Cloud computing is the use of shared compute, storage, and networking resources by companies, which can be accessed on-demand and remotely over a network connection. Depending on their management strategy, organizations can choose from four major cloud computing models: public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud, and multi-cloudwhich are each delivered using different architectures by various providers.

A multi-cloud is a cloud computing model that combines cloud resources and/or services from two or more cloud vendors. It provides the flexibility to choose the best-suited environment for each workload. Most large organizations that move to the cloud adopt a multi-cloud architecture.

Dgtl Infra explains what multi-cloud is, as well as its advantages and disadvantages. Additionally, we discuss how multi-cloud differs from other cloud models and detail multi-cloud architecture and the strategy behind it in-depth. Finally, Dgtl Infra provides an overview of multi-cloud platforms and offerings from major cloud vendors, including Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, VMware, and Dell.

What is Multi-Cloud?

Cloud computing has become an integral part of an organization’s IT strategy, primarily because it allows them to provision and de-provision resources on-demand on a pay-per-use basis. However, some of the major concerns with public clouds are reliability and extreme reliance: What happens if the cloud goes down? What if organizations become too dependent on a single cloud provider?

Because of such concerns, organizations – especially large enterprises – prefer a multi-cloud architecture in which they utilize cloud services (SaaS, PaaS, and IaaS) from several cloud service providers (CSPs) instead of only using a single public CSP. Multi-cloud allows individuals and businesses to match their applications with the most suitable technology stacks and pricing models to run them.

In a multi-cloud deployment, an organization can simply select different providers for different applications and services. For instance, a company may use Oracle ERP, Webex by Cisco, and Google Workspace. Alternatively, a company may distribute data and workloads between different public clouds, such as Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud, for redundancy or load balancing. Predominantly, the term “multi-cloud” is used to describe the latter.

How Does Multi-Cloud Work?

A multi-cloud architecture can be quite complicated. Overall, there are three major pillars on which multi-cloud architectures function:

  1. Self-Service and Automation: for choosing the optimal environment for deploying applications, data, and services and dynamic resource provisioning
  2. Single Management and Control Plane: for cloud consumption and visibility across clouds to implement control and manage costs
  3. Central Security Platform: for implementing policies consistently across clouds and managing security and data governance requirements for regulatory compliance

Fundamentally, a multi-cloud architecture is just a mix of offerings or infrastructure from different vendors, which do not necessarily have to be tightly integrated, as in a hybrid cloud.

Modern applications are based on standard cloud-native principles, such as virtualization, containerization, and microservices. Additionally, these applications utilize open-source technologies, such as Kubernetes or OpenStack, which are already supported by most cloud service providers (CSPs) and vendors.

With increasing multi-cloud deployments, cloud vendors are also gradually enabling more interoperability between their applications, tools, and services. In addition, organizations can choose from many multi-cloud management tools for tracking costs and resource consumption and enforcing access and control policies across multiple clouds.

Comparison of Multi-Cloud with Other Cloud Models

1) Multi-Cloud vs Public Cloud and Private Cloud

A public cloud is a multi-tenant IT environment in which organizations utilize computing resources, applications, and services provisioned by a third-party cloud provider. The underlying infrastructure in a public cloud is shared by many individuals and businesses.

A private cloud, on the other hand, is a single-tenant IT environment in which the underlying infrastructure and resources are owned by or dedicated exclusively to a single organization.

READ MORE: Private Cloud – What is it? and How Does it Work?

A multi-cloud is when organizations rely on more than one public cloud. A multi-cloud deployment may or may not include a private cloud. If it does, it is called a hybrid multi-cloud.

2) Multi-Cloud vs Hybrid Cloud

A hybrid cloud is an integration of both public and private clouds. Essentially, a hybrid cloud integrates two or more deployment types (legacy data center, on-premise private cloud, hosted private cloud, and/or public cloud), whereas a multi-cloud simply strings together services from multiple cloud vendors, like Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.

Multi-cloud may or may not include a private cloud and it does not provide interoperability and integration between the constituent cloud environments.

Hybrid and multi-cloud approaches complement each other well. Many organizations, especially large enterprises, end up adopting a hybrid multi-cloud to meet their needs.

READ MORE: Hybrid Cloud – What is it? and How Does it Work?

3) Multi-Cloud vs On-Premise

On-premise deployment refers to organizations hosting a data center within their organization’s premises. This can be an in-house private cloud deployment or a legacy data center, however, it is mostly used to refer to the latter.

A multi-cloud allows organizations to lease infrastructure and services from multiple cloud vendors and access them over a public or private network connection. With multi-cloud, organizations may not have any on-premise infrastructure at all.

READ MORE: On-Premise to Cloud Migration – a Journey to AWS and Azure

What is a Multi-Cloud Example?

A multi-cloud example is an organization using Microsoft Azure for data storage and Google Cloud as a failover for disaster recovery. The same organization could also be using IBM Cloud Foundry for application development and Amazon Web Services (AWS) for artificial intelligence (AI) and machine Learning (ML) services.

Why Use Multi-Cloud?

Organizations use multi-cloud for numerous reasons, such as to: i) avoid vendor lock-in, ii) meet data residency and other regulatory compliance requirements, iii) distribute applications and services to the edge, closer to end users, and iv) ensure business continuity.

Below are the advantages and disadvantages of deploying a multi-cloud environment:

Advantages of Multi-Cloud

  • Flexibility: organizations can deploy applications in the most suitable and cost-effective cloud environment. They can choose the optimal environment based on technology stack, performance, compliance requirements, and geographical location of the cloud provider
  • Disaster Recovery: in the event of expected or unexpected outages, organizations using multi-cloud deployments will still have some or all services running in other clouds
  • Reduced Shadow IT: developers and users may not need to use cloud services from unsanctioned providers when they already have a large portfolio of services and technologies to choose from, as compared to a single cloud strategy
  • Access to Innovation: organizations can pick and choose services from multiple cloud providers to enjoy “best-of-breed” and “cutting-edge” technologies
  • Avoiding Vendor Lock-in: organizations do not rely solely on a single cloud provider, which puts them in a better negotiating position. It is also easier to migrate to other cloud platforms, if and when needed

Disadvantages of Multi-Cloud

  • Compatibility Issues: cloud services communicate through application programming interfaces (APIs). In a multi-cloud environment, APIs from different cloud providers may have different structures or languages, requiring complex customizations. Similarly, data storage services also need to use the same data structures to be compatible with other clouds
  • Complexity: visibility, monitoring, and management across multiple cloud platforms is more complex than managing a single cloud
  • Inconsistent Policies: defining security policies and enforcing controls across multi-cloud environments is challenging. Multi-clouds are prone to configuration errors and vulnerabilities without an efficient multi-cloud management platform

Is Multi-Cloud Expensive?

Multi-cloud’s cost savings depend on how well the multi-cloud strategy is deployed and how effective multi-cloud management tools are. With the right architecture, vendors, tools, and strategy, multi-cloud can actually be more cost-effective than any single cloud platform.

Which Company Uses Multi-Cloud?

Walmart, a retailer which allows customers to shop in both physical stores and through eCommerce, uses a hybrid multi-cloud. Recently, the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has also split its cloud contract between Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and Oracle Cloud, effectively adopting a multi-cloud strategy.

Many companies already use multi-cloud and even more will ultimately adopt multi-cloud because of its flexibility and extensive service catalog.

What is Multi-Cloud Architecture?

Multi-cloud architecture depends on the organization’s application and services portfolio as well as how they are deployed in a multi-cloud set-up. Organizations can choose either one or a combination of the following muti-cloud deployments:

  • Distributed Deployment: each application runs in the most suitable cloud environment
  • Redundant Deployment: same data, applications, and workloads run in each of the multiple cloud environments for load balancing or redundancy

Organizations must design their multi-cloud architectures based on their own requirements, application portfolio, and deployment types. However, all multi-cloud architectures will have the following four basic components:

  1. Cloud Core: provides connectivity and a unified data plane across all clouds. This is where most traffic routing decisions are made
  2. Cloud Access: this is how end users, branch users, partners, and customers, connect to and access different clouds. This component can be implemented via any type of network connection – the internet, VPN, Ethernet, or MPLS
  3. Cloud Operations: deals with consistent practices and tools to decrease complexity and enable visibility, management, and orchestration across multi-cloud environments
  4. Cloud Security: includes processes and technologies for securing the entire environment – cloud core, access, and operations

What is Multi-Cloud Networking?

Instead of traditional network architecture in which all traffic must be backhauled to on-premises locations before going to the cloud, multi-cloud networking allows multiple clouds to connect directly. This reduces latency and improves customer experience.

However, each cloud may have its own unique networking, security, and operational features. That is why businesses tend to choose multi-cloud networking platforms and tools, which abstract each cloud platform’s underlying services and technologies to provide consistent networking capabilities across all clouds in a multi-cloud set-up. Major providers like Cisco and VMware offer multi-cloud networking solutions.

Is Multi-Cloud Secure?

Multi-cloud architectures are not inherently more or less secure than other cloud deployment models. However, enforcing consistent access control and security policies across multiple cloud platforms is a common multi-cloud security risk. With each new cloud platform that enterprises add, they increase complexity and, thereby, the attack surface, potentially creating new vulnerabilities.

Still, multi-cloud deployments can be as secure as any other cloud model, if not more, with the right architecture design and security technologies. Independent authentication and authorization, automated patching, component hardening, single-pane-of-glass visibility and management, and multi-cloud data loss prevention (DLP) solutions are some key elements of multi-cloud security.

What is a Multi-Cloud Strategy?

A multi-cloud strategy defines how an organization plans to deploy and design a multi-cloud architecture. It involves establishing goals, evaluating workload requirements, designing network architecture, and choosing cloud providers and multi-cloud management tools and platforms.

Why is a Multi-Cloud Strategy Important?

Most organizations end up adopting a multi-cloud architecture unintentionally. By devising and implementing a multi-cloud strategy, organizations can choose the right approach and deploy an environment that serves business goals, minimizes risks, and optimizes return on investment (ROI).

How to Create a Multi-Cloud Strategy?

Organizations can create a multi-cloud strategy following the best practices mentioned below:

  1. Define business goals
  2. Establish application and workload dependencies
  3. Evaluate cloud platforms
  4. Breakdown costs
  5. Keep disaster recovery and redundancy in mind
  6. Choose a multi-cloud management platform

What are Multi-Cloud Management Tools and Platforms?

Ultimately, the benefit of a multi-cloud architecture will depend on optimal application and workload deployment and resource management across cloud platforms. This requires single-pane-of-glass visibility and management, which organizations can achieve through multi-cloud management tools or more comprehensive multi-cloud platforms. Specifically, multi-cloud platforms provide:

  • Unified visibility
  • A centralized management dashboard
  • Multi-cloud orchestration
  • Consistent security, control, and access policies
  • Business continuity and disaster recovery

Multi-Cloud Providers

Below are the top multi-cloud providers and a description of their offerings:

AWS Multi-Cloud Services

Amazon Web Services (AWS) recently launched multi-cloud versions of its managed containers and managed Kubernetes services, known as Amazon Elastic Container Service (ECS) Anywhere and Amazon EKS Anywhere. Organizations can use these services to manage workloads on any public cloud, such as Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud.

Azure Multi-Cloud Solutions

Microsoft Azure offers holistic solutions and services for deploying and managing multi-cloud environments:

  • Azure Arc: for managing, governing, and securing servers, Kubernetes clusters, and applications through a single-pane-of-glass across multiple clouds
  • Azure Arc Services: such as Azure Arc-enabled Azure SQL Server and PostgreSQL Hyperscale can be deployed on any cloud or on-premise infrastructure

Google Multi-Cloud Solutions

Google Cloud provides complete flexibility to migrate, build, and optimize applications in multi-cloud environments with:

  • Anthos: for building, migrating, and managing applications in any cloud environment
  • BigQuery: for data management and governance and real-time data analytics across cloud environments
  • Managed Kubernetes and Serverless Platform: for building and deploying containerized and serverless applications that can run in any environment

VMware Multi-Cloud Services

VMware Cross-Cloud Services are VMware’s integrated software as a service (SaaS) solutions for building, running, managing, and securing enterprise applications across any cloud. They include:

  • VMware Tanzu: for building and deploying modern, cloud-agnostic applications
  • VMware Aria: for deploying, operating, and optimizing applications with unified visibility into application performance and costs across clouds

Dell Multi-Cloud Tools

Dell Technologies, whose solutions portfolio extends from traditional infrastructure to multi-cloud environments, offers the following tools:

  • VMware Cloud Foundation on Dell EMC VxRail: for running, managing, optimizing, and securing applications in multi-cloud environments
  • Dell APEX: for a consistent infrastructure and operations experience across all clouds

READ MORE: Top 10 Cloud Service Providers Globally in 2023

Mary Zhang covers Data Centers for Dgtl Infra, including Equinix (NASDAQ: EQIX), Digital Realty (NYSE: DLR), CyrusOne, CoreSite Realty, QTS Realty, Switch Inc, Iron Mountain (NYSE: IRM), Cyxtera (NASDAQ: CYXT), and many more. Within Data Centers, Mary focuses on the sub-sectors of hyperscale, enterprise / colocation, cloud service providers, and edge computing. Mary has over 5 years of experience in research and writing for Data Centers.

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