There's no denying the enormous impact that cloud has had on how IT is delivered by the channel and consumed by businesses.
Until recently, a hybrid strategy has proved popular with customers who want to migrate certain workloads to the cloud while leaving other aspects of their IT on-premise. Now, though, IT vendors are looking beyond hybrid to the next iteration of cloud consumption: multi-cloud.
With multi-cloud, organisations can leverage any number and combination of cloud vendors, providers, public and private cloud platforms, and servers to manage their workloads.
Some are saying 2018 will be the year multi-cloud goes mainstream - although there are some gaps in adoption estimates. Gartner predicts that multi-cloud will be the common strategy for 70 per cent of enterprises by 2019, and cloud optimisation firm RightScale's 2018 State of the Cloud Survey calculates that 81 per cent of enterprises now have a multi-cloud strategy, with respondents using almost five clouds on average.
However, in Europe, IDC claims only nine per cent of firms are multi-cloud-ready, with around 80 per cent stuck in the transition process from hybrid cloud environments.
It is therefore difficult to gauge true adoption figures, but the channel currently appears to be in the early stages of talking to customers about the potential benefits of multi-cloud.
"It's just at the beginning," Mohamed El Haddouchi, director of solutions and innovation at solution provider Infradata, said. "In 2018 we are seeing five times more requests than a year ago. 2019 could be the tipping point for us. The potential is huge; it will be a massive thing in the coming years."
El Haddouchi says Infradata is currently working with customers on cloud-readiness assessments, migration services and cybersecurity solutions.
"In the past, customers would come to us and say, 'give me network, give me connectivity', but now we get more requests like 'we're launching new services and we want to use cloud as the basis for that' or 'can you help me move part of my infrastructure to the cloud?'. It's not about hardware or software, it's about helping the customer make the transition," he said.
According to Mike Bushong, VP of enterprise and cloud marketing at Juniper Networks, the market, which he notes has historically been dominated by hardware, will see a "much greater reliance" on software. "This changes how the channel does business," he said.
"From a technology perspective, channel partners that build software which supports automation across these diverse environments will find an enthusiastic customer base," Bushong adds. "The channel can sell software, support and services to help complement a rich set of multi-cloud solutions coming from the major networking suppliers."
More importantly, says Bushong, the changes to operating models that multi-cloud requires will force enterprises to transform. "Whether it's professional services to deploy new tools, consulting services to develop best practices, or education services to help advance a workforce, the channel will have plenty of opportunity to expand their offerings in ways that are likely more profitable than historic solutions resale," he said.
Multi-cloud is high on Juniper's agenda, with the vendor last week launching a five-step multi-cloud migration framework for campus and branch networks that incorporates "architecture, products, tools, processes and people".
Chris Gilmour, technical practice lead at Juniper partner Axians, says this enables the channel to "build a clear migration path for a customer, incorporating their existing datacentre estate and showing how you can develop this into a private cloud and evolve into a full multi-cloud environment, without mandating all the component parts of the solution".
Gilmour believes the appeal of multi-cloud for the channel is twofold: "On one side there is the resale opportunity for the component elements that make up the solution," he said. "[On the other], for network systems integrators, such as Axians, there are opportunities for projects and professional services to support this transformation.
"We are constantly talking to our customers about how they can take advantage of the latest technology breakthroughs to meet their business objectives. Multi-cloud has become part of that conversation and allows us to talk expansively and with context about the increasingly cloud-first approach enterprises are taking."
Elsewhere, Bob Kilbride, senior director at cloud management platform CloudHealth Technologies, notes that multi-cloud is based on choice and the ability to take advantage of the best that each cloud provider has to offer.
"By using multi-cloud management solutions, enterprises are developing improved ways of innovating and enhancing operational benefits, while reducing costs," he points out. "In addition, the avoidance of vendor lock-ins and increased agility are also driving demand for multi-cloud management solutions, as enterprises increasingly move towards these highly dynamic environments."
Interestingly, he notes that even customers that are working with only a single cloud provider are looking for partners that support multi-cloud: "Businesses can't afford to choose a partner that won't scale with them," he says.
With adoption on the rise of multiple public clouds, such as Azure, AWS and Google Cloud, Kilbride says MSPs and resellers are increasingly being asked to seamlessly manage multiple public cloud platforms, while offering a consistent set of services for each.
"The new leaders in the MSP and reseller space will be those whose services provide complete visibility, manage cost, ensure security compliance, improve governance, and automate actions across all cloud environments - while being able to provide migration and TCO analysis," he said.
"As multi-cloud environments become more pervasive within organisations on a global scale, multi-cloud management will become a service that is no longer a differentiator, but a requirement."
Canalys analyst Robin Ody notes that "the technology landscape has fractured with cloud".
He said that everywhere you look, there is "inefficiency and complexity, end-customer overspend and confusion".
"Partners that are doing well either have the scale to do multiple elements or the expertise to provide specialised solutions," he added.
He points out that vendors are doing more together to integrate different elements of cloud, whether open source on-premise, or private or public, citing the partnership between AWS and VMware as an example.
"The things that help partners are the 'single panes of glass' for managing multiple cloud vendor licences and billing, so that a customer with a need for a particular product such as detailed analytics from Google or IBM, PaaS for app development from Microsoft, or software licences from AWS can be served by one partner," Ody says.
However, he warns that complexity is still high, and partners are working hard to find their differentiators. "Vendors can always do more, but working together has not always been their forte. It would solve a lot of problems if the channel saw more of this, though," he says.
"More simply, opportunities for partners are in managing and simplifying this complexity for customers. The challenge is their ability to overcome this complexity themselves."
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