By now, every business should be using cloud computing. This technology is no longer an emerging option limited only to adventurous early adopters - it's an everyday part of the IT landscape. Indeed, Flexera's 2020 State of the Cloud report estimates 94% of businesses are using the technology in one form or another.
This should mean that most businesses will be familiar and comfortable with the basics of cloud computing, such as the difference between public and private clouds and the pros and cons of each. But as more services shift to the cloud, the environment is becoming more complicated, and this may mean enterprises have to rethink their approach, move away from ad-hoc deployments and develop a more coherent cloud strategy.
Introducing multi-cloud - is it the next stage?
One term that is increasingly gaining usage among enterprise customers is multi-cloud. This refers to situations where a business is looking to manage several public or private cloud services from different providers within the same environment.
For many, this may sound a lot like hybrid cloud, which is a term that has been in use for a few years. But while it is sometimes used interchangeably in casual conversation, there are in fact a couple of key differences that IT managers must be aware of.
What is hybrid cloud?
Hybrid cloud, as has been traditionally defined, refers to cloud environments that use more than one deployment method. In other words, it consists of both public and private clouds in the same ecosystem, but delivered by the same provider.
What is multi-cloud?
Multi-cloud, by contrast, refers to scenarios where businesses are running more than one cloud solution under the same deployment model but from different vendors - so using public cloud services from both AWS and Microsoft for specific workloads, for example.
Of course, it's still entirely possible to run both a multi-cloud and hybrid cloud environment simultaneously - for instance, using two public clouds and a single private cloud. This may sometimes be referred to as a hybrid multi-cloud.
Comparing multi-cloud to hybrid cloud
Some may argue that the difference between the two lies largely in semantics, but this is not the case. As multi-cloud's key definition is the use of several cloud services from different providers, this creates a very different cloud environment than a hybrid cloud that uses public and private options from the same provider, which are designed to integrate with each other.
This means that hybrid cloud environments will typically be easier to manage, both from a technical perspective and a business one, as a company will only have to work with a single provider. It's also a more tried-and-tested solution and gives businesses the flexibility they need, allowing them to select public and private services based on their need.
Why the interest in multi-cloud?
So what could multi-cloud offer that hybrid cloud does not? One reason for the growth of interest in multi-cloud is that it can enable businesses to create a more bespoke environment that suits their exact needs.
Being able to use different cloud solutions from multiple providers allows businesses to better meet specific workload needs and deliver better results. As every cloud provider will have its own performance guarantees, being able to select the one that best matches the needs of a particular workload ensures businesses can gain access to the most appropriate resources for their needs.
Multi-cloud strategies may be particularly useful for large enterprises with a global presence, as it allows them to choose local providers around the world in order to reduce latency, and it can also avoid issues such as vendor lock-in and reduce the risk of potential outages by eliminating a single point of failure.
Meeting the challenges
However, multi-cloud isn't without its challenges, and many of these arise from the inherent difficulties involved in managing several independent clouds from different vendors. As well as having to deal with various contracts and requirements, work will have to be done in order to ensure that the solutions are able to communicate effectively with each other.
Choosing the right vendors is therefore a vital step in a successful multi-cloud strategy, but companies may also need to consider using a specialized cloud management service to help maintain control of all their clouds. While such services can streamline environments using several providers, it may also limit the features companies are able to access, so they must determine if this is a trade-off worth making.
As cloud becomes the standard way of doing business for many enterprises, it will be inevitable that the number of services in use grows. Therefore, it's important that businesses understand all the various terminology involved in this area in order to make informed decisions about what the best approach will be for their needs.