Mar 25 2015

Multiple Choice: How to Mix and Match Cloud Services

Learn how to join a variety of best-of-breed platforms with minimum headaches.

Multicloud approaches involve creating enterprise IT solutions from a mixture of best-of-breed private and public cloud computing services. Organizations are free to mix and match a growing range of product offerings without placing too many core IT functions under the control of a single party.

However, many organizations have discovered that organic growth in cloud computing and outsourcing has left them with a patchwork of solutions posing both technical and governance challenges. Backing off a multicloud environment isn’t really an option, but a little bit of homework now can prevent a lot of headaches later. What follows are some best practices for stitching cloud services together.

Identity Management Is a Must

All cloud computing services call for some type of identity management, and this is the first place where things can go off the rails in the rush to roll out a cloud deployment. Users pushing for cool cloud tools such as conferencing and collaboration, file sharing and synchronization, and instant messaging don’t care about identity management. This is where IT managers need to step in because the technology is invaluable to keeping cloud services manageable and secure.

Start by making sure that basic enterprise infrastructure is in place. The old days of opening up a Lightweight Directory Access Protocol port to allow external authentication are rapidly disappearing as cloud services look for a tighter linkage. That’s not to say that LDAP isn’t a good approach for some services, but advanced cloud services often require more.

IT professionals whose organizations use Active Directory should gain familiarity with Microsoft’s Active Directory Federation Services. Many cloud services aimed at strong enterprise integration use ADFS as their linkage technology, so being prepared can simplify a rollout. The language of identity management is often complicated as well; ADFS can help those with a strong Microsoft background get up to speed quickly.

Cloud services built on non-Windows platforms can be more complicated because of the wide range of competing standards, which means an equally wide range of federation connectors might be needed. To achieve interoperability, IT managers must tackle single sign-on, common passwords and credentials and enterprise security work.

Competition Is Good, Duplication Is Not

The wide range of consumer-accessible cloud services quickly creates loyalty and lock-in among end users, which can lead to complications when enterprise IT departments need to identify appropriate solutions. Solid IT governance helps to reduce proliferation of redundant and inappropriate solutions, but only when IT managers act quickly to select and deploy cloud services.

Tightly linking IT to business requirements is especially important here. IT managers should work to uncover shadow IT projects using cloud services because these early adopters will frame the enterprise discussion on the public cloud. No one wants to discourage innovation, but governance questions such as standardization, interoperability and risk management need to be addressed. IT managers who engage early have a greater chance of success than those who try to step in at the last minute.

Not Every Service Is Worth Outsourcing

Many IT managers push services to the cloud to free up time to focus on what’s important to the organization. Instead of focusing attention on budget-based justifications for moving to the cloud, focus on resources.

For example, if the email security gateway runs itself but the IT department is constantly overloaded managing the help desk, then it’s not so beneficial if the organization saves some money by pushing email security to the cloud. Start with the help desk service because that time can be better spent on other IT projects — that’s where the real value of IT comes in.


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