Multicloud – the use of cloud services from two or more vendors – gives organizations more flexibility to optimize performance, control costs, and leverage the best cloud technologies available.

What is multicloud?

Multicloud is the use of cloud services from more than one cloud vendor. It can be as simple as using Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) from different cloud vendors. But in the enterprise, multicloud typically refers to running enterprise applications on Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) or Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) from multiple cloud service providers, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform, IBM Cloud, and Microsoft Azure.

A multicloud solution is a cloud computing solution that’s portable across multiple cloud providers’ cloud infrastructures. Multicloud solutions are typically built on open-source, cloud-native technologies, such as Kubernetes, that are supported by all public cloud providers. They also typically include capabilities for managing workloads across multiple clouds with a central console (or ‘single pane of glass’). Many of the leading cloud providers, as well as cloud solution providers such as VMware, offer multicloud solutions for computing infrastructure, development, data warehousing, cloud storage, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), disaster recovery/business continuity, and more.

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How does multicloud work?

There are various architectural approaches to multicloud. You can build different portions of an application stack in different clouds, with each portion accessing different systems and services that are required to work together. The intelligence in such scenarios is often built into the application itself rather than the infrastructure side of the stack.

In other scenarios, the same application services might be required to run in more than one cloud, and few (if any) code changes would be required for the different physical locations. Although this approach used to be challenging to accomplish, modern Linux container orchestration, especially Kubernetes, has made application portability across different clouds, both public and on-premises, far more feasible.

Multi-Cloud Use Cases

To accelerate the next phase of digital transformation, enterprises are taking advantage of multiple cloud platforms and services to:

  • Accelerate app transformation and the delivery of new apps: Companies are choosing to deploy apps on public, private, and edge clouds as they best suit their business objectives and application needs. Cloud First has been replaced by Cloud Smart.
  • Avoid vendor lock-in and ensure enterprise sovereignty: Total cloud spend, data sovereignty, vendor dependencies, and lock-in are increasing concerns. As a result, enterprises will continue to spread their estate across multiple environments.
  • Distribute applications and services to the edge: In industries such as logistics, retail, and manufacturing, the next generation of gains in automation, efficiency, and improved customer experiences require applications to be distributed to the edge, closer to physical devices and users.
  • Support the rise of the distributed workforce: Distributed workforces are the new reality for enterprises. Securing and managing users and their devices as well as enabling them to be productive from anywhere is the new hybrid workforce challenge.

What are the benefits?

There are many reasons for organizations to choose a multicloud environment. Each benefit associated with a multicloud approach can prove instrumental in establishing or maintaining a competitive advantage in today’s digital economy. A solid management tool helps in easy migrations and provides the visibility needed to ensure seamless inventory, security, migration, and change management. Other top drivers include:

  • Mitigating vendor lock-in: By carefully evaluating the expectations and potential pitfalls, and having a strong negotiating position that makes it easy to switch from one cloud provider to another, companies can harness the power of the cloud and get the most value out of their partnership with any cloud service provider.
  • Suitability: When incorporating multiple clouds into a company’s IT strategy, administrators can line up their business requirements with the best cloud-hosting providers for each task.
  • Competitive pricing: Organizations can now enjoy the freedom of comparing different providers and securing the best available rates based on their specific IT needs.
  • Flexibility and scalability: Multicloud allows businesses to scale their storage up or down based on ongoing demand. Ideally, multicloud providers work seamlessly together so organizations can invest in any level of capacity, security, and protection based on the needs of each data segment.

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What’s the difference between multicloud and hybrid cloud?

Multicloud refers to the presence of more than 1 cloud deployment of the same type (public or private), sourced from different vendors. A hybrid cloud refers to the presence of multiple deployment types (public or private) with some form of integration or orchestration between them.

A multicloud approach could involve 2 public cloud environments or 2 private cloud environments. A hybrid cloud approach could involve a public cloud environment and a private cloud environment with infrastructure (facilitated by application programming interfaces, middleware, or containers) facilitating workload portability.

These cloud approaches are mutually exclusive: You can’t have both, simultaneously because the clouds will either be interconnected (hybrid cloud) or not (multicloud). Having multiple cloud deployments, both public and private, is becoming more common across enterprises as they seek to improve security and performance through an expanded portfolio of environments.

What are the Challenges of Multicloud Storage?

While multicloud storage can provide a host of benefits, it can be challenging to manage, protect, and deploy storage in a unified way. Some common challenges include:

  • Multiple APIs: Cloud services communicate via APIs. While there is some standardization with RESTful APIs, different providers create different API structures. This can include different rule structures or different languages. These differences require application customizations to enable communication across services.
  • Compatibility issues: To integrate smoothly into a single environment, storage services need to be compatible across clouds. This means services need to accommodate the same data structures and allow integration with the same tools.
  • Complex management: Visibility across cloud services and environments can be difficult to ensure. It requires centralized monitoring and federation of services, such as identity and access controls. Without centralization, services are likely to have configuration differences or errors and increased vulnerability.

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Is multicloud right for you?

Consuming services from more than one service provider at the same time allows organizations to negotiate better prices and always place their workloads where it makes the most sense from an economical standpoint. In addition, integrating with hybrid cloud architecture enables them to host the majority of their workloads in a private cloud and only use highly-scalable public cloud resources during heavy load periods. Since private clouds prove to be more cost-effective when running workloads in the long term and at scale, this approach allows for maximum infrastructure cost optimization and results in long-term cost savings.