Tejpal Chadha, Global Head, Digital Saas Cloud and Cybersecurity, Digitate, shortlisted at The SaaS Awards 2023 for the Best SaaS Product For IT Management category & finalist of The Cloud Awards 2022-2023 for the Best Cloud Automation of the Year category

In 2022, Gartner reported that worldwide spending on public cloud services reached $490.3 billion, with expected growth of 20.7% to $591.8 billion in 2023. Rather than the traditional fixed-cost methods of managing IT infrastructure, the cloud’s variable cost structures enable businesses from all sectors to adopt cloud-first models that allow them to scale operations as needed. Of course, enterprises adopt different cloud models, including single supplier, multi-cloud, or a hybrid approach utilizing private clouds, public clouds, and on-premises data centers. Regardless of modality, cloud services are now a utility for businesses and the goal is the same: to be controllable, agile, scalable, secure, and to optimize spending.

This article outlines some of the main challenges that hybrid or multi-cloud transformation projects typically face and how introducing agnostic cloud cost monitoring and optimization can help mitigate these challenges.

The Rise of Multi-cloud

In a world of increasingly distributed organizations, more companies are adopting multiple cloud services by choice or inheritance, for example, through mergers or acquisitions. In late 2022, 451 Research reported that 98% of enterprises use or plan to use at least two cloud infrastructure providers, with 31% using four or more services. Companies want the freedom to run their applications on different clouds, so they are not locked into one particular vendor. If one cloud provider experiences a problem, businesses can continue with minimal disruption. In addition, some cloud providers are chosen for specific features that a company may require.

However, as enterprises shift more operational workloads to hybrid and multi-cloud environments, they face challenges such as a lack of visibility into their cloud computing resources’ readiness, health status, and consumption patterns, as well as cloud sprawl, security concerns, and a lack of interoperability. Uncontrolled cloud resource usage leads to increased costs due to under-utilization and hidden costs, making cloud operations cost-inefficient. Monitoring all cloud operations across multiple sources requires significant IT resources. With increased focus on cost controls, most IT departments do not have the budget, time, or resources to become domain experts and learn networking protocols for every cloud provider.

Key Challenges of Multi-cloud Adoption

  • Lack of Visibility

A lack of comprehensive visibility across multi-cloud environments is a major challenge for organizations. Different cloud service providers have different requirements and protocols, their own interface and architecture, and offer different monitoring options and tools to keep data secure. While many offer customers basic monitoring tools for free, robust vendor monitoring services often come with a hefty price tag. Across multiple clouds, this added expense can be significant.

Understandably, cloud vendors are protective of their business and are not inclined to provide interoperable tools to help customers manage cloud services shared with competing platforms, so there is friction in creating and managing multi-cloud environments. This lack of versatility and interoperability between vendors makes it difficult to provide the full picture of an organization’s cloud estate and all its complexity. IT teams find it challenging to monitor data and applications across multiple providers. Gaining actionable insights to manage cloud operations efficiently, therefore, is inherently problematic, creating blind spots and making it difficult to detect and respond to security threats.

  • Cloud Wastage and Cost Management

Enterprise IT departments have long faced the problem of unused storage, software bloat, and a host of virtual systems that serve no purpose as technology continually evolves. Migrating to the cloud was supposed to address this challenge, but the same problem persists in cloud-native enterprises. This results in cloud wastage, also known as cloud sprawl, which refers to the uncontrolled and often unintentional growth of cloud usage within an organization due to a lack of visibility into its cloud computing resources.

Cloud sprawl affects companies of all types and is often caused by the ease of creating new cloud resources with just a few mouse clicks. In the absence of visibility and a cohesive cloud strategy, this simplicity in adding resources often leads to over-provisioning and underutilization.

Organizations that use multi-cloud solutions are particularly vulnerable to cloud sprawl. In March 2023, Zippia published research that reported “an average of 110 SaaS apps are used per organization as of 2021.” Each application incurs costs and has a set of users, many of whom may overlap. Enterprises without clear end-to-end visibility of applications and other resources across multiple clouds are likely to be charged for resources that they don’t use or need. The costs associated with cloud sprawl may not be immediately apparent, but over time, they can become a significant drain on the company, resulting in unpleasant surprises when the bill arrives.

Companies cannot plug gaps in their cloud expenditure without regularly tracking spending, benchmarking, forecasting, or detecting anomalies. Enterprises require a better method of connecting and managing all cloud processes and expenses to identify and eliminate charges for unused or unnecessary services.

  • Incident Resolution and Risk Management

In an era of increasingly sophisticated cyber-attacks, enterprises face significant security risks due to a lack of visibility across multi-cloud deployments and cloud sprawl. Cloud complexity is one of the main reasons for cloud-related security problems in enterprises. This results from the mixing and meshing of disparate legacy on-premise systems, private clouds, multiple public cloud systems, and applications, which makes managing and monitoring multiple cloud services manually labor-intensive. Provisioning, configuring, capacity management, backups, and updates can be overwhelming for IT teams, leading to mistakes that can allow hackers to exploit vulnerabilities and breach systems.

To effectively manage cyber-attacks in cloud environments, enterprises can either pay for vendor-specific security or develop their own structured resolution protocol. However, both options require real-time monitoring of multiple clouds, instant incident response data collection, and analysis, which is often relayed to system managers for resolution. Without a comprehensive multi-cloud strategy driven by vendor-agnostic overarching tools that monitor everything instantaneously, enterprises will remain vulnerable to attacks or incur additional costs from vendor-specific security solutions.

The Emergence of Agnostic CCMOs

To successfully migrate and manage organizational cloud operations, organizations need to define a clear cloud strategy. Without one, users and groups may adopt solutions without clear guidance, leading to problems like technology silos, non-standardized implementations, cloud sprawl, spiraling costs, and greater exposure to risk. Effective cloud management requires enterprises to monitor cloud operations, but the basic native monitoring consoles and utilities provided by most cloud service providers are not vendor-agnostic, tying each tool to its respective provider. Monitoring each tool is time-consuming, cumbersome, and expensive.

One option that simplifies cloud monitoring is a vendor-agnostic cloud cost monitoring and optimization tool (CCMO). This type of tool operates independently of any one cloud provider, leveraging AI and machine learning to provide a closed-loop solution for public and private clouds. In essence, an agnostic CCMO tool provides a customizable, automated means of aggregating all cloud assets into a single source of data, delivering multiple benefits and a true competitive advantage for organizations moving to the cloud. Here are some of the key areas in which an agnostic CCMO can support an enterprise’s cloud management strategy.

  • Comprehensive Cloud Visibility

To manage cloud operations effectively, enterprises require a comprehensive picture of their cloud deployment. An agnostic CCMO tool provides complete visibility of all cloud assets, regardless of vendor, location, technology, application, or platform.

The first step towards reducing cloud sprawl and complexity is to audit the existing spread of cloud assets. Rather than conducting time-consuming manual asset audits, an agnostic CCMO tool can ingest data from all cloud resources, such as virtual machines, disks, databases, load balancers, and virtual networks, and map the entire infrastructure in real-time. This includes resources across IaaS (Infrastructure-as-a-Service), PaaS (Platform-as-a-Service) and CaaS (Container-as-a-Service) elements. Integrating all these assets seamlessly across all cloud environments in a centralized monitoring console gives a holistic view of an enterprise’s cloud operations in a single ‘pane of glass,’ bringing greater transparency and observability in real-time.

Constant monitoring generates intelligent actionable insights and enables deep data analysis to understand usage and distribution by region, service provider, or business units within the organization. Having this data intelligence supports cloud optimization, helps improve cost visibility, and identifies and addresses cloud sprawl and excess elements before they spread across an enterprise.

  • Improved Financial Management

An agnostic CCMO with enhanced observational functionality can track cloud expenditure and conduct comprehensive cost analysis. It can compare existing expenditure with the value realized, pair it with spend-tracking protocols, and benchmark it against performance. Anomaly detection can be applied to analyze patterns, identify trends, locate outliers, identify root causes, and flag potential issues with enterprise cloud teams.

Regular analysis across cloud operations enables the generation of right-sizing reports and recommendations to ensure that assets are fully optimized, and areas of potential savings are highlighted. Full visibility of costs versus required assets and usage enables teams to identify even the smallest spend leaks, forecast cloud costs, and plan budgets with great accuracy. The net result is accelerated business value realization from cloud deployments.

  • Improved Governance Through Tagging

To identify specific resources in the cloud, enterprises use a tagging mechanism where each asset receives a tag. This provides a detailed overview of cloud usage and associated costs. However, improper tagging of cloud resources can lead to inflated bills and under or over-utilized resources. An agnostic CCMO tool can improve the tagging mechanism by identifying resources without tags, allowing enterprises to establish tag policies across all cloud vendors, business units, technologies, and applications.

An effective tag-based access management system enables administrators to detect cloud sprawl by evaluating if entities are associated with mandatory tags such as business unit, application, and environment. It can also improve security and compliance, providing a better understanding of cloud resource and service usage that allows administrators to charge usage to the correct business unit and, from a governance standpoint, ensure that only assigned users have access to designated resources.

  • Autonomous Cloud Life-cycle Operations

To manage routine tasks and drive optimal performance from increasingly complex cloud environments, organizations should employ an agnostic CCMO tool for autonomous cloud life-cycle operations. This enables automation tools to be leveraged across the entire cloud architecture. By automating service requests for life-cycle operations such as user management, health checks, event management, and compliance, resources and assets can be freed up, and service disruptions can be minimized for scheduled upgrades and patching.

An agnostic CCMO tool provides streamlined, centralized monitoring, which enables proactive system health checks and automated IT event management across an organization’s entire cloud ecosystem. The tool constantly monitors operations and captures the readiness and health of each system, while identifying any alerts and analyzing them with a closed-loop approach to determine probable cause, recommend fixes, and heal incidents autonomously. Incidents that cannot be resolved autonomously are elevated to relevant stakeholders for remediation. This results in less downtime and shorter mean-time-to-resolve.

Vendor Agnostic Cloud Management is a True Game Changer

The cloud continues to fundamentally change the way business is done. As more companies migrate to the cloud, it’s vital that they do so in a strategic and responsible way. Enterprises face numerous challenges, but using a robust vendor-agnostic CCMO tool at the heart of an organizational cloud management strategy can be a true game changer. Deploying a dedicated independent resource to measure utility, effectively track assets, automate a multitude of tasks, detect anomalies, and optimize costs, all in real-time, will be vital to position enterprises for success in the emerging era of cloud-denominated commerce.