Multi-cloud or multicloud solutions integrate multiple clouds - google cloud platform, amazon web services, microsoft azure and even private cloud solutions like openstack.

Multicloud? More than a new name for hybrid cloud?

Is multicloud or multi-cloud yet another piece of tech jargon or is it a strategy with actual merit? A recent article suggested that multicloud is the next step in ‘the evolution of cloud computing.’ In reality, it is a term that now appears to be regaining popularity as a cloud buzzword; yet, the multi-cloud concept has been around at least as long as there have been hybrid clouds. Why the renewed interest?

First, let’s define what a ‘multicloud’ or ‘multi-cloud’ or a ‘multi-cloud strategy’ actually is. For certain, it is an overloaded term that can cause problems, especially if you think it is just another term for hybrid cloud. On the surface it should be simple – you have or are planning a system with multiple, segregated cloud systems. In truth, multi-cloud has been around for a while – hybrid clouds are – by definition ‘multi-clouds’- a combination of public and private cloud systems. However, a use that has gained recent popularity targets multi-vendor public cloud systems as the definitive and “true” multi-cloud. This is where the friction begins.

Unlike the access or deployment models (private, public, hybrid (and yes, even community)) that are part of the NIST definition of cloud computing, multi-cloud in recent use is not another type of access model. It is an architectural choice. Whether that architectural choice makes any sense will come down to your specific use case and the access model (public, private, hybrid) is a separate decision you’ll need to make.

[bctt tweet=”multi-cloud in recent use is not another type of access model. It is an architectural choice.” username=”@johnstarmer”]

An article from 2012 that discussed ‘multi-cloud strategy’ listed a number of reasons for implementing such an architecture, primarily around the goal of minimizing risk. The hybrid cloud model is often cited as a means of securely protecting core functionality (data, development processes…) while a public cloud can provide greater scale; “bursting” into public cloud from private systems if resource demands exceed those of the private cloud. Another use case for hybrid cloud is for high availability or disaster recovery purposes – typically the public cloud is used as a backup system if things go south. Making use of a specific service or resource provided by a public cloud provider not available in your primary cloud system may also make greater sense in the era of microservice-based applications that leverage REST APIs.  And yes, there are more, but at this point, you have a sense that there are a number of reasons why connecting multiple cloud systems together might be useful.

Making use of a specific service or resource provided by a public cloud provider not available in your primary cloud system may also make greater sense in the era of microservice-based applications that leverage REST APIs. (Caution: Your application latency will likely go up!) And yes, there are more reasons, but at this point, you have a sense that there are a number of reasons why connecting multiple cloud systems together might be useful.

As companies wrestle with managing clouds with multiple and disparate infrastructures, there is a new breed of service providers seeking to take advantage of the desire to manage multiple clouds. Cloud Management Platforms are systems that work with single cloud solutions, but whose value proposition lies in being a single-source of truth for managing all of the distinct cloud systems in your multi-cloud with a single screen. The drawback is that exactly what you can manage is typically a subset of what using the native Cloud management system for any single private or public cloud. Whether this is a concern depends on your use case.

In our experience in helping customers transition from legacy systems to a cloud or between cloud systems, it really does come down to use case in the end. Deciding if a multi-public cloud really is the answer will really depend on what you are trying to achieve. As concerns over data sovereignty, vendor lock-in, and cost of public cloud and cloud-like virtual managed hosting platforms grows, we have seen more hybrid and private cloud systems coming online.  While operating in multiple systems adds a layer of complexity (and a potential source of failure), automation and integrations via REST APIs also help bring some of this complexity under control.

As with all things cloud, your use case should determine your choice of deployment model and systems architecture. Focus on what you are trying to achieve first and a correct architecture will follow, regardless of what clever name people are coming up to sell that architecture these days.

 

John Starmer,
Director of Education