We’ve come a long way with the cloud—in just a few years, it’s trans­formed enterprise infrastructure, redefined the economics of IT, and sparked a revolution in digital busi­ness. But now we’re seeing its unintended consequences, as a growing sprawl of cloud services across the enter­prise threatens to undermine manageability, security, and user experience. At the risk of sounding alarmist, we need to solve cloud sprawl now, before it gets worse, or we’ll risk having the cloud become just as problematic as any legacy architecture.

"At The Risk Of Sounding Alarmist, We Need To Solve Cloud Sprawl Now, Before It Gets Worse"

I confess that after years of operating a fast-growth SaaS start-up, and being part of the leadership teams that first transitioned Ariba, then SAP, to the cloud, I may have contributed to the problem. Now let’s solve it.

The first step is to understand that some of the same drivers and benefits that have pro­pelled the cloud’s rise have also led to the issues we’re seeing today. Developers and lines of business can provision their own cloud services to speed innovation and in­crease flexibility—but IT loses visibility and control over where and how business data is used, accessed and stored. There’s an app or service readily available to meet any need—but users spend their days navigating login screens and disjointed interfac­es. People can work anywhere, any way they want—but network secu­rity becomes an impossible dream, and so does regu­latory compliance. And that vaunted flexibility we’ve been promised ends up involving endless point-to-point integrations that bring back our worst memories of old-time IT.

Imagine that you lead IT for a hospital drawn to the cloud by its favorable economics, rapid provisioning, and device-agnostic delivery. Yes, practitioners can now access clinical apps on tablets as easily as desktop com­puters, and do their paperwork at home after hours, but:

• Applications, imagery, and controls render differently—and often incorrectly—on different devices, leading to a chaot­ic and frustrating user experience.

• A hodgepodge of remote ac­cess methods, along with the un­controlled flow of data through third-party systems, breaks HIP­PA compliance and puts the orga­nization at risk of costly fines or damaging breaches.

• Managing multiple SLAs, li­ability contracts, and audits across multiple service providers leaves IT in need of clinical-grade pain relief.

• The complex matrix of internal and third-party personnel, labs, contrac­tors, and clinics that make up your extended organization calls for an equally complex set of access management policies and mechanisms for IT to manage.

• Users face access management challenges of their own as they struggle to keep track of separate credentials for each cloud service they use, and spend valuable time re-authenticating repeatedly throughout the day.

• And the list goes on.

Issues like these are increasingly familiar in organizations of all kinds, across industries. You’re probably already seeing some of these cloud sprawl effects in your own environment. They’re not going away by themselves, and they can’t be addressed effectively on a point-by-point basis. IT needs a holistic way to restore sanity without sacrificing agility.

Unified Cloud Delivery Platform—The Cloud without the Sprawl

It’s important to understand that combatting cloud sprawl doesn’t have to mean barring wide swaths of useful cloud services from the enterprise, or restricting the ability of developers and users to find the best solutions for their own needs. Instead, we need to get the unwelcome side effects of cloud sprawl under control so that users and the organization can get the best of both worlds—the freedom, flexibility, cost efficiency, and speed of the cloud, with the manageability, security, and seamless experiences of centralized IT.

We can think of solutions to cloud sprawl along the three dimensions where most problems arise: user experience, security, and manageability.

• User experience: The fragmentation that comes with sprawl means that users must log into one environment after another—even in the course of a single business process. IT needs a way to eliminate this friction with single sign-on. Inconsistent performance across services is often an issue as well, calling for a more app-aware approach to networking so that users are routed to the right types of connections for their needs.

• Security: In today’s high-risk landscape, it’s simply unacceptable to let people access, download, and store data anywhere they like, on any device, using any network. Instead, IT should apply conditional security rules to allow access according to the user’s location, device, and network. Sensitive data can be kept centralized in the data center to be accessed remotely, instead of becoming vulnerable on loss-prone endpoints.

• Manageability: Cloud services create silos that complicate security, access management, visibility, and control. IT needs a single control plane to monitor and manage cloud services across the environment, and simplify integration across services.

The requirements at hand are clear enough, even if the industry has yet to coalesce around a name for this emerging solution category. For now, I’m calling it a “unified cloud delivery platform”—a platform designed to ensure simplicity, security, flexibility, and performance in a hybrid, multi-cloud environment. The idea is to merge all of an organization’s approved services from any number of providers into a single portal, enabling a unified mechanism to configure digital workspaces, syndicate them out to individuals by use case, define rules to manage access and performance points, and monitor and manage cloud services across the environment.

In a sense, both cloud sprawl and the unified cloud delivery platform necessitates represent a watershed moment for the cloud. No longer an upstart or niche trend, cloud services are now fully mainstream, calling for an enterprise approach to management. With a unified cloud delivery platform, multi-cloud environments can attain a level of maturity and manageability to equal the legacy architectures it disrupted—and drive value for a new generation of business.

Citrix Systems (NASDAQ: CTXS), founded in 1989, provides the secure delivery of apps and data. The company is headquartered in Santa Clara, California and specializes in Desktop Virtualization, Networking, Enterprise Mobility Management, File Sync and Sharing, and Cloud Services.