Cloud service consumers tend to have a myriad of requirements which drive the 'need' for a multi-cloud strategy.  Top-down multi-cloud drivers can include the desire to avoid vendor lock-in or minimise the risk of data loss and downtime.  On the other hand, bottom-up drivers can often result from tactical development-led projects or mergers and acquisitions.

Whichever the reason, organisations wanting to embark on a multi-cloud strategy face challenges, which can include the availability of multi-cloud skilled personnel and the lack of supporting technologies required to integrate different cloud providers cost-effectively.  The article below explores these challenges and the opportunities multi-cloud can provide despite the cloud-based business models which continue to threaten the role of MSPs (Managed Service Providers) and VARs (Value Added Resellers). The article continues on to describe the new role the MSPs and VARs, collectively termed as the ‘channel’, should adopt.

Cloud computing has been groundbreaking, tried and trusted; business models are still playing catch up.  So, what I consider interesting about the current market is the psychology behind the dominant forces holding all the cards and those who would rather play with a different set of cards.   Multi-cloud could be 'make or break' for some quarters within the channel, and the cards are firmly stacked in the cloud vendors' favour.

The opportunity for the channel

A cloud platform viewed separately from its peers can be considered mature. However, the same cannot be said when these platforms are grouped together as a single entity.  Logically dissect these platforms, and you'll find the layers that have grown in maturity over the years, include the core (virtualisation to monitoring capabilities), the automation, and the cost management layers.

On the surface, the above seems to be enough, yet on closer inspection, the differences between the platforms are apparent.  Each platform has a different interface, a different approach to connectivity, and various features for similar services, e.g., storage.  All this has meant that software portability is currently a real challenge, and cross-cloud integration is a trail of grand fetes, as is moving data across clouds.  Bridging clouds, therefore, is the next cloud computing layer to see the maturity in its offering.

Multi-cloud is a 1 billion-euro opportunity in Europe, and it's expected to double by 2020.

The channel is making bets on multi-cloud being a sobering reality for the cloud vendors.  Furthermore, with the potential of a different set of cards on the table, the channel is priming itself for solving consumer problems at the multi-cloud bridge layers and delivering services which do not restrict its consumer base to single cloud vendors.

The cloud service providers

Cloud computing is a model which re-defines the fundamentals of how technology is consumed.  At its heart lies the motivation to control the commodities that keep service providers profitable.  As humanity has shown, those who have control over the commodities others desire, wield power.  For the so-called big three cloud service providers, power is seemingly wielded differently according to their assumed status, and the channel with the rest of the industry has to accordingly adapt.

For example, technology-centric AWS, although committed to easing the switching process, is quick to play down suggestions of multi-cloud being the nirvana.  AWS's current publicised arguments against multi-cloud include access to multi-cloud-skilled personnel, the complexity and costs of learning multiple cloud platforms, and the diminished buying power when spreading workloads across clouds.  AWS see the challenges with multi-cloud will drive the consumers to adopt a single-cloud vendor, a strategy termed 'all-in'.  The principles of an 'all-in' strategy reduce the necessity for solutions aimed at the multi-cloud bridge layer and, therefore, limit the market for the channel.

Azure, a dominant enterprise-centric player that spent its early years chasing AWS, has a more optimistic, open view on multi-cloud and its inherent challenges.  Azure believes that multi-cloud is a sensible evolution of the current model.  Having caught AWS and with the gained self-assurance of also being a leader, Azure now wants to be at the forefront of the multi-cloud movement.  From a channel perspective, it would be interesting to understand how an enterprise-centric Azure views the role of the channel in responding to the current challenges with multi-cloud.

Google Cloud, loosely termed 'option three' by the industry, follows on the coattails of AWS and Azure.  With a technology-centric background firmly planted in the open-source movement, Google Cloud is enthusiastic about the prospects of multi-cloud.  For example, Google Cloud views the ability to combine and integrate different tools and platforms as one of the greatest opportunities for cloud technology.  Google Cloud firmly believes that the cloud industry is entering a future marked by openness and interoperability.  Given Google Cloud's position behind the two frontrunners in terms of market share, it makes sense that Google Cloud makes enterprise-centric statements about the long-term vision for multi-cloud.  Bold statements about multi-cloud from the likes of Google Cloud would be music to the channel's ears.

It's not only the channel looking to multi-cloud as a way to make significant in-roads into the cloud market.  The niche cloud vendors understand their proposition is unlikely to get ‘all-in’ consumers.  As niche vendors, they are more likely to gain market share by taking workloads that closely match their niche offering—e.g., IBM's Watson AI.  Just like the channel, the niche cloud vendors are enthusiastic about the prospects of multi-cloud being the force that breaks up the current dominance and re-distributes the power within the industry.  Success for the channel and niche cloud vendors are intertwined with the fate of multi-cloud; the channel may just have friends in the niche cloud vendors.

Will multi-cloud happen, and will it open the market to the next generation of channel providers? Apparently so, as all but a few are willing for multi-cloud to happen. And if history can show us the way, as the journey from mainframe to client-server, the shift from cloud to multi-cloud will become the standard operating model - a model where openness and interoperability are first-class citizens.