Picking and choosing: Atos give an overview of multi-cloud storage

As multi-cloud undoubtedly looks to be the prevailing strategy when it comes to cloud-based digital transformation, many firms are taking the same approach when it comes to storage. We speak to Atos to determine what multi-cloud storage is and how enterprises are employing it.

As digital transformation and migrations to cloud-centric IT strategies continue to persist as major imperatives of enterprise organisations, more and more are we hearing that the prevailing overall strategy has been the implementation of hybrid or multi-cloud architectures. While the public cloud heavy hitters of AWS and Microsoft might be keen to tell you that the future involves going all-in on public cloud, enterprises have found such a strategy to be all too limiting when it comes to fulfilling the diverse IT requirements modern businesses demand.

However, adopting multi-cloud can be a perplexing mission. It's difficult enough to manage the pure migration-based headaches that come about when moving from legacy infrastructure and monolithic applications towards even a just a public cloud approach, let alone when you're moving to a more diverse architecture that involves multiple clouds, providers and geographies.

As well as this, while much of the focus, when it comes to multi-cloud, has been on application migration and compute, it is equally necessary to consider the implications having a more diverse approach to cloud computing might have on storage. In order to account for the broader industry trend of multi-cloud, many organisations are simultaneously exploring multi-cloud storage, which essentially extrapolates the concepts of multi-cloud to the storage arena. Although the act of employing this technique can be difficult and just as confusing as other aspects of digital transformation, as ascertaining just how to go about it, and determining the potential benefits and pitfalls relevant to a specific business, can be quite a struggle.

To account for this confusion, we spoke with Clive Grethe, Head of Application, Cloud, Transformation and Management Solution Sales at Atos. Grethe breaks down the fundamentals of multi-cloud storage, assessing it terms of why it is becoming a popular solution amongst enterprise organisations and what to look out for when deploying it.


What is multi-cloud storage? How do you best define it?

With the growth in cloud, most enterprises now use multiple clouds; private, on-premise, hosted and public. Multi-cloud storage is its natural extension. You cannot have computing ability without storage and data to process. So, when we talk about multi-cloud, we mean multi-cloud storage.

Multi-cloud storage is essentially extending the storage practice to multi-cloud environments, with various levels of maturity - from an isolated island managed independently, to managing the storage centrally, up to a seamless interconnection enabling fluid data access and transport as well as consistent APIs, a highly matured state which some start naming a data fabric.


What are the potential benefits and pitfalls?

The benefits of multi-cloud storage are the same for cloud computing, at least for the public part: pay per use, instant provision, virtually unlimited capacity, and requiring no effort to manage the underlaying infrastructure. This last benefit is especially true if you consider the data management services offered by the cloud providers.

Enterprises can consume relational or NoSQL databases, without taking care of the underlaying storage infrastructure. Businesses can set up very large data repositories without the burden of periodic at-risk capacity expansion, or data migration to larger storage arrays. They can retain data for long periods of time, at a price comparable to tapes, without the burden of managing tape media and tape libraries. And for some use cases and scales, the hyperscaler offers a set of storage, data management and data broadcast services that very few enterprises can afford to rebuild in-house, meaning that cloud storage is the only option.

But we all know that one-size-fits-all doesn't exist in the IT domain. Enterprises cannot use a single service and for practical reasons should not put all their data in a public cloud. There are considerations as part of redesigning an IT landscape to reap the potential benefits of the cloud. And that requires expertise to identify the right use cases, determine the right balance between old and new models, draw the target architectural and operational model, organise the transformation journey, and drive the change.

All public and private cloud vendors have proprietary APIs. As this domain is emerging, finding a single product on the market which can cover all cloud storage environments is challenging. The situation is not that different to what we observe in the legacy storage domain. Not surprisingly, the most advanced level of hybrid storage with fluid transport, universal access and consistent APIs brings its own set of pitfalls, including cost.


Why do, or should, organisations deploy it and how?

As soon as an organisation deploys a cloud or multi-cloud strategy, it must have a corresponding cloud or multi-cloud storage strategy. There are very few cases where it is only about processing, without any storage need. Simply defining the right governance, the operating model, the architecture and technology used to address isn't an option. All enterprises must remember that managing their data is their responsibility - not the duty of the cloud service provider.

It's also important to understand that multi-cloud storage isn't a product, nor a well-defined reference architecture endorsed by all vendors and providers. It's a journey to a better or perfect model, that encompasses both technologies, cloud services, processes, governance and transformation. It's designed, deployed, improved and matured step by step.


Are there different product approaches to multi-cloud? (e.g., software-defined built with multi-cloud in mind, but also ways the big array vendors are enabling multi-cloud from their products)

It's important to remember that multi-cloud isn't limited to "the same storage software in multiple clouds" aspect. It's really about the end-to-end management - from capacity, cost, business continuity, cyber-security, transport and distribution across multiple clouds.

It's not about a "one-size-fits-all" approach, but rather the art of finding the best balance better technical capabilities and business benefits.