Untangling the complexity of multi-cloud integration

Credit: 127356479 © Bakhtiar Zein | Dreamstime.com

Organisations are increasingly moving to the cloud to improve everything from operational efficiency to business agility. According to Gartner, cloud spending in Australia is on track to reach almost $4.6 billion this year and $7.69 billion by 2021.

As organisations move away from traditional monolithic software in favour of SaaS applications that provide ultra-specialised functionality, many are knowingly—and sometimes unknowingly—creating multi-cloud environments.

Not to be confused with the hybrid model, multi-cloud 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 that uses a database from Amazon Web Services and a computer engine from Google.

But multi-cloud is not without its challenges. Namely, the task of integrating all these services into a seamless ecosystem. The average enterprise has 1,020 cloud applications, without taking into account any legacy, on-premises or home-grown applications that it may use. As a result, it’s critical that these organisations have effective multi-cloud strategies in place to realise the full benefits of the cloud.

The integration complexity

Moving to the cloud isn’t as simple as 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. For example, specific types of point-to-point integrations 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. This defeats the objective of moving to the cloud in the first place.

In addition, IT must 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 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. This is where rigid integrations can reduce enterprise agility and an organisation’s ability 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. 

Credit: 98340936 © Bakhtiar Zein | Dreamstime.com

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.

Building bridges with APIs

The key to overcoming 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 is 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, allowing applications to remain platform neutral and maintain access to data 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. A further advantage of eliminating tight coupling between services is that 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.

Laying the foundation for fluidity

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 utilised 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 subsequently 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. By creating an API layer on top of its on-premises systems, firms can unlock and expose data and application functionality across multi-cloud environments, paving the way for rapid innovation.

Credit: 119008050 © Thodonal | Dreamstime.com

IP Australia, the government agency responsible for administering Australia’s intellectual property rights system, is modernising its legacy systems to deliver on its current and future customers’ expectations of a digital service. The organisation is embracing an API-led approach to transform disparate legacy applications creating application networks and connecting on-premises data and services to cloud-native offerings, driving greater value from its data assets.

Ultimately, the 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 matures, 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 a crucial foundation for a multi-cloud strategy, unshackling organisations from the confines of a static point in time and giving them the freedom to explore best-of-breed services in the journey ahead.

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