Due to the benefits of a multicloud approach, a growing number of enterprises are now using the practice of combining various cloud platforms into one overall cloud deployment.
According to the RightScale 2018 State of the Cloud Report, 96 percent of organizations are in the cloud, and 81 percent of enterprises are pursuing a multicloud strategy. On average, organizations are running workloads in 4.8 different clouds — some of them public cloud and some of them private cloud.
Some companies are setting up true hybrid clouds, a variation of multicloud where the public and private clouds are tightly integrated so that workloads can move easily from one to the other. But most are simply choosing to use multiple infrastructure as a service (IaaS), platform as a service and software as a service vendors without tightly integrating them.
Why is multicloud becoming so popular? More important, what multicloud benefits might your company experience if you choose this approach?
- Workload Optimization
- Security and Compliance
- Vendor Lock-In Avoidance
- Employee Satisfaction
- Multicloud Disadvantages
The biggest benefit of a multicloud strategy is that it allows companies to select the cloud service that is the best fit for each of their workloads Organizations might choose to combine cloud platforms because various vendors have different strengths and weaknesses. For instance:
- One cloud vendor's service might be less expensive than similar services (more on cost optimization below).
- A particular service might have a highly desirable feature that the comparable services lack.
- Some vendors offer IaaS instances that are configured differently than others. In particular, one might include slightly more RAM, which might benefit some applications that need high performance.
- With some vendors, you can bring your on-premise software licenses that you've already paid for to the public cloud, while others don't have that option.
In some cases, you might be looking for an IaaS for a custom application that gets data from a software as a service (SaaS) offering. In that case, you might want the public cloud provider with the best integration for that SaaS vendor. Or a particular application might have hybrid architecture, that is, part of it is running in your private cloud while another piece is in the public cloud. In that situation, you might want to use the same public cloud vendor (often Microsoft, IBM or Oracle) that is providing the software you run in your own data center.
Sometimes, one vendor may offer an advantage over another even for very similar workloads. For example, some enterprises are finding that while they prefer one cloud environment for their dev and test environments, another is preferable for production. Or one vendor might be best for their primary environment, but a second might be better for backup and disaster recovery purposes — and perhaps there's even a third that is a better fit for archive purposes.
The point is that with a multicloud strategy, you can pick the service that is best for each individual workload.
Those workload optimization decisions aren't going to be one-time choices. Your business needs are changing all the time, so the service that was right for a particular workload yesterday may not still be the best fit tomorrow.
In addition, the cloud computing services are also changing all the time. Vendors add new features and entirely new services on a regular basis. They may bring a new data center online that is more geographically desirable. And vendors are changing their prices — usually by lowering them — all the time.
A multicloud strategy gives organizations the flexibility to change vendors and services whenever a different option become preferable.
However, in order to actually realize the benefits of multicloud, you will need to follow some multicloud best practices. Some services — most notably, serverless computing or function as a service offerings — offer very limited workload portability. While they speed development, they often commit you to a particular vendor. Therefore, organizations might only want to use these services for applications where speed is more important than flexibility.
In addition, enterprises looking for flexibility might want to invest in containerization, orchestration and multicloud management tools. These tools can make it much easier to workloads around from one vendor to another, and some even incorporate machine learning or artificial intelligence capabilities that can recommend the best fit for different workloads.
Public cloud computing costs are a huge concern for enterprises, particularly for those that have been using public clouds for some time.
In fact, in the RightScale report, intermediate and advanced cloud users cited managing costs as their top public cloud challenge. And even among beginners, costs were the third biggest challenge.
Image Source: RightScale 2018 State of the Cloud Report
A big part of the problem is that cloud pricing is incredibly complex. Users need to select from a mindboggling array of instance types, data center locations, services, pricing options and available discounts.
A multicloud strategy allows organizations to keep costs under control by allowing them to use the vendor that offers the best price-per-performance for a particular workload. However, in much the same way that enterprises can achieve the flexibility they need only by following multicloud best practices, enterprises will also need to take some steps to ensure that they are optimizing their cloud spend. These might include turning on autoscaling, creating a central cloud team, implementing chargeback reporting and deploying cloud cost management tools.
As noted above, public cloud performance will vary depending on which instance, which cloud service and which vendor you select.
A lot of different variables impact the performance of cloud workloads. Most obviously, the specifications of the underlying hardware — the speed of the CPU, the amount of RAM, the storage media, etc. — will affect the speed of the workloads.
However, many users don't realize that a cloud vendor's other customers can also affect performance for your workloads. Because public cloud resources are shared, your application may end up on a server that is also being used by a very resource-intensive application from a different company. In this situation, the "noisy neighbor" effect may slow your performance.
In addition, users sometimes fail to realize the impact that networking has on performance. If you are connecting to your public cloud provider via standard Internet connections, you may not have adequate speed or bandwidth to support certain applications. In some cases, dedicated private connections may make sense, or you may even want to consider keeping an application in your own private cloud.
Geography can also impact performance. The farther the cloud data center is from users, the more latency those users will experience. This might not matter for some use cases, say corporate email, but it might be significant for others, like applications for financial trading.
Of course, some enterprises also make the mistake of paying for more performance than they really need. A multicloud approach can make it easier for organizations to find the most appropriate balance between performance and cost for each use case.
Another of the key multicloud benefits is reliability. Many enterprises use multiple clouds as part of their disaster recovery/business continuity (DR/BC) planning, and in that case, it makes sense to use at least two different clouds.
Backup and recovery experts recommend the 3-2-1 rule: Make three copies of your data, store the data on at least two different media and keep at least one of those copies in a different place. That means, if you are running your primary systems in a public cloud, you're going to need at least one backup stored in a different location.
While you could use a different data center for the same vendor, it might be less risky to use a different vendor for at least one backup. That way, if a particular cloud provider experiences a catastrophic outage that affects more than one of its data centers, you will still have systems online.
Of course, geography plays a role here as well. You should also make sure that your primary and secondary systems are separated by enough distance that they are unlikely to be affected by the same disasters, such as power outages or extreme weather.
Using multiple cloud vendors for disaster recovery backup might help some organizations meet compliance requirements. Other enterprises might need to keep some data in a private cloud or in a public cloud data center within their national borders to comply with regulations relevant to them.
Another multicloud benefit is that organizations can put workloads in whichever cloud service and whichever data center best meets their security and compliance needs.
Enterprises say that one of key mulicloud benefits they are trying to achieve by pursuing a multicloud strategy is to avoid vendor lock-in. Using a single public cloud vendor puts an organization more or less at the mercy of that vendor, potentially driving up prices.
Spreading their workloads around to multiple vendors means that any potential price increases at one vendor will likely be offset by workloads running on another provider’s services. In addition, it increases the possibility that organizations will be able to move workloads from one vendor to another in order to maximize cost savings. However, in order to achieve this kind of portability, organizations will likely need to invest in container, orchestration, price optimization and/or multicloud management tools.
While this potential multicloud benefit isn’t often discussed, some employees clearly prefer one cloud vendor over another. Perhaps they have been certified by a particular provider or simply have a lot of experience with that company’s tools.
A multicloud strategy gives organizations the ability to allow employees to use the cloud services they prefer — assuming all the other considerations are more or less equal. This can be particularly attractive to development teams who have strong preferences for their development environment. In fact, this approach can be a big employee efficiency booster: allowing employees to use tools that they are familiar with can also increase productivity.
Of course, pursuing a multicloud allows not just benefits, but some real challenges:
- Complexity — The most obvious drawback to a multicloud environment is that it is much more complicated to monitor and manage this type of environment. Enterprises will likely find that the free tools provided by the cloud vendors are no longer adequate to the task. They may need to invest in new tooling and possibly even increase headcount in order to compensate.
- Increased Management Costs — Those new tools and new employees come with a price tag. If enterprises aren't careful, they may find that the price savings they hoped would be one of their multicloud benefits never materialize. However, having a centralized cloud cost management tool can help keeps these operating expenses under control.
- Security — Using more cloud companies means hackers have more potential access points into your network. Be sure you understand what security measures your vendors have in place and that you have appropriate tools to protect your entire network — including public cloud, private cloud, Saas, endpoints and in-house data centers.
- Talent Scarcity — Many employers report that it is difficult to find IT staff with cloud computing expertise — even if you're just looking for someone who knows one vendor's products. If you're looking for someone who understand multiple public clouds, hiring becomes much more difficult — and potentially expensive.
Most enterprises find that the multicloud benefits outweigh these potential drawbacks, but you'll need to make sure that you are following best practices to achieve optimal results.