reality is that if you don’t coordinate your cloud environments, innovative applications will struggle to integrate with traditional systems. Cost management, security and compliance — like organizational swords of Damocles — will hover over your entire operation.

In working with clients who effectively manage multiple clouds, I see five key elements of applications and data strategy:

Data residency and locality

Data residency (sometimes called data sovereignty) defines where a company’s data physically resides, with rules for how it’s handled and transferred, including backup and disaster recovery scenarios. It’s often governed by countries or regions such as the European Union.

Data locality, on the other hand, determines how and where data should be stored for processing.

Taken together, data residency and locality affect your applications and your efforts to globally digitize more than anything else. Different cloud providers allow various levels of control over data placement. They also provide the tools to verify and ensure compliance with residency laws. In this regard, it’s crucial to have a common set of tools and processes.

Data backup and restoration across clouds are necessities. Your cloud services provider (CSP) must be able to handle this, telling you exactly where it places the data in its cloud. Likewise, you should know where the CSP stores copies of the data so you can replicate them to another location in case of a disaster or audit.

Security and compliance

You need a common set of security policies and implementations across your multi-cloud environment. This includes rules for identity management, authentication, vulnerability assessment, intrusion detection and other security areas.

In an environment with high compliance requirements, customer-managed encryption keys are also essential. You should pay attention to how and where they’re stored, as well as who has access to decrypted data, particularly CSP personnel.

Additionally, your CSP’s platform capabilities must securely manage infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), platform-as-a-service (PaaS), software-as-a-service (SaaS), business-process-as-a-service (BPaaS) and database-as-a-service (DBaaS) deployment models.

Also, the CSP’s cloud will invariably house multiple tenants. Data should be segregated from them with top-level access policies, segmentation and isolation.

Integration: APIs and API management

APIs are the connective tissue of your applications. They need effective lifecycle management across traditional, private cloud and public cloud applications.

Your CSP should provide an API lifecycle solution that includes “create, run, secure, manage” actions in a single offering. That solution should also have flexible deployment options — multi-cloud and on premises — managed from a single control pane. That gives you the ability to manage APIs, products, policies and users through one view across your cloud environments.

In assessing a CSP, it’s also worth knowing whether it can integrate PaaS services through a common gateway. Its API platform should be a distributed model to implement security and traffic policies, as well as proactively monitor APIs.

Portability and migration

When taking applications to a multi-cloud environment, you must choose among three migration models. You can “lift and shift” with a direct port of the application to the cloud, perform a full refactor that completely customizes the application, or choose a partial refactor in which only parts of the application are customized.

A lot rides on your CSP’s ability to support these models. Since legacy applications depend on infrastructure resiliency to satisfy uptime, you may not be able to fit them to the CSP’s deployment standards. In fact, such modifications may delay cloud benefits. To address this problem, consider containers for new applications deployed across your different clouds.

Some enterprises tackle migration by installing a physical appliance on the CSP’s premises or in co- located facilities, then integrating it with their applications. If you go this route, understand what the options are, particularly the technical limits with respect to data volumes, scale and latency.

New applications and tooling

To ensure efficiency, operations such as building, testing, and deploying applications should be linked together to create a continuous integration/continuous deployment (CI/CD) pipeline. These tool chains often require customizations when part of a multi-cloud environment. One common error: new applications are designed for scalability in public cloud IaaS or PaaS scenarios, but their performance service-level agreements (SLAs) are not addressed early enough in the cycle. Understanding your CSP’s SLAs, along with designing and testing for performance, are crucial for successful global deployment.

For more information, read IBM Optimizes Multicloud Strategies for Enterprise Digital Transformation.

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Prabodh Telang

Excellent article. Covers security and strategy for a multi-cloud environment so well. Thanks…

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