In 2016, Maria Roat took over the CIO post at the US Small Business Administration (SBA) and quickly issued an aggressive mandate. "Nothing new goes into our data center," she said.
Roat kickstarted plans to close SBA's deficient primary data center and move everything to the cloud. She adopted a multi-cloud strategy that called for leveraging both a private cloud, GovCloud, and many public clouds.
Now her big bet is about to pay off. Within the next few months, SBA's primary data center will shut down except for a small footprint. But Roat has already reaped other cloud benefits, such as improved efficiencies, lower costs, a better user experience and safeguards against failures.
Roat is far from alone in the great migration to the cloud — but how did she do it? Many pitfalls await CIOs on the journey to the cloud. In fact, a majority of companies have been only partially successful, while some are outright failing.
To learn more about this migration, Business Performance Innovation (BPI) Network, in partnership with A10 Networks, a provider of application services for multi-cloud environments, surveyed 127 global IT and business executives and conducted in-depth interviews with SBA, Franklin Templeton and others.
The report, called Mapping The Multi-Cloud Enterprise, found that companies are moving rapidly toward the multi-cloud. A whopping 84 percent said they will increase their use of public and private clouds over the next 24 months. Two out of three respondents said they're already using at least two public clouds.
Three out of five respondents pointed to redundancy and disaster recovery as a top multi-cloud benefit
What's the rush? There's gold in them thar clouds. The biggest multi-cloud benefit cited in the BPM report is protection against single-vendor failures. Three out of five respondents pointed to redundancy and disaster recovery as a top multi-cloud benefit, followed by cost optimization and performance optimization.
Roat can vouch for this. If SBA's digital platform goes down in an attack, she says, "We can bring a whole new site up within 90 seconds."
More than a third of respondents also see the ability to select the best cloud environment for specific workloads as a key advantage. Companies can match different business, application and data requirements to the right cloud infrastructure and create immutable platforms.
The BPI Network report found other cloud drivers, too. For instance, the rollout of 5G wireless networks will lead to the rise of "edge clouds." Think micro data centers at the edge of the network enabling improved application performance and new business models and services.
"The rise of 5G-enabled edge clouds is expected to be another driver for multi-cloud adoption," says Gunter Reiss, VP of Worldwide Marketing at A10 Networks. "Enterprises must begin to deploy robust Polynimbus security and application delivery models that advance centralized visibility and management and deliver greater security automation across clouds, networks, applications and data."
As companies move forward with digital transformation and multi-cloud computing, there also has been a steady uptake in the use of virtual systems to improve cost efficiencies and flexibility in the development and deployment of applications. The next step in this process is the use of containers to both speed development and improve portability across clouds.
Many Hurdles to Multi-Cloud Migrations
A green light to the cloud, however, doesn't mean a free-for-all when it comes to cloud vendor selection and proper planning. "I have to understand what the business need is, what the mission is, and bring the right technology to the table," Roat said. "We're vigilant about which cloud providers we're using because we don't want cloud sprawl."
Many hurdles have already derailed multi-cloud migrations, the BPI Network report found. Only 11 percent of respondents believe they have been highly successful in realizing the benefits of multi-cloud computing, while a majority rate themselves as only somewhat successful or unsuccessful to date.
To be fair, many companies have moved into multi-cloud as much because of unplanned circumstances and expediencies as because of a clearly delineated and executed strategy. Forces and factors like mergers and acquisitions and the adoption of different cloud platforms by different development teams and organizations within an enterprise are also leading companies into a new multi-cloud reality.
Chief among the hurdles: security. Centralized security across multiple clouds is far and away the biggest concern identified by respondents. Some 63 percent of respondents said that ensuring security across all clouds, networks, applications and data is one of their top challenges.
Worse, only 9 percent of respondents are extremely satisfied with their current security solutions for multi-cloud, while 38 percent believe they need to make significant improvements.
Now IT needs to catch up and bring order, control, governance and integrated management to this new environment. Many companies are re-evaluating their security and load balancing solutions in order to meet new multi-cloud requirements. Nearly two out of five respondents say the cloud migration has triggered a reassessment of their current load balancer and security suppliers.
Finding the Right Talent
But all of this leads to bigger problem: Do you have the right talent for a multi-cloud environment? Companies need the necessary skills and expertise to manage multi-cloud environments, centralized visibility and management, and dealing with increased infrastructure and application management complexity.
No doubt the move to the cloud will be a culture shock for employees, mainly in tech. Making the change requires significant training for the workforce and significant changes to IT and DevSecOps processes.
"Our people have been running IT systems for many years, and they're good at it," says Raja Mohan, Senior Strategic Architect for Cloud and Platform Services at Franklin Templeton. "But it's all new. It requires new training for everyone, even our experts."
There's no question challenges abound in the great migration to the cloud, from security to management to talent. Yet there's simply no slowing the march. The benefits justify the journey, and so it's incumbent on the CIO to chart a sensible path, make mistakes and begin anew.
"Part of my message to others: Don't be afraid to try new things," Roat says. "We built out our initial cloud architecture, learned from it and then rebuilt it."