The Challenges Managing Multi-Cloud Environments
This blog was originally published by OpsCompass here
Written by John Grange, OpsCompass
With multi-cloud deployments becoming the norm, ensuring the security of workloads deployed across different cloud platforms is a major focus point for many organizations. Yet even though security controls might be the same for each platform, the deployment approach, architecture, tools, and processes differ.
Also, due to the dynamic nature of the cloud, it’s difficult to obtain visibility into the state of your security. Cloud Security Posture Management (CSPM) solutions play a big role here, giving you that visibility as your cloud footprint grows. There are other challenges as well: for example, the learning curve that comes with using each cloud platform, different integrations, and architectural considerations.
In this post, we’ll take a deep dive into the challenges associated with multi-cloud deployments and explore some best practice guidelines that will help you navigate the multi-cloud landscape.
According to Flexera’s 2021 State of the Cloud Report, 93% of enterprises are considering a multi-cloud strategy for their digital transformation. Other statistics show that hybrid cloud environments account for 42% of actual cloud deployments. So, it’s pretty clear that organizations prefer multi-cloud—it’s going to be the future of cloud computing.
But why? Well, avoiding vendor lock-in is one obvious reason, but there are many other contributing factors. For instance, a multi-cloud approach enables innovation, as you can use the service most suited to your application, irrespective of the cloud service provider offering it.
For example, let’s say that one of your applications needs high network speed, while the other needs high availability. With a multi-cloud approach, you can choose a cloud service provider with high speed connectivity for the first application and a different provider with a higher service-level agreement for the second.
Multi-Cloud Management Challenges
Now that we’ve explored why multi-cloud adoption could be a good choice for you, let’s discuss some of its challenges.
First, remember that each cloud service provider has its own set of best practices and guidelines about how applications can be deployed and managed. If you adopt multi-cloud, your cloud operations strategy will be a combination of them all.
Every leading cloud service provider, be it AWS, Azure, or GCP, has published well-architected frameworks and guidelines for developing and deploying applications. They are all pivoted on five pillars: operational excellence, cost optimization, security, reliability, and performance efficiency.
While all cloud service providers compete with each other to provide best-in-class services for compute, data, networking, security, and so on, there are some glaring feature parities that you cannot ignore while developing your application architecture, such as the availability of services in different geographies that could impact a multi-region architecture. Of course, how you integrate the application components will also be different across different cloud service providers.
The Learning Curve
Because your operations team may not have expertise in all cloud platform tools and services, the learning curve can be challenging. Team members will have to keep up with your organization’s pace of innovation, and there will be multiple skill sets to master in a short period of time. Security teams will struggle the most, as they’ll need to juggle different consoles and dashboards across cloud platforms in order to ensure the security and visibility of your applications. It is definitely an uphill journey.
Tools and Processes
All mature organizations should have well-refined DevOps and automation practices in place to manage software development and delivery. However, the tools and processes could very well differ for different platforms.
Automation is the crux of simplifying your multi-cloud management. Though there are many automation tools to choose from, not all of them can be integrated with all cloud service providers. Even tools that are compatible with multi-cloud, like Terraform, involve modalities specific to certain cloud platforms. So, despite popular belief, you cannot use the same Terraform template to deploy your resources across multiple clouds.
Additionally, all cloud service providers have home-grown tools for managing their respective workloads (ARM templates in Azure, Azure CLI , AWS CLI, gcloud CLI, etc.). Unless you are using a popular DevOps platform like GitHub or Azure DevOps, it will be difficult to find common ground when managing resources spread across different cloud service providers.
Security and Compliance
Security for cloud computing follows the principle of shared responsibility. The provider manages platform-layer security, but it’s up to the customer to implement the right controls to secure the application and data. Though native tools are available to implement these controls, cloud security breaches due to misconfigurations or configuration drifts can occur.
Similar to cost-management tools, cloud service providers also focus on native security posture management. These tools can monitor for security misconfigurations and adherence to best practices, but they only provide security and compliance scores for workloads in their respective platforms. Because of this, your security team will need to switch between tools and dashboards to keep your cloud secure. This provides siloed visibility, but not an overarching security status for your multi-cloud deployments. Without this view, it’s difficult to prioritize and mitigate the vulnerabilities.
Resource sprawl is a byproduct of a multi-cloud strategy. If you don’t track cloud inventory, you could end up with unattended and unused cloud resources that increase your cloud bill. As cost optimization is one of the main pillars of a well-architected framework for all clouds, there are native cost-optimization and budgeting services available in all cloud platforms.
In multi-cloud, however, it’s more relevant to bring all your cloud inventory together to provide overall visibility to your enterprise cloud consumption. Often, you’ll have to resort to third-party tools specialized in delivering this visibility. Note that a reactive approach to cost optimization isn’t very beneficial. Rather, you need to be proactive in monitoring activities across the environments that have higher cost implications.
With a multi-cloud strategy, you can benefit from the best that each cloud has to offer. But this comes with its own set of challenges and considerations. That’s why you need to evaluate and identify the right set of management tools, especially for security and compliance. Irrespective of the hosting platform, the security of your production workloads is non-negotiable. As we discussed earlier, native CSPM solutions often fall short in providing end-to-end visibility of your environments.
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