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Consistency is key to cloud

Today’s businesses are under pressure to digitally transform their operations, boost performance, and become more agile through automation, orchestration, and optimisation of their IT infrastructure. To achieve this, more are adopting a cloud-first strategy, writes Matthew Barker, divisional sales manager for Sub-Saharan Africa at F5 Networks.

This was one of the key findings from our recent Cloud Africa 2018 research, which polled decision-makers at 300 medium and large organisations across South Africa, Kenya, and Nigeria about their cloud computing usage, benefits, and intentions.

We found that not only are organisations in Africa going cloud first, but there is also a clear trend in the prominence of multi-cloud environments across all three countries. In Nigeria, 60% of surveyed organisations use between two and six cloud providers. This increases to 66% in Kenya and 76% in South Africa.

Multi-cloud complexity

Typically, applications – and the need to deliver applications faster and with greater scale and efficacy – dictate which cloud environment an organisation uses. Where one environment might be ideal to meet the requirements for one application, it could also be detrimental to another. The fact that different applications require different cloud services – from data sources to security to access control – has fuelled an uptick in multi-cloud environments but has also introduced complexities and challenges, including inconsistent security policies, inefficient resource allocation, longer time-to-service, and increased time-to-market.

Cloud vulnerabilities typically exist because organisations misconfigure their platforms. In the past, apps were managed via data centres with on-premises technology. Today, many companies are migrating apps to private clouds built in on-premises data centres, private clouds in co-located environments, while using hybrid models to tap into the public cloud. This makes it difficult to maintain a strong security posture.

Private cloud and co-location data centres are the most prominent across the three countries surveyed. Over the next 12 months, 73% of South African organisations plan to use on-premises private cloud, compared to 63% in Kenya and 54% in Nigeria. Plans to use co-location data centres were relatively equal across the three countries, coming in at 37% in South Africa, 38% in Kenya, and 32% in Nigeria.

Sprawling challenges

A global challenge of adopting multiple cloud platforms is the notion of multi-cloud sprawl, whereby applications deployed to different clouds require domain knowledge specific to every provider, which increases the skills gap. As companies continue to add providers and use a variety of toolsets, the complexity grows exponentially, resulting in varying degrees of support, policies, security, and control.

Africa is no different, with organisations reporting that protecting applications from existing and emerging threats (highest in Nigeria, at 36%), optimising app performance (highest in Kenya, at 47%), and applying consistent security policies (highest in South Africa, at 35%) were the biggest challenges of managing a multi-cloud environment.

Consistency is key

According to F5 Labs, 53% of data breaches initially target applications, and with more workloads moving to the cloud, trying to balance app performance and security will become an even bigger challenge as organisations grapple with inconsistent application security policies and compliance risks.

Yet, if organisations want to meet customer demand and remain competitive, they need to be able to quickly develop and deploy scalable applications and services, and to move them freely and securely between public and private clouds.

To enable this, organisations need to simplify policy development and architect a multi-cloud strategy with effective security solutions. Standardising on advanced tools, improving the speed of deployment processes, and gaining greater control management is a strong step in the right direction. Applying consistent policies, irrespective of application location, also decreases total cost of ownership while accelerating time-to-market and overall innovation capacity.

Staying competitive in today’s fast-paced digital world requires the ability to scale operations to handle the influx of data and traffic. The cloud is an organisation’s best bet at successful digital transformation, but that success depends on security consistency, robust policies, and the ability to scale as needed. Once they get this right, agility through automation, orchestration, and optimisation will naturally follow.

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