Cloud Computing

Definition, Benefits & Use Cases


Multicloud is no longer a buzzword but an architectural arrangement that involves utilizing services and resources from multiple cloud providers in a way that integrates them into a unified ecosystem.

Some multicloud deployments are intentional in nature, driven by a strategic plan to improve business agility or to tap into best-of-breed services. Other multicloud deployments are somewhat accidental in nature and resemble traditional enterprise IT, fraught with shadow IT complicating chief information officers’ attempts to bring discipline to their data center.

TechRepublic’s cheat sheet to multicloud is an introduction to using multiple cloud providers, with an emphasis on intentional multicloud.

SEE: Download the PDF copy of this multicloud cheat sheet.

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What is multicloud?

Multicloud refers to the practice of using services from multiple heterogeneous cloud service providers, including Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform or Microsoft Azure, as well as specialized platform-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service or software-as-a-service providers. Multicloud is not the same as hybrid cloud, which blends the use of private cloud environments with public cloud environments.

In a multicloud architecture, an enterprise could harness the computational agility of AWS for its data analytics, leverage Microsoft Azure for its suite of productivity tools and tap into the Google Cloud Platform to power its machine learning capabilities.

SEE: Explore the benefits, barriers and most popular platforms for managing multicloud.

This approach works by creating an interconnected network of services from public cloud vendors and integrating them through standardized interfaces and application programming interfaces. This allows businesses to capitalize on the unique strengths of each provider while avoiding vendor lock-in and mitigating the risks associated with service outages.

Multicloud market

Over a decade after the launch of AWS, the company continues to benefit from its “first mover” position. While AWS is still the market leader, cloud services from other industry titans such as Microsoft, Google, Alibaba and IBM have grown in popularity (as have specialized services from other vendors), giving enterprises unparalleled choice in the cloud services they use.

A recent global multicloud report reveals that 98% of enterprises now choose the multicloud approach over the hybrid option. This is supported by the ever-growing global cloud infrastructure spending, which hit $64.8 billion in Q2 2023, according to a Statista report.

This shows that enterprises and developers increasingly consume cloud services from a range of different vendors, giving rise to the term “multicloud.” Not all multicloud is created equal, however.

Pros of multicloud

Adopting the multicloud strategy offers enterprises many advantages that may be difficult to achieve in a hybrid or private cloud. Below are some of the advantages.

Best-of-breed solution

Multicloud’s main advantage is that organizations and application developers can pick and choose components from multiple vendors and use the best fit for their intended purpose. To draw a comparison, multicloud is more à la carte than table d’hôte.

Offers low latency

Multicloud offers low-latency access to an organization’s application. As cloud demand has increased, organizations have reported capacity constraints across a number of clouds — between low and even no capacity. An organization’s preferred cloud provider may not yet have data centers running in a region close to their customers.

Compliance and data sovereignty

Some regions have data residency and compliance requirements that necessitate specific cloud providers. A multicloud approach can help businesses comply with these regulations by using the appropriate providers in each region.

Vendor diversity

Adopting a multicloud reduces the risk of vendor lock-in as it allows businesses to avoid being solely dependent on one vendor’s technology, services, pricing and potential service outages.

Builds resilience

Another reason to consider multicloud is resilience across cloud providers. As robust as the infrastructures of AWS, Microsoft Azure or Google Cloud, the reality is that systems fail sometimes.

SEE: Discover the key to getting multicloud right.

To make multicloud resilience more reality than promise, an organization would need to architect the same resilience into both data and application tiers, as there isn’t much benefit to having the data tier available after an outage of one’s primary cloud provider but not being able to access it from an application tier that hasn’t failed over.

Cons of multicloud

Despite its merits, multicloud comes with some drawbacks. Highlighted below are some of them.

Design complexity

Each cloud provider has its own set of tools, interfaces and management systems, which can increase the complexity of deployment, monitoring, and maintenance. Therefore, managing multicloud environments can be complex and require specialized skills. This means that organizations may need to train their engineers in different cloud solutions or hire managed service providers offering multicloud deployment services to deploy and manage their multicloud environment.

Integration challenges

Integrating services and applications across different cloud providers can be challenging. Doing this involves connecting and making different cloud-based services and applications work together, even if they are hosted on separate cloud platforms. Ensuring seamless communication and data transfer between clouds may require additional development effort.

Security and compliance

Security and compliance become more complex with multiple cloud providers. Each provider may have different security standards, and ensuring consistent security measures across all clouds can be demanding.

Interoperability issues

Interoperability is the ability of different systems or components to work in synergy. Cloud providers often offer unique features and services that might not have direct equivalents with other providers. This can make it challenging to design a multicloud environment that works seamlessly across all providers. While some standardization exists, not all services from different cloud providers are inherently interoperable.

What industries benefit from multicloud?

Every industry dealing with high volume of data, multi-complex applications and endpoints can benefit from a multicloud strategy. Highlighted below are industries that are more likely to benefit from a multicloud strategy.

Manufacturing and IoT

Manufacturing industries leverage the Internet of Things to gather real-time data from devices and machinery. Multicloud strategies enable them to process and analyze data closer to the source, reducing latency and improving operational efficiency. Manufacturers can also use different clouds to manage their supply chain, quality control, and analytics, as this helps to optimize operations across different parts of their business.

Healthcare

In the healthcare industry, organizations deal with sensitive patient data, compliance regulations, and complex applications. Multicloud strategies allow healthcare providers to distribute workloads across different clouds based on data residency requirements and compliance regulations. This approach helps them ensure data privacy, scale resources as needed for data-intensive applications like medical imaging and maintain high availability for critical patient care systems.

SEE: Learn about multicloud adoption in the healthcare industry.

Financial services

Financial institutions require both performance and security for their applications and data. With a multicloud strategy, they can diversify risk by spreading workloads across multiple clouds, as well as ensure operational resilience.

E-commerce and retail

The e-commerce and retail sectors experience dynamic demand fluctuations, especially during peak shopping seasons. Multicloud allows businesses to scale up their resources to accommodate increased traffic and transactions. Adopting the multicloud approach also optimizes their online presence for various geographical regions, improving user experiences by reducing latency.

Cost of multicloud

It is difficult to accurately tell the cost of multicloud spending as it is influenced by a range of factors. These include the types of services selected, the amount of resources consumed, data transfer, storage requirements, geographical regions, traffic patterns and management needs.

Whether an enterprise opts to distribute its workloads across multiple public clouds or centralize them on, let’s say, two providers, the main point remains effective cost management. Cost management in this sense could involve knowing the right workloads to prioritize and comparing prices for different services among cloud providers to determine which best suits a business’s budget.

What are the top multicloud vendors?

Google Anthos

Google has been the conspicuous leader in multicloud among public cloud companies. Though Microsoft offers Azure Arc, which enables customers to extend Azure services to private data centers and other cloud providers, Google’s Anthos sets the standard and is arguably the industry’s first true multicloud product.

Anthos gives customers the ability to run Kubernetes and other workloads across private data centers and public clouds like AWS and Azure. No hypervisor layer is needed.

AWS

In the early days of multicloud, AWS largely eschewed multicloud; though, it finally made its first foray with ECS and EKS Anywhere to enable customers to run the company’s EKS service wherever they choose. The ECS and EKS are versions of AWS-managed Kubernetes and Container services designed for customer data centers. Both can be used to manage applications on any infrastructure, including Google Cloud and Microsoft Azure.

Azure Arc

Azure Arc is a Microsoft multicloud service that extends Azure’s management tools and services to on-premises servers, multi-cloud setups and edge devices. With the Azure Arc platform, organizations can manage and govern resources across various environments, ensuring consistency, security and the ability to deploy Azure services anywhere.

Red Hat OpenShift

Red Hat’s OpenShift product has long supported deployment to multiple clouds. The platform can be used to deploy and manage applications across different cloud providers and on-premises infrastructure. Though not as robust as the first three, the solution simplifies the deployment, management and scaling of applications using containerization and Kubernetes orchestration.

What to consider when deploying a multicloud

Deploying a multicloud architecture is not a decision that should be made hastily, as it can introduce significant complexity. Consider the following factors when making such a decision.

SEE: Take advantage of this introduction to multicloud strategy.

Assess your needs

Before taking the multicloud route, the first question you should ask is, ‘Why do I need a multicloud environment in the first place?” To answer the question, you should consider defining the specific business needs that necessitate a multicloud approach. Establish clear goals such as improved redundancy, flexibility or compliance adherence.

Evaluate existing infrastructure

Another thing to look into before deploying a multicloud is the gap between your existing infrastructure and the requirements of a multicloud. Evaluate your current IT environment to identify areas of compatibility with multicloud architecture and what’s missing. This will entail assessing the integration potential of your existing cloud services and on-premises resources.

Technical know-how

Deploying a multicloud environment is a complex undertaking. So, how knowledgeable is your team of cloud engineers about different multicloud deployment tools? Factoring this in before getting started will help you determine whether you should hire third parties or retrain your engineer for the task.

Consider your workload

You should also conduct a workload analysis in order to classify them based on performance, security and compliance requirements. Doing this will help you match each workload to the cloud provider that offers the best fit for its characteristics.

Multicloud vs. hybrid cloud

As mentioned, hybrid clouds comprise different kinds of clouds, while multicloud includes multiple providers of the same type of cloud. In other words, a hybrid cloud approach might involve building applications that span a private data center and Google Cloud, whereas a multicloud architecture might combine services from Google Cloud and AWS (both public IaaS providers).

SEE: We’ll help you determine whether multicloud, hybrid cloud or on-premises deployments are best for housing your big data.

A hybrid cloud strategy will tend to suit organizations that aren’t yet ready to commit all applications to the public cloud. It can be used to help organizations bridge their existing infrastructure, not to mention the skill sets of their employees, to a more cloud-centered future.

Should my business use a multicloud approach?

This depends. A SaaS provider will require a multicloud approach, but for many enterprises, the complexity involved in successfully managing a multicloud environment may be too difficult. Generally, a multicloud deployment will be useful for organizations that have specific needs or dependencies to satisfy, such as integrations with Internet of Things (IoT) devices or a reliance on Windows software or specific third-party solutions.

Multicloud offers a great deal of flexibility in how resources are managed, though the difficulty increases roughly exponentially with the number of integrations added. Cloud management platforms can be used to ease the deployment and integration of various cloud services.