Large enterprises have quickly embraced multicloud strategy as a common practice — a shift that introduces opportunities, as well as challenges.
Cisco has witnessed this firsthand, as the company seeks a niche in a shifting IT landscape. Earlier this year, Cisco shuttered Intercloud Services, its failed attempt to create a public cloud competitor to Amazon Web Services (AWS). Now, Cisco’s bets are on a multicloud strategy to draw from its networking and security pedigree and sell itself as a facilitator for corporate IT’s navigation across disparate cloud environments.
In an interview with SearchCloudComputing, Kip Compton, vice president of Cisco’s cloud platforms and solutions group, discussed the latest trends with multicloud strategy and where Cisco plans to fit in the market.
How are your customers shifting their view on multicloud strategy?
Kip Compton: It started with the idea that each application is going to be on separate clouds. It’s still limited to more advanced customers, but we’re seeing use cases where they’re spanning clouds with different parts of an application or subsystems, either for historical reasons or across multiple applications, or taking advantage of the specific capabilities in a cloud.
Hybrid cloud was initially billed as a way for applications to span private and public environments, but that was always more hype than reality. What are enterprises doing now to couple their various environments?
Compton: The way we approach hybrid cloud is as a use case where you have an on-prem data center and a public data center and the two work together. Multicloud, the definition we’ve used, is at least two clouds, one of which is a public cloud. In that way, hybrid is essentially a subset of multicloud for us.
Azure Stack is a bit of an outlier, but hybrid has changed a bit for most of our customers in terms of it not being tightly coupled. Now it is deployments where they have certain codes that run in both places, and the two things work together to deliver an application. They’re calling that hybrid, whereas in the early days, it was more about seamless environments and moving workloads between on prem and the public cloud based on load and time of day, and that seems to have faded.
What are the biggest impediments to a successful multicloud strategy?
Compton: Part of it is what types of problems do people talk about to Cisco, as opposed to other companies, so I acknowledge there may be some bias there. But there are four areas that are pretty reliable for us in customer conversations.
First is networking, not surprisingly, and they talk about how to connect from on prem to the cloud. How do they connect between clouds? How do they figure out how that integrates to their on-prem connectivity frameworks?
Then, there’s security. We see a lot of companies carry forward their security posture as they move workloads; so virtual versions of our firewalls and things like that, and wanting to align with how security works in the rest of their enterprise.
The third is analytics, particularly application performance analytics. If you move an app to a completely different environment, it’s not just about getting the functionality, it’s about being performant. And then, obviously, how do you monitor and manage it [on] an ongoing basis?
The trend we see is [customers] want to take advantage of the unique capabilities of each cloud, but they need some common framework, some capability that actually spans across these cloud providers, which includes their on-prem deployment.
Where do you draw the line on that commonality between environments?
Compton: In terms of abstraction, there was a time where a popular approach was — I’ll call it the Cloud Foundry or bring-your-own-PaaS [platform as a service] approach — to say, ‘OK, the way I’m going to have portability is I’m not going to write my application to use any of the cloud providers’ APIs. I’m not going to take advantage of anything special from AWS or Azure or anyone.’
That’s less popular because the cloud providers have been fairly successful at launching new features developers want to use. We think of it more like a microservices style or highly modular pattern, where, for my application to run, there’s a whole bunch of things I need: messaging queues, server load, database, networking, security plans. It’s less to abstract Amazon’s networking, and it’s more to provide a common networking capability that will run on Amazon.
You mentioned customers with workloads spanning multiple clouds. How are those being built?
Compton: What I referred to are customers that have an application, maybe with a number of different subsystems. They might have an on-prem database that’s a business-critical system. They might do machine learning in Google Cloud Platform with TensorFlow, and they might look to deliver an experience to their customers through Alexa, which means they need to run some portion of the application in Amazon. They’re not taking their database and sharding it across multiple clouds, but those three subsystems have to work together to deliver that experience that the customer perceives as a single application.
What newer public cloud services do you see getting traction with your customers?
Compton: A few months ago, people were reticent to use [cloud-native] services because portability was the most important thing — but now, ROI and speed matter, so they use those services across the board.
Kip Comptonvice president, Cisco’s cloud platforms and solutions group
We see an explosion of interest in serverless. It seems to mirror the container phenomenon where everybody agrees containers will become central to cloud computing architectures. We’re reaching the same point on serverless, or function as a service, where people see that as a better way to create code for more efficient [use of] resources.
The other trend we see: a lot of times people use, for example, Salesforce’s PaaS because their data is there, so the consumption of services is driven by practical considerations. Or they’re in a given cloud using services because of how they interface with one of their business partners. So, as much as there are some cool new services, there are some fairly practical points that drive people’s selection, too.
Have you seen companies shift their in-house architectures to accommodate what they’re doing in the public cloud?
Compton: I see companies starting new applications in the cloud and not on prem. And what’s interesting is a lot of our customers continue to see on-prem growth. They have said, ‘We’re going to go cloud-first on our new applications,’ but the application they already have on prem continues to grow in resource needs.
We also see interest in applying the cloud techniques to the on-prem data center or private cloud. They’re moving away from some of the traditional technologies to make their data center work more like a cloud, partially so it’s easier to work between the two environments, but also because the cloud approach is more efficient and agile than some of the traditional approaches.
And there are companies that want to get out of running data centers. They don’t want to deal with the real estate, the power, the cooling, and they want to move everything they can into Amazon.
What lessons did Cisco learn from the now-shuttered Intercloud?
Compton: The idea was to build a global federated IaaS [infrastructure as a service] that, in theory, would compete with AWS. At that time, most in the industry thought that OpenStack would take over the world. It was viewed as a big threat to AWS.
Today, it’s hard to relate to that point of view — obviously, that didn’t happen. In many ways, cloud is about driving this brutal consistency, and by having global fabrics that are identical and consistent around the world, you can roll out new features and capabilities and scale better than if you have a federated model.
Where we are now in terms of multicloud and strategy going forward — to keep customers and partners and large web scale cloud providers wanting to either buy from us or partner with us — it’s solving some of these complex networking and security problems. Cisco has value in our ability to solve these problems [and] link to the enterprise infrastructures that are in place around the world … that’s the pivot we’ve gone through.
Trevor Jones is a senior news writer with SearchCloudComputing and SearchAWS. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.