Multi-cloud computing is becoming the preferred choice among enterprises, which don’t want to keep all their eggs in one basket. By selecting cloud services from different providers, companies can avoid such problems as vendor lock-in, cloud data center outages, and bandwidth issues. According to predictions by Rishidot Research, most enterprises will adopt a multi-cloud strategy by 2020.
However, it’s not as easy as it might seem. In addition to benefits, this approach can also bring cloud sprawl, security concerns, and management complexity.
This article will be useful for developers and those who want to benefit from several cloud hosting environments.
What is multi-cloud computing? It’s a deployment model comprised of cloud computing services provided by different vendors. A multi-cloud deployment can refer to any implementation of multiple Platform as a Service (PaaS), Software as a Service (SaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) solutions. However, the main implementation of multi-cloud computing today is a combination of IaaS environments. For example, an enterprise can prefer using Google Cloud Platform for machine learning and Amazon Web Services for computing capacity.
This approach is attractive to many businesses that want to benefit from cloud computing and minimize the risks associated with it. It’s especially beneficial for huge companies that consist of many divisions that perform different tasks and thus require different cloud services.
With the widespread use of multi-cloud deployments, enterprises face challenges of how to adopt, govern, and secure multiple cloud environments. Companies want to know how to make the consumption of cloud resources seamless, how to ensure optimized and cost-efficient performance of their heterogeneous infrastructure, and how to secure their data in multiple data centers. This is where multi-cloud as a service solutions will come in handy. This includes such services as management and security across several cloud environments and application integration and modernization. These services are already provided by ZeroDown Software, and Siaras is going to offer them in the near future.
Industry studies show that multi-cloud computing is a growing tendency among companies. According to RightScale’s 2018 State of the Cloud Report, more than 80 percent of enterprises have already adopted this approach in the form of a hybrid cloud model that combines several private and public clouds. Microsoft, in cooperation with 451 Research, has revealed that nearly a third of enterprises work with four or more cloud vendors. Moreover, Gartner predicts that several cloud hosting environments will be a common strategy for 70 percent of enterprises by 2019, so it’s no surprise that a multi-cloud solution in 2018 has already become mainstream.
There are many advantages of a multi-cloud strategy for enterprises, including the end of vendor lock-in, improved performance, and reduced risks of service unavailability. However, it’s not easy to deploy multiple cloud hosting environments in an enterprise, as it brings more issues with cloud service management, security, and performance. Let’s look closer at the pros and cons of multi-cloud computing.
- Avoid vendor lock-in — If you use cloud services of a single vendor, there’s a risk of limited flexibility, data loss, or service downtime because of local circumstances. For instance, AWS had an issue in 2017 when S3 was offline for more than five hours, which caused negative consequences for many small and large businesses. A multi-cloud approach allows you to have a backup on another cloud service provider. In this case, a multi-cloud enterprise can ensure 99 percent uptime.
- The right platform — With a multi-cloud environment, developers can choose the platform that satisfies their application needs. Some cloud environments are better suited than others for a particular task. For instance, it’s better to choose IBM for apps that require AI and machine learning. Google Cloud Platform is also good for AI, but AWS Lambda provides the best services for serverless computing.
- Geographic availability — Performance-sensitive applications will benefit from servers that are close to their clients. A multi-cloud strategy allows companies to find a cloud vendor with data centers in their geographic region.
- Data governance and compliance — Some countries have strict data handling regulations that need to be followed. One common requirement is that private data shouldn’t be stored abroad. However, not all cloud vendors have a data center in a particular country or region. By using services of different cloud vendors, companies can comply with various regulations such as ITAR or GDPR.
- Price flexibility — Companies may significantly reduce their cloud costs by using cheaper services from different cloud vendors.
- Management complexity — Using services from several cloud vendors increases the complexity of management. Different vendors offer services with different application setups that require implementation of different APIs. Moreover, when cloud services are difficult to manage it can also lead to their uncontrolled proliferation, or cloud sprawl.
- Complex structures — Cloud services provided by different vendors should support different technologies, interfaces, and services. This is especially important in the case of a multi-cloud strategy. However, there’s no standardization of methodologies, programming language support, or instance sizes across cloud providers. Finally, the complex structure of heterogeneous environments leads to difficulties in developing cross-platform applications.
- Security concerns — A multi-cloud strategy comes with additional security concerns and adds new attack vectors for applications. Traditional security tools can’t manage all potential risks. Thus, a multi-layered security approach is more acceptable when working with several cloud hosting environments. For this reason, enterprises should also carefully monitor their information resources and cooperate with trusted cyber security partners.
- Monitoring complexity — Monitoring is also more difficult in multi-cloud computing. If you use cloud services that include containers, that adds an additional layer of complexity for monitoring.
- Cost overhead — Though the cloud model is considered to be cost-saving for enterprises, it adds complexity in controlling cloud spending. Enterprises now have to constantly compare prices for cloud services offered by different providers. Additionally, they need to reconsider their need for certain cloud services to avoid cloud sprawl. Sprawl happens when enterprises forget to unsubscribe from public cloud services that they don’t use anymore and continue to pay for them.
- Migration challenges — Enterprises that are considering moving to multi-cloud computing should take into account that this process will require time and specific skills that aren’t always available in-house.
Though multi-cloud computing is similar to hybrid cloud computing, these two approaches to cloud computing are based on different infrastructure models.
While a multi-cloud solution is a combination of cloud services from different providers, a hybrid cloud solution refers to a cloud computing environment that consists of an on-premises private cloud and a public cloud from a third-party cloud provider. A hybrid cloud is usually adopted by enterprises for running workloads when the demand for their computing resources is rapidly increasing.
The multi-cloud approach doesn’t compete with the hybrid cloud approach. Instead, an organization’s multi-cloud strategy can also include hybrid cloud computing. Nowadays, this approach is going hand in hand with the hybrid cloud. By combining various public clouds with an on-premises cloud, enterprises can better address data residency complications that may arise.
All companies that choose multi-cloud computing have to overcome its disadvantages. The following practices may help you run your heterogeneous infrastructure smoothly:
- Plan and prepare in advance. Take your time to develop a deliberate strategy for multi-cloud computing. Consider what services from which cloud provider will best meet your business needs. Plan your organization’s ideas thoroughly. Don’t hurry, as it may lead to system complexity and poor use of resources.
- Unify the toolchain. While there’s no standardization among cloud providers, you need to unify your toolchain to make it compatible with all cloud services you’re going to use. You should ensure that you use cloud storage that’s compatible with Amazon S3, or use Docker if you want to deal with containers. This approach will help you run your heterogeneous environment more smoothly and ensure easy migration of workloads among different clouds.
- Build a DevOps pipeline. An enterprise’s integration with multiple cloud services puts additional pressure on the IT department, as more employees are necessary to enable more users to do more with data. To cope with this, enterprises need to formulate effective DevOps strategies. DevOps teams need to become more agile and scalable to ensure continuous integration and continuous releases within the heterogeneous environment. DevOps also requires access to platforms and tools that are specially designed for working in multi-cloud environments. By taking these issues into account, you can build cloud-specific automation in a DevOps pipeline more effectively.
- Consolidate management. There’s a wide range of management tools for different cloud hosting environments on the market, but you should choose one that’s suited for dealing with application and virtual machine sprawl. These tools provide a single interface to manage cloud services from different providers so you can manage them as though they were a single cloud solution.
- Monitor performance. Cloud vendors offer their own monitoring tools, but for a heterogeneous environment, you may need an additional monitoring tool. This tool is necessary for you to see the whole picture across different clouds. For this purpose, you can use one of several commercial products developed with multi-cloud environments in mind or you can use open source monitoring tools like Zabbix, Ganglia, or Nagios.
Multi-cloud computing offers many advantages for enterprises and allows them to meet their current business needs, including for AI and machine learning, data analysis, and cold data storage. However, the disadvantages of a multi-cloud strategy include complex structures and management and security concerns. Enterprises should keep these issues in mind when developing a multi-cloud strategy or simply delegate this challenging task to the experts. The DevOps team at Apriorit has experience migrating between cloud providers and cutting performance costs. If you want to optimize your costs, performance, and management for multi-cloud computing, we’ll be glad to assist you.