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One of the key areas of focus at Sierra Ventures’ 17th CXO Summit was the multicloud strategy adopted by enterprises. While a significant majority of the more than 40 executives surveyed use multiple cloud service providers, they were all very interested in the flexibility and portability of their cloud environments. As enterprises grapple with the challenges of moving to or thriving in the cloud, they are hyper-focused on these two attributes.
Multicloud: Minimize Risk, Optimize Performance
In the context of multicloud, flexibility and portability together enable companies to minimize business risk with high availability; lower costs by using suppliers (avoiding lock-in); and optimize performance by choosing the best features from each provider.
Data portability is also a hot topic due to requirements such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA), both of which require seamless data transfer between platforms.
In this environment, agility and portability play an important role in investment opportunities, even in light of the heavy commitments made to their own platforms by cloud service providers. Companies like HashiCorp have built businesses that make it easier for organizations to provision, secure, connect, and run their infrastructure and applications in any environment and across multiple environments through Infrastructure as Code (IaC). Given the massive DevOps movement, containers and the need for data portability have created huge opportunities for startups.
By design, a container is more portable and flexible than virtual machines (VMs), allowing it to play an important role in a multi-cloud strategy. Enterprises try to containerize as much as possible and most new application projects are based on containers. But they will have to coexist with legacy VM-based workloads for a long time.
Kubernetes has become the engine of choice for container orchestration, and there is a growing demand for solutions beyond legacy open-source Rancher and Cluster API-based VMware Tanzu, and toward Spectro Cloud and other new enterprise Kubernetes management solutions .
Through Kubernetes operators and integration with Terraform and Crossplane, even remote resources such as VMs can be managed with Kubernetes.
Data portability is necessary because it prevents data from getting stuck in a single platform or application. At the consumer level, it means the right to migrate data from one platform to another and prevents individuals from being tied to one provider.
But at the enterprise level, large volume data storage can hinder portability. This can be solved by data replications across clouds and regions or by using modern cloud-native databases such as CockroachDB, Yugabyte, TiDB and MongoDB, which can easily handle data replications and queries across regions.
This space will continue to generate innovation given the tremendous opportunities and dollars available.
Multicloud: on the edge
An emerging area of focus is the edge, which is becoming an extension of multicloud. For example, edge locations are rapidly becoming the next phase of multicloud as more and more data is generated at an edge and organizations need a low-latency solution to compute and process all this data.
Running Kubernetes at the edge (such as on-premises AI/ML data processing) is becoming an increasingly important part of enterprise multi-cloud and digital transformation strategy. For example, GE Healthcare processes large volumes of medical imaging data at the edge for performance and regulatory reasons.
However, edge locations may not have a skilled operational staff or a LaaS endpoint in the cloud, and the premise is much less secure than the cloud provider’s data center. This makes edge management very challenging, but also a great opportunity. With 5G and other developments, the edge is quickly becoming another battlefield in the cloud wars.
A unified operation
When adopting a multi-cloud strategy, maintaining consistency across the spectrum is key to reducing management complexity. Whether it’s RBAC, IAM, infrastructure management, workload management, or network and security policies, a tool that provides unified operation across the multicloud should be a priority.
Of course, every cloud still has its nuances, but a declarative approach, with the ability to design once and deploy/manage anywhere, can solve the problem of multicloud management at scale. Tools such as Terraform, Pulumi, Crossplane, and Cluster API (CAPI) all follow these design principles.
Flexibility and portability are driving multicloud investments in large enterprises as a consistent operating model becomes increasingly important for that heterogeneous fleet of cloud platforms. To that end, CXOs must focus on three key elements: the next generation of Kubernetes management tools to navigate their multicloud environments; platforms to assist with large-scale data portability; and finally solutions for the growing compute requirements at the edge.
We believe we are in the early innings of a very big opportunity created by this major disruption.
Mark Fernandes is a managing partner at Sierra Ventures.
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