Public cloud has so many enterprise IT execs excited.  The excitement stems from the right objectives (agility, OpEx, getting out of the infrastructure business), but is often associated with false expectations. 

Namely, the idea of an expansive, highly-centralized multi-cloud strategy.  In this scenario, an IT pro manages multiple clouds with ease.  Key to this vision: a “single pane of glass” management and orchestration layer.

The idea is solid – it hypothetically delivers interoperability, access to innovation across providers, and pricing arbitrage.  Who doesn’t want to seamlessly move workloads across clouds, without missing out on new features or price drops?

But the reality doesn’t match up.  Here are the problems:

  • Cloud interoperability is very difficult to achieve.  From a slew of service provider APIs, and a few open source ones, to monitoring, metering and identity and access requirements – just to name a few – its clear that “lifting and shifting” workloads from one place to another is not as easy at it might seem at first glance.
  • New features from each cloud provider take time to integrate into each 3rd party management tool. These vendors need to keep pace with innovation as well.  By definition, they will always be a few steps behind the latest features from each provider.  This results in a “lowest common denominator” UI where users end up doing basic VM operations across clouds.  That’s all well and good, but where’s the competitive advantage?
  • Pricing is a wash.  Really, how much are you saving by managing down to the fraction of a cent per compute-hour?  This exercise actually becomes more expensive when you factor in the cost of the management tool and the human cost of day-to-day administration.

That’s why the enterprises enjoying the most success with cloud infrastructure are doubling-down on a smaller number of strategic providers over the long-term.

Today, the realistic benefits of multi-cloud infrastructure management are more incremental than transformative.

But There Still Are Benefits, Right?

Yes, and that’s why we’re excited to announce that VMware’s vRealize product now supports CenturyLink Cloud.  vRealize is a great example of a multi-cloud management tool that users do not expect to deliver on the unrealistic scenario outlined above.  This new integration delivers a far more practical benefit: customers can now use a familiar interface to access instantly scalable resources in the public cloud.

The full features of this integration are detailed here in our knowledge base.

This new integration isn’t going to give your organization a long-term competitive advantage from utilizing cloud, but it sure is going to make the day-in-the-life of some IT pros a heck of a lot easier. Now, vRealize users can create and manage resources in the CenturyLink Cloud using a familiar interface.

That said, the transformative value of multi-clouds lies elsewhere.

The Plateau of Productivity for Multi-Cloud: Go Up the Stack

Requirements for multi-cloud, open platforms, and portability at the infrastructure layer shouldn’t be the lynchpin of any credible enterprise cloud strategy.

But it’s essential at the layers above the infrastructure layer (OS, run-time, middleware, applications), and that’s where Platform as a Service and containers come in.

The container community was buzzing recently, with the announcement of Rocket as an alternative to Docker.  Deeper analysis of this specific news is for another time, but for the context of this post, these tweets are instructive:

RT @gigaom: Why CoreOS just fired a Rocket at Docker https://t.co/Lmt7lfUbfR by @JonathanVanian < good recap — Richard Seroter (@rseroter) December 2, 2014

What happened yesterday was pretty amazing. The market reminded the VC funded vendors they wanted an open, multi-platform container badly — James Watters (@wattersjames) December 2, 2014

For our part, we are big supporters of Cloud Foundry (AppFog, Iron Foundry) and Docker (Panamax).  Both movements offer extreme portability across cloud providers, thanks to superior abstraction of the underlying infrastructure.

What makes PaaS and containers different than the infrastructure layer for multi-cloud?  Let’s re-visit those top three criteria:

  • Freedom from lock-in (interoperability).  Check.  With Cloud Foundry and Docker – and specific implementations of these capabilities – there is broad capability to easily move apps around different infrastructure providers.  Both platforms are open-source to boot.  That means more options from the customer.
  • Access to innovation. Check.  Both services, in part because of their open source nature, have thousand of contributors working on new capabilities.
  • Pricing arbitrage.  Incomplete.  This is still a false promise – after all, you don’t move to cloud to focus on cost savings.  But if you are not satisfied with a current vendor for whatever reason – service, reliability, shallow product portfolio or otherwise – PaaS and containers give you a path to move workloads where they run best.

Take all the incremental gains from multi-cloud infrastructure management that you can, but make PaaS an essential component to your long-term vision. And imagine the benefits of a multi-cloud world through application instances and containers.  That’s where the transformative – and your competitive advantage – can be found.