The very definition of ‘cloud’ was once unclear for many. Now, there is widespread understanding of the term and acknowledgement that every business is using the cloud in some form. Now we’re facing a new reality – if you are using cloud services at all, it is likely that you are using more than one cloud or indeed, multi-cloud.
Referring to any environment where applications are deployed across two or more cloud platforms, multi-cloud has gone mainstream. Businesses are benefitting from higher performance and cost efficiency by choosing a configuration of cloud platforms and technologies tailored to suit their needs, whether this involves a combination of public or private cloud, dedicated servers or hybrid combinations. According to Rightscale’s 2016 State of the Cloud Report, users are using an average of six separate clouds. Which may come as a surprise to many IT departments.
Despite its growing prevalence, some CIOs don’t understand what multi-cloud is nor its value to their wider business. When Apple made big news earlier this year by moving the iCloud service to the Google Cloud Platform many thought this was a unique occurrence. However, this is far from reality and begs some clarification of multi-cloud and its surrounding myths.
John Engates, Chief Technology Officer, Rackspace comments:
“Multi-cloud has for too long been the sleeping giant of the cloud computing world, with many IT leaders misinterpreting its meaning and therefore believing it doesn’t exist – even within their own organisations. With businesses often ending up employing multi-cloud by accident due other departments employing cloud services without their knowledge, it is crucial that multi-cloud is understood and managed. If it is left for too long, it can cause headaches further down the line in terms of security and compliance’
- My business is not currently using multi-cloud
Are you sure? Many businesses end up using multi-cloud without even realising it. Various teams across the business often sign up for specialised services that suit their needs. This can happen on an ad hoc basis with little or no input from IT, and is known as shadow IT. For example, marketing may be using one cloud, human resources another, with IT not knowing about either. Multi-cloud is therefore, something that often happens by accident without much planning which can account for the lack of widespread awareness.
Rather than rally against the multi-cloud trend and attempt to wrestle back full control, IT departments should instead aim to support stakeholders around the business in their choices. This could include offering a menu of cloud providers which have been researched and pre-approved by the IT department.
- You need to be a big business to really benefit from multi-cloud
The myth that multi-cloud is only for big businesses is perpetuated, quite rightly, by the assumption that in bigger organisations there is a multitude of differing opinions on what employees want to use. It is therefore a natural evolution for them to have more than one cloud service. With this comes the benefits of a multi-vendor strategy, such as cost savings, more innovation and risk management.
Such benefits are however, not just for the big players. As mentioned, multi-cloud can happen by accident and just because it is more common in bigger organisations it doesn’t mean that smaller businesses cannot choose to embark on a multi-cloud approach. For example, smaller companies may work with a third-party agency or developer who build an app that uses a different cloud platform to the one they’re already signed up to – meaning that the company has to begin managing multiple clouds. Multi-cloud is lightweight enough that you can get started with when small, choosing different providers for different applications.
- Using multi-cloud is less secure
More clouds, more problems? This myth centres on the fact that, with the increasing complexity of multiple clouds, comes a greater risk of security issues. But this is not necessarily true if well managed. Instead, it’s worth looking at it from the opposing view – how can a multi-cloud strategy help you be more secure and compliant. Properly utilising multiple clouds, for example, can help minimise the risk of widespread data loss or application downtime due to a localised failure.
Multi-cloud can also help you to comply with specific regional data protection regulations. Leading cloud providers all have data centres across the globe, so companies that require data for specific workloads to reside within particular national boundaries can more easily satisfy those requirements through a multi-cloud strategy.
- Isn’t it the same as hybrid cloud?
Not at all. Multi-cloud helps to describe an increasingly common architecture and typically implies several key distinctions from the other commonly used term, ‘hybrid cloud’. Although some commentators and analysts still use the terms interchangeably, hybrid cloud is actually a specific type of multi-cloud architecture. It typically refers to an environment that combines public or private cloud services with more traditional deployment models, such as on premises computing or managed hosting, and includes orchestration among the various platforms.
- The technical expertise required for multi-cloud is the biggest barrier to having a comprehensive strategy
It’s true that learning the ins and outs of the infrastructure and lingo of more than one cloud can be challenging, especially for a smaller company. Meanwhile, bigger companies are faced with tremendous competition to retain the specialised engineers and architects who are versed in multi-cloud, meaning that even they often struggle to keep the required skills. However, this isn’t a burden that IT departments need to shoulder alone and it doesn’t need to get in the way of benefiting from multiple clouds.
A first step should be auditing specific cloud services employees are using. Based on the outcome you can assess the level of expertise that already exists in the business and find out where the gaps are. From there you can also look externally and determine whether or not you need cloud brokers or managed cloud providers to execute and manage it successfully. This can remove the burden from teams, freeing up time to focus on activities that help drive the business forward.