What is multicloud?

Cloud computing

Cloud computing has become an important tool for business, enabling redundant data processes, and computing resources that can scale to meet the challenge of an uptick in demand, all in an instant. It has enabled offerings as diverse as Software as a Service, and the increasingly popular container technology.

With many of today’s businesses reliant on the cloud, some now have more than a single cloud provider, known as multicloud. As many businesses have more than one vendor for many pieces of technology, from servers to smartphones, they similarly may not stick to a single cloud provider, and use the best from Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, the Google Cloud Platform, and other cloud providers.

Why multicloud?

There are several reasons why an enterprise would choose to take this multicloud approach, and have more than a solitary cloud vendor. These include:

  • Redundancy - By having more than one cloud provider, it follows the principle of “If you have two you have one, and if you have one you have none,” as it should be assumed that any cloud provider will have downtime issues, and this is insurance against these inevitable outages.
  • Scalability - Cloud computing often gets combined with container technology via Kubernetes software, and having access to multiple clouds allows for even more rapid resources on demand, and additional scaling capability as needed for peak demand.
  • Location - Having regional cloud providers will position them closer to where the users are, to improve performance, and reduce latency issues that develop when the cloud server is on the other side of the planet. An additional benefit is that having the cloud server in the same country as the users makes it easier to comply with the local laws and regulations.
  • Customer lock-in - This is an economics term that comes from when a company becomes entrenched in a particular provider for a service. Companies wish to avoid this, as otherwise the cost to switch can be prohibitive, and the vendor can essentially have a total monopoly over them.
  • Competition - This is the opposite situation, and with access to multiple cloud providers, the company has leverage to negotiate a more competitive deal from each.
  • Features - While cloud providers offer similar feature sets, they are not identical. There are times when multiple cloud providers are used to optimize their feature sets for the apps that they are running, such as choosing a more secure cloud vendor for more sensitive data, and a more economical one for an app with less of a security requirement. Similarly, speed, capacity and cost can all figure into the choice of the cloud vendor for each application.

Given the many advantages enumerated above, it comes as no surprise that many organizations have adopted a multicloud approach. When studied in 2017 by Microsoft and 451 Research, it was found that “nearly a third of organizations work with four or more cloud service providers,” showing a significant trend towards multicloud.

In some cases, this happens to an enterprise, department by department, as each incorporates a cloud provider to serve the needs of their workers in that section. However, as this evolves it is preferable to architect a more comprehensive multicloud solution that can be applied organization wide, rather than piecemeal.  

Disadvantages of multicloud

There are also downsides to a multicloud approach. Essentially, they relate to complexity, and to a higher cost. The higher complexity of multiple cloud providers makes it more difficult to manage, from both a task perspective, and also from a security standpoint.

The higher cost comes from having additional contracts with additional providers. Realize that while there are certainly merits to a multicloud approach, once implemented, adding additional providers is not always the best answer as things get more and more complicated, and sometimes two well-chosen public cloud providers may be an ideal solution at times.

What is hybrid cloud?

Another approach is hybrid cloud, which can both compete, and complement the multicloud approach. In a multicloud setup, it is technically having a multiple of the same cloud type, which more commonly is of the public cloud variety, although it could also be of the private type, as in an enterprise that has several of their own data centers. This is different from the hybrid cloud approach, which consists of both a public cloud, and a private cloud, with the infrastructure to have them work together.

While multicloud, and hybrid cloud are two different models, it should also be realized that they are not exclusive of each other, and more robust setups may use a combination of the two environments, drawing upon the advantages of each. Contributing to the popularity of the cloud environment is the use of container technology, and combined with microservices that break applications down to component pieces, which run particularly well in the cloud.

Cost benefits of a multicloud approach

Also, keep in mind that it can be more cost-efficient to have a multicloud approach, as it forces the vendors to compete for the business, and the workloads can be placed on the lowest cost cloud. However, this can quickly become a case of 'cheap can be very expensive' as the lower cost cloud service may have a higher latency, thereby reducing the efficiency of the work done.

Additionally, be sure to account for the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership), not just the less expensive upfront price, designed to gain your business. Such hidden fees, such as integration of the app, licensing and others can take away the economic advantage of the new public cloud provider, compared to an existing solution.

Remote with Netflix button

Let’s look at an example of an enterprise that transitioned to a multicloud approach. Internet video provider Netflix has much of its business based on delivering video via the cloud. And for years, as Netflix is quite transparent about their architecture, their public cloud provider has been Amazon Web Services (AWS). It made headlines when Netflix decided to go to a multicloud approach, and added a second cloud provider, Google Cloud.

According to a report, Netflix has implemented Google Cloud “for several functions, from disaster recovery to artificial intelligence.” While on the one hand, Netflix risks its decade long relationship with AWS, but taking the multicloud approach provides flexibility for sustained growth. Powering this multicloud approach at Netflix is Spinnaker, an open source tool that was developed at the company, and connects 95% of its infrastructure to AWS, so Netflix has hardly abandoned their original cloud provider.

Jonas P. DeMuro

Jonas P. DeMuro is a freelance reviewer covering wireless networking hardware.