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As global cloud usage has exploded over the last few years, we have begun to hear a number of new buzzwords with increasing frequency. One of these buzzwords is “Multi-Cloud”, and it has picked up tremendous steam over the last year and change. In this post we will talk about the pros and cons of a multi-cloud approach with the goal of clarifying whether such an architecture is right for your business.
What does multi-cloud mean?
The term multi-cloud refers to a cloud architecture that incorporates multiple cloud computing services from different vendors or providers in a single, integrated IT environment. This might include a combination of public cloud services (e.g. AWS, Azure, GCP, ServerCloud, etc.), private cloud infrastructure, and/or on-premises resources. The idea behind multi-cloud is to improve flexibility and avoid vendor lock-in, while letting organizations take advantage of specific features and capabilities that are unique to each cloud provider.
One example of a multi-cloud deployment could be an organization using AWS for their main website and customer-facing applications while also using Azure for their data analytics and business intelligence workloads. Such an organization may also incorporate a private cloud infrastructure using OpenStack for sensitive or regulated data. Although they will vary from one business to another, the drivers in this example would be to take advantage of the scalability and cost-effectiveness of public cloud providers, using the best features and capabilities of each, and yet still maintaining control over sensitive data with their own private cloud.
What are the advantages of multi-cloud?
A multi-cloud architecture has several advantages, some of which include:
- Resilience and redundancy: By spreading workloads across multiple cloud providers, a multi-cloud architecture can help to ensure that applications and services remain available in the event of a failure or outage in one of the clouds.
- Cost savings: Using multiple cloud providers can allow organizations to take advantage of different pricing models and negotiate better deals with each provider.
- Avoiding vendor lock-in: By using multiple cloud providers, organizations can reduce their dependence on a single vendor, making it easier to switch providers in the future if/when necessary.
- Access to a wider range of services: Using multiple cloud providers can give organizations access to a wider range of services and features, helping them meet the needs of a variety of applications and workloads.
- Compliance and data sovereignty: Depending on the regulations and laws of the jurisdiction, it may actually be necessary to store data in particular geographic regions (or with specific providers) in order to comply with data sovereignty and privacy regulations.
What are the challenges associated with multi-cloud?
There are several potential challenges that come with leveraging a multi-cloud architecture, including:
- Complexity: Managing multiple cloud environments can be complex and requires specialized skills and tools. Finding personnel with the right expertise can be particularly challenging.
- Integration: Integrating multiple cloud environments can be difficult, particularly when it comes to data and application integration.
- Security: Ensuring security and compliance across multiple cloud environments can be problematic, as each environment may have different security protocols and requirements.
- Cost: Managing multiple cloud environments can be more expensive than using a single cloud provider, as costs can vary widely between providers.
- Vendor lock-in: Using multiple cloud providers can make it difficult to switch to a different provider in the future, as applications and data may be tightly integrated with a specific provider’s services.
- Operational Overhead: Managing multiple cloud environments can be more complex and time-consuming than using a single cloud provider, as it may require different teams to maintain and troubleshoot each environment.
As I’m sure you noticed, some of the items listed under advantages are also listed as potential challenges (cost, vendor lock-in, etc.) of a multi-cloud approach. In the real world, every situation is different and each business brings their own unique set of requirements and circumstances to bear. Some organizations might reap tremendous benefits from leveraging specialized features when it comes to their own product/service delivery, creating a clear advantage to using multiple cloud providers. With others, that same architecture may prove wasteful and result in excess spending that is unnecessary over the long term.
Some infrastructure leaders may begin a search believing they need specific services from AWS and Azure, only later to discover that a single, small cloud provider can actually meet all of their demands (and for far less). Conversely, some might begin their search looking for the most inexpensive option and discover that certain corners just cannot be cut, requiring them to pursue a multi-cloud design. In still more cases, the most cost-effective solution may well involve assigning specific workloads to specific providers.
The big takeaway here is that multi-cloud is a fantastic option that brings immense utility for those that can benefit from it, but it is not a silver bullet and is not right for every business. Identify those features and capabilities that you cannot live without and begin outlining potential cloud partners from there.