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What is Multicloud?

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Today, most enterprises have a multicloud IT environment. In other words, they use more than one public cloud or private cloud.

Some people use the word multicloud to refer to all three main types of cloud computing — software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS) and infrastructure as a service (IaaS). By that definition, virtually every organization on the planet is deploying a multicloud strategy, because nearly every organization uses at least two SaaS providers.

It is more common to use the word multicloud in reference only to IaaS and PaaS. A company is said to be adopting multicloud architecture if it has more than one private cloud, utilizes multiple public cloud vendors or has both public and private clouds.

For deeper insight on multicloud, see our articles on multicloud strategy, multicloud trends, and multicloud benefits.

Multicloud Use

A survey conducted by RightScale, which used the second definition of multicloud, found the following:

  • 81 percent of enterprises have a multicloud strategy.
  • On average, these large organizations use 4.8 different clouds.
  • 64 percent of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) take a multicloud approach.

Frequently, organizations end up with a multicloud environment by accident. One group of employees decides to use a particular cloud vendor for a particular project, and then another group of employees selects a different vendor for another project. In some cases, the IT department might not even be aware of all the different clouds being used by their employees. This sort of shadow IT represents a big risk for companies, because it makes it difficult to manage costs, control access or properly secure applications and data.

Other times, organizations adopt a multicloud strategy on purpose in order to meet business goals, such as avoiding vendor lock-in or ensuring business continuity. And some people establish multicloud environments because they want to create a full-featured hybrid cloud.

Multicloud vs. Hybrid Cloud

Although disagreement persists about the exact definition of hybrid cloud and multicloud, most cloud computing experts make a distinction among the two.

Both terms refer to an IT environment where more than one cloud is in use. However, a hybrid cloud always has both a public cloud and a private cloud. Multicloud, by contrast, can be any combination of public and/or private clouds. Thus, a hybrid cloud can be considered a kind of multicloud.

In addition, the most important point of differentiation is that a hybrid cloud is set up with a single purpose in mind and managed as a single entity, while that may or may not be true for multicloud. In a hybrid cloud setting, the private cloud is configured just like the public cloud so that workloads can easily move from one to the other.

For example, some organizations establish hybrid clouds for disaster recovery purposes. The public cloud environment exactly (or as close as possible) mirrors the in-house private cloud so that operations can continue as normal after failover in the event of an emergency. Other hybrid clouds are used for archiving, cloud bursting or for application development with development and testing housed in the public cloud and production workloads moved back in-house.

By contrast, most non-hybrid multicloud environments serve many different purposes. Some workloads run in one cloud and others run in another because of cost considerations, security and compliance needs, or for other reasons. And while IT may have tools that allow it to manage and monitor multicloud architecture, most multicloud situations are not unified in the same manner as hybrid clouds.

Hybrid Cloud

Multicloud

Always includes both public and private clouds

May include public and private clouds, multiple private clouds or multiple public clouds

May have just one vendor

Usually has multiple vendors

Both clouds are serving a single purpose

Different clouds usually serve different purposes

Workloads can easily move from one cloud to the other

Workloads may or may not move from one cloud to the other.

Pros and Cons of Multicloud

Many organization realize that multicloud benefits are numerous, and so strategize to gain the most from these advantages. However, a multicloud strategy certainly has its challenges and drawbacks.

On the positive side, a multicloud approach allows companies to match each workload with the best price. Additionally, multicloud offers more flexibility, with the best vendor for each service, which also avoids vendor lock in. In many cases multicloud can improve reliability (if one provider has an outage, others remain operational) and can offer greater security and compliance. Of course proximity to cloud data centers will be closer with more providers. And employee satisfaction can be higher, given that workers can deploy the provider they most prefer.

On the down side, multicloud will inevitably present more complexity and will likely boost management costs. Managing more providers is always more cumbersome and thus more expensive. While the multicloud platform itself may be more secure, connecting to more providers requires a larger network, which could offer more openings to hackers. And there aren't many trained staffers with a lot of multicloud experience.

Pros and Cons of Multicloud

Pro

Con

·   Potential cost savings

·   Flexibility

·   Potential security improvements

·   Employee satisfaction

·   Avoiding vendor lock-in

·   Proximity

·   Greater reliability

·   Potential high TCO

·   Complexity

·   Potential security risks

·   Talent scarcity

Multicloud Costs and Multicloud Billing

Attempting to understand the costs of multicloud is a new – and vexing – challenge for most companies. But it's certainly a challenge with which most firms would welcome more help. 

The problem is that the concept of multicloud is relatively new, so a system of multicloud billing has yet to become standardized across the industry. Companies very much want such a solution: understanding cloud computing costs is a complex topic even with a single vendor, much less a handful.

At this point, multicloud billing is euphemism for “let’s add up all our individual cloud bills.” Even as you read this there are certainly IT managers doing exactly that.

A related problem is that individual cloud vendors have little interest in multicloud billing. Neither AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google offer multicloud billing that encompasses other providers. They issue their own invoices with no regard for any other contracted service. That these fiercely competitive cloud vendors would work together to provide a unified multicloud bill is highly unlikely.

However, while multicloud billing software has yet to be standardized, it’s probable that this tool will see great strides in the years ahead. The rapidly growing sector of cloud management platforms offers an array of cost monitoring tools. These include solutions from Rightscale, Scalr, BMC and several more.

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