What Is Multi-Cloud?
Multi-cloud is the employment of cloud services from two or more cloud vendors. It may be as easy as employing SaaS from various cloud vendors—such as Salesforce and Workday. However, in an organization, multi-cloud generally means running organizational applications on IaaS or PaaS from various cloud service providers, including Amazon Web Services, IBM Cloud, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure.
This typically involves a cloud computing solution that is portable over the infrastructure of various cloud providers. Multi-cloud solutions are generally developed on cloud-native, open-source technologies (e.g. Kubernetes), which are supported by every public cloud provider.
In addition, multi-cloud solutions generally feature capabilities for overseeing workloads over various clouds with a single plane or a central console. A lot of cloud solutions and cloud providers have multi-cloud solutions for development, compute infrastructure, cloud storage, data warehousing, machine learning, AI, and more.
This is part of our series of articles on cloud security.
In this article:
The Need for Multi-Cloud
Startups may find that using a multi-cloud strategy is rewarding from the onset. You may be developing your proof-of-concept or designing your infrastructure—either way, making use of several environments simultaneously could let you develop quicker with better tools.
When you have access to several clouds, you can leverage the strengths of all the providers to get the best services. This approach can also eliminate vendor lock-in and increase agility. With immediate access to several clouds, you can also use the features you require when and how you wish, without needing to fully migrate to a different cloud, which is often a lengthy and costly process. Gartner noted that organizations often use a multi-cloud strategy to avoid vendor lock-in or to make the most of best-of-breed options.
Choosing a multi-cloud environment also increases disaster recovery and security and makes for simple migration for certain applications and data. This also enhances security, because having applications deployed with multiple providers means that an attack might not cause your whole infrastructure to crash at the same time. In addition, simply using one provider may result in the loss of control of a mission-critical application if there is an outage. This all creates a resilient infrastructure for your system.
What Are the Benefits of a Multi-Cloud Strategy?
Here are several important benefits of adopting a multi-cloud strategy:
- Avoid vendor lock-in—organizations using only one cloud provider will naturally become locked into their services. Operating on more than one cloud provides more leverage and forces technical teams to avoid reliance on vendor-specific technologies.
- Colocate data with services—by operating on multiple clouds, an organization has the flexibility to move data closest to the services that need to use it, or closer to client systems that require access.
- Optimize costs—each cloud provider has different services and features, and is competitive on price for different cloud resources. Multi-cloud architectures allow organizations to distribute workloads flexibly between clouds to gain the best capabilities or most suitable hardware configuration at the lowest cost.
- Improve performance—different clouds offer different performance options. Performance at the basic service tiers can vary dramatically, and each cloud has premium tiers that offer higher performance at a price. A multi-cloud architecture lets you move resources to the cloud that best suits your performance requirements.
- Use best-of-breed cloud features—each cloud offers different options in terms of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offerings, and non-functional requirements like security and legacy integrations. A multi-cloud architecture makes it possible to combine services from multiple providers using a best-of-breed approach.
- Combat shadow IT—when an organization uses only one cloud, it is common for specific employees or departments to use other clouds without notifying the IT department. This has severe security and governance implications. By expanding to a multi-cloud, these shadow IT operations can be legitimized and owned by the main IT organization.
- Improve disaster recovery—all cloud providers experience outages. To ensure disaster recovery and business continuity, an organization should always aim to run systems on two or more separate sites—having each of these sites on a different cloud provider offers much higher resilience.
4 Challenges to Address in Your Multi Cloud Strategy
Here are some of the main challenges of implementing a multi-cloud strategy.
Resource and Cost Management
Resource sprawl is a resultant product of a multi-cloud strategy. When you don’t monitor cloud inventory, you might find you have unused and unattended cloud resources and a higher cloud bill. Given that cloud optimization is a key part of a good architected framework for every cloud, there are budgeting and native cost-optimization services, which can be used in all cloud platforms.
In a multi-cloud, it is more fitting to unite all your cloud inventory to ensure overall visibility to your organization’s cloud consumption. You might need to use a third-party tool that specializes in delivering this insight. It is important to keep in mind that a reactive attitude to cost optimization is less effective—you should be proactive when you oversee your activities over environments that might result in higher cost.
Application Architecture Development
All top cloud service providers, such as Azure, GCP, or AWS, have published solid guidelines and architecture frameworks for deploying and developing applications. All of them revolve around five core concepts—cost optimization, operational excellence, reliability, performance efficiency, and security.
All cloud service providers are in competition, trying to provide the best services for data, compute, security, networking, and the like. However, there are certain feature qualities that can’t be overlooked when creating your application architecture, this includes service availability in various geographies which may influence multi-region architecture. The way you integrate the application features will also vary between cloud service providers.
Management of Processes and Tools
All developed organizations must have well-refined automation and DevOps practices in place to deal with software creation and delivery. The processes and tools might differ from platform to platform.
Automation is at the core of streamlining your multi-cloud management. There are several automation tools to select from, however, they can’t all be integrated with every cloud service provider. Even a tool that is compatible with multi-cloud, such as Terraform, requires modalities particular to specific cloud platforms. You can’t empty the same Terraform template to position your resources over various clouds.
In addition, every cloud service provider has unique tools for dealing with their workloads (Azure CLI, ARM templates in Azure, AWS CLI, gcloud, CLI and the like). Unless you are working with a common DevOps platform such as Azure DevOps or GitHub, it might be hard to establish common ground when overseeing resources spread over various cloud service providers.
Greater complexity can result in greater security risk. In a multi-cloud environment, your security team has to keep track of twice or three times as many services being run in various clouds.
This makes it possible for attackers to mask their attacks and go undetected. Security teams must also configure and test at least twice as many security tools and appliances. This increases the possibility of human error as a result of a missed update or misconfiguration. It also leads to more stress.
DevOps teams handling multi-cloud situations might get overwhelmed by the complexity and develop shortcuts that add risk and increase the attack surface. Data traveling from cloud to cloud also means greater exposure and a greater attack surface.
Learn more in our detailed guide to multi cloud security ›