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Don't Be a Prisoner to Cloud Complexity

Nov 08, 2017

For most CIOs in today’s cloud-focused landscape, the job is largely about creating flexibility—flexibility to satisfy the divergent needs of different teams, to get the most from existing on-prem investments while managing increasingly complex and heterogeneous IT systems, to make adjustments as the market changes, and so on. Indeed, survey after survey reasserts that as cloud adoption increases, many of enterprises’ most pressing concerns revolve around preserving flexibility.

As we’ll see, an API-first approach can be an excellent antidote to these challenges, enabling an organization to flexibly manage workloads and data even as those assets are increasingly distributed across complex, multi-cloud ecosystems.

Inflexibility in enterprise IT

When businesses find themselves confined to certain use cases or architectures, the situation almost never arises deliberately. It almost always stems from choices that seem like the best solutions right now. The problem is, right now is often a narrow perspective that can privilege a current concern over future flexibility or serves the needs of one part of the organization but not another.

In severe situations, investments intended to be solutions can turn out to be blockers. Many businesses have found that the true cost of a given approach or solution wasn’t what it seemed—that there are unforeseen add-on costs that can grow to consume IT budgets, limit the business’s ability to pursue other approaches, and blunt the company’s ability to respond to new competitors and changes in user behavior.

More clouds, more complexity

The challenges described above were true in the old world of corporate datacenters and are still true in the new world of cloud computing—but today’s landscape adds a new wrinkle: when business leaders talk about using the cloud, they can mean a lot of different things.

Sometimes moving to the cloud means moving all of your workloads. Often, it means parts of the business use some kind of SaaS service but everything mission critical still runs in the corporate data center. A few companies have well-conceived multi-cloud plans that efficiently leverage different clouds for different strengths. Many have a tangle of cloud services that grew organically, with some business units adopting one service and other business units adopting something else.

Each of these situations can be complicated, and because many of them aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive, the complexity can compound itself over time. Efforts to evolve the business’s model can lead to decisions that seem like solutions in the present but limit flexibility over the long run. Compatibility and integration challenges can loom over this complexity, further restricting options.

Because “the cloud” encompasses so many strategies, and enterprises may have to rapidly adapt new tactics in order to remain competitive, flexibility is paramount. For example, even if your business still runs primarily out of a corporate data center, you can save your organization many future headaches by selecting tools and techniques that enable interoperability among on-prem, hybrid, and multi-cloud environments.

How APIs can tame cloud complexity and create flexibility

Enterprises need visibility into and control over all the applications, data, and services that support their businesses, regardless of whether those assets run from local machines or across multiple clouds. APIs and API management have emerged as a popular way for enterprises to decouple their front end development from their backend systems, enabling businesses to agilely iterate their apps and services without being bogged down by underlying complexity. API management can operate similarly in a multi-cloud environment, abstracting heterogenous and hard-to-integrate cloud services beneath a consistent interface.

That is, in a world of stifling complexity, an API can be your “open for business” sign.

This means API management represents not only a way to apply consistent security, control, and analytics across the assets in an environment that can include public clouds, SaaS systems, and private data centers, but also a way to architect around many of the flexibility challenges CIOs may face.

Flexibility in a multi-cloud world

As on-prem systems and corporate datacenters give way to hybrid and multi-cloud as the main approaches to enterprise IT architecture, businesses face two pressing challenges: preserving flexibility and managing complexity.

For the former, it is important that companies consider not only what a new solution offers now but also how easily the company can change course, if necessary, in the future. In many cases, investing in cross-cloud approaches now will mitigate headaches later.

For managing complexity, many companies are increasingly turning to a specific cross-cloud approach: APIs. As companies engage with more cloud services from more vendors, disparate interfaces and levels of extensibility can become overwhelming. APIs provide a consistent interface for abstracting this complexity, and a common layer for visibility, control, and security.

This story originally appeared in Medium.

Image: Flickr Creative Commons / Simon Cocks

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