What you look for in a cloud provider depends to a large extent on the drivers and challenges that you are experiencing.
People with large legacy estates, for instance, tend to be looking for a hybrid cloud solution that can support both their old legacy workloads and their new cloud ones. Some see this as a transitional arrangement to cover the period in which workloads are migrated to the cloud, but many realise that there are certain workloads for which migration will never be either technologically possible or economically practical.
Many people with heterogeneous environments, on the other hand, tend to be looking for a multi-cloud solution. They may be doing this by design, such as in moving their Oracle workloads onto an Oracle cloud environment and their Microsoft ones to an Azure cloud environment. There may also be an element of shadow IT, with some workloads strategically moved to SaaS environments like Salesforce while a host of other SaaS options may also have been adopted by individual departments.
There are others that are keen to collaborate with peers or partners in the cloud which tend to be looking for community clouds. In the USA, the main public cloud providers have set up dedicated regions as community clouds to allow US government agencies at the federal, state and local level, along with contractors and educational institutions to collaborate using sensitive workloads and data sets while meeting specific regulatory and compliance needs. Meanwhile in the UK, UKCloud has created a community cloud for public sector and healthcare that has succeeded in attracting over 220 projects, capturing over a third of the G-Cloud IaaS workloads.
Other sectors where such collaboration is becoming increasingly common include manufacturing with data sharing across the logistical supply chain, in public services and transportation where logistical and geospatial data is shared, and in health and social care where access to patient records or genomic sequencing data is shared.
There is no reason, however, for not being able to have the best of all worlds. New appliances, such as Customer@Cloud from Oracle and Azure Stack from Microsoft have been designed to enable seamless hybrid environments. However, these hybrid environments don’t need to operate in isolation. Heterogeneous environments can be created with hybrid appliances to support both Oracle and Microsoft workloads. Further combining these options with cloud native options like OpenStack and with container management as well creates a cross-over between hybrid and multi-cloud. Indeed, some providers are now starting to offer this kind of heterogeneous cloud with an array of technology stacks, all within dedicated community clouds, giving you the best of all worlds. You get a combination of hybrid and multi-cloud within a sector-specific community cloud.
There are many compelling advantages to this ‘have-it-all’ approach:
- Customer-centricity: As a technology matures, vertical-industry expertise and talent becomes the ultimate differentiator as customers want to know that their technology suppliers are just as committed to their industry and its specific needs as the customer itself is. In effect technology wizardry becomes table stakes, while customer expertise trumps all. And we are now seeing this in the cloud arena.
With global public cloud providers, you can be treated a bit like a number, but the sector specific nature of community clouds enables them to be very customer centric – centred around key workloads and data sets. Then adding a multi-cloud dimension allows you to use API calls to access advanced functionality in the public cloud in areas like Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. Multi-cloud also allows customers to create rich heterogenous solutions that address a wider set of requirements than is possible using only cloud native technologies or any single cloud platform, while maximising choice and flexibility and minimising lock-in.
- The clustering effect – partners: Such sector-specific community clouds can spark a clustering effect, where, as more customers from a particular sector join, it attracts specialist application providers, both software as a service (SaaS) providers and independent software vendors (ISVs), which in turn then attract more customers in what becomes a virtuous circle.
- Minimising latency: appliances like as Oracle Customer@Cloud and Azure Stack are part of a movement away from big centralized clouds, to clouds that are closer to their data origins and help cut down on latency. This is taking two forms: fog computing, and intelligent edge computing. Latency can occur either between the users and the workload that they are accessing, or between different workloads and datasets that need to work together, but are often based on different technology platforms. In the first instance, the appliance can be located as close to the main user groups as possible in order to minimise latency. In the second instance, it is better to locate the appliance within a community cloud alongside as many of the key datasets, workloads and platforms that need to interoperate and if possible to provide connectivity to this community cloud via secure, high performance networks.
Whatever your current situation, bringing together the best aspects of Hybrid Cloud and Multi-Cloud and combining them within a Community Cloud can create the best of all worlds – especially if you work within a sector where collaboration between partners and peers is important.
For example, an NHS trust in the UK may have a collection of legacy workloads that are Microsoft or Oracle based, along with a few newer cloud native applications. It might also have legacy systems that cannot be moved to the cloud, but that could be hosted in a secure facility and it might want to access cloud based applications offered by leading health provides (either SaaS or ISV) as well as core data sets like the 100,000 Genomes Project database. Ideally the trust would want as much of this as possible available in a single community cloud with close proximity between systems to minimise latency. The trust would also want to be able to access this heterogenous environment via HSCN and also to be able to connect onwards to peripheral workloads hosted elsewhere or even to public clouds via API calls for things like artificial intelligence. Fortunately for UK healthcare and the public sector this is all available today.
So why just focus on looking for hybrid cloud or multi-cloud or community cloud – when it is possible to have it all?