The benefits of moving to the cloud have been long praised across industries. As organisations jump on the cloud bandwagon to improve everything from operational efficiency to business agility, it’s not surprising to find IDC forecast that cloud spending will reach $554 billion by 2021.
More and more, organisations are moving away from traditional monolithic software in favour of best-of-breed SaaS applications that provide ultra-specialised functionality. By taking advantage of smaller, more discreet services, organisations are knowingly—and sometimes unknowingly—creating multicloud environments.
Not to be confused with the hybrid model, multicloud is the use of multiple cloud providers—namely Microsoft, Google and Amazon—to create best-of breed solutions. In practice, this could mean an organisation uses a database from Amazon Web Services (AWS) and a compute engine from Google.
However, multicloud is not without its challenges. Biggest of all is the task of integrating all these services into a seamless ecosystem. Forrester recently found that 86 percent of enterprises are using multicloud, while another report from IHS Markit found these environments are built using an average of eight different cloud providers. Therefore, it’s becoming critical for organisations to have effective multi-cloud strategies in place.
Untangling multicloud integration complexity
The move to the cloud isn’t as simple as just migrating applications to a new platform or switching from an on-premises service to a SaaS solution. In addition to re-architecting existing applications to run in the cloud, IT teams must preserve the integrations that connect their applications and data.
Specific types of point-to-point integrations, for example, can’t be migrated from an on-premises environment to the cloud without being rewritten. Integrations designed with on-premises middleware also require the on-premises infrastructure supporting them to be maintained, defeating the object of moving to the cloud in the first place.
IT must also create new integrations that allow cloud services to run alongside on-premises infrastructure. Adding further complexity, organisations often deploy the same applications (e.g., ERPs) across different platforms in multi-cloud environments, while SaaS applications (e.g., CRMs) need to call on data from a variety of on-premises systems and other cloud platforms. Both considerations drive the need for yet more integrations. Given the speed at which the SaaS market is evolving, organisations also need the flexibility to quickly switch from one service to another if something better emerges. As such, rigid integrations threaten to reduce enterprise agility and the ability for organisations to maximise the benefits of the cloud.
Security is another concern, especially at a time when there is an ever increasing number of endpoints to secure. Organisations need to be able to provide secure, governed integration between legacy on-premises systems and cloud applications. Traditional perimeter-based security models that were designed to protect on-premises data are less effective in the multi-cloud world. Organisations, therefore, need new ways of enabling seamless data orchestration across on-premises and cloud environments, while keeping systems secure and preventing unauthorised internal or external access. With GDPR now enforceable, organisations now have an ongoing responsibility to keep the personal data they hold up-to-date and secure.
Lighting the way with APIs
The key to overcoming these integration challenges lies in finding a way to modernise on-premises applications and data sources, in a way that enables them to co-exist with cloud infrastructure and SaaS applications. This can best be achieved using APIs, or application programming interfaces, to build an integration layer that decouples on-premises data and applications from the systems they reside on. This layer also acts as an intermediary between on-premises and cloud services, so applications remain completely neutral to the platform they reside on and maintain access to data and services as they move to the cloud.
Standardising IT access in this way also helps organisations overcome the security challenges of moving to the cloud by enabling them to embed controls directly into the APIs, following a security-by-design approach. As a further advantage of eliminating tight coupling between services, applications can be more easily migrated across clouds and SaaS solutions can be more easily swapped in and out. This reduces the risk of vendor lock-in and accelerates innovation by enabling faster deployment in multi-cloud environments.
Creating a fluid bedrock
As organisations build out this new integration layer, they will naturally form what is known as an application network, which provides IT with an architecture of reusable building blocks that can be used to rapidly connect new cloud services.
With an application network, organisations can future-proof their businesses and create a decoupled architectures that streamline migration between on-premises and cloud environments in a way that minimises disruption to end users. Enterprises are thereby free to embrace new opportunities as they emerge, rather than being tied to decisions made in the past—a crucial capability given the dynamic pace of change in the SaaS market.
Global banking giant HSBC has adopted this approach, building an application network to modernise its legacy systems and create composable banking services that run in a hybrid environment. By creating an API layer on top of its on-premises systems, HSBC was able to unlock and expose data and application functionality across its multi-cloud environment, paving the way for rapid innovation. Furthermore, it has been able to do so securely by embedding governance into every node of its deployment environment.
Ultimately, the newfound fluidity that businesses achieve with an API-led approach is key to ensuring multi-cloud strategies are successful in delivering the desired efficiency, agility and accelerated innovation benefits. As the cloud market continues to mature, it’s becoming apparent that cloud migration will never be ‘complete.’ There will always be a need to evolve and adapt. The application network is therefore a crucial foundation for a multi-cloud strategy, unshackling organisations from the confines of a static point in time and giving them freedom to explore best-of-breed services in the journey ahead.
This article first appeared on CBR.