In the early days of cloud computing, to paraphrase Henry Ford, you could “use any cloud you want, as long as it is AWS.” Well, times have changed over the last decade or so. The playing field has broadened as new players entered the game. The evolution and maturation of the cloud provided additional choices to cloud computing customers, much to their benefit.
As more and more organizations begin their cloud journeys, many of them are employing multicloud strategies. Many of the early adopters of public cloud are expanding their cloud portfolios to span multiple cloud providers, as well. Today 92% of enterprises have a multi-cloud strategy, as found in the Flexera 2021 State of the Cloud Report. But why are businesses moving to multicloud? What are the benefits—and drawbacks—of a multicloud strategy? Do these pros outweigh the cons?
The reasons to pursue a multicloud strategy vary. They appeal to different organizations in different ways, based on their size, customer base, technology stacks, internal resources, commitment to resiliency—the list goes on and on. But the most common reasons that resonate with organizations fall into one or more of the following five categories of thinking:
Larger organizations, particularly those that have grown via acquisitions and mergers, tend to have a vast technology portfolio that spans multiple operating systems, programming languages, and development platforms. Each of the public cloud providers offer similar “lowest common denominator” services, such as compute, network, and storage. Where they differ is in the additional services they offer, such as database services, caching services, serverless technologies, AI and ML toolkits, etc.
If an organizational workload leverages, for example, a full complement of the Microsoft technology stack and the organization has an enterprise agreement with Microsoft to assist with the finances of this technology footprint, then that application is most likely a candidate for the Microsoft Azure public cloud.
A multicloud strategy enables an organization to find and utilize the best venue for an individual application and deploy it where it makes the most technological and financial sense. With a single cloud strategy, organizations may find themselves in a “square peg, round hole” situation, required to make a non-optimal deployment decision as their choices of venue are limited.
2Availability and Resiliency
The concept of a multicloud failover configuration has been discussed and experimented with over the years. Despite the limited application of multicloud failover scenarios, the attraction of such a possibility is enticing to many organizations, making it a factor in their multicloud strategy. Multicloud failover options are actually extremely difficult and cumbersome to implement. For them to function, applications must be developed and deployed with full portability between providers in mind.
In reality, the additional services (the aforementioned database services, caching services, etc.) of the providers are just too appealing to resist due to the reduction of operational burden they provide. The more of these services a user adopts, the tighter the handcuffs become to that primary provider, limiting portability to additional clouds.
3Regional Access and Reach
While the hyperscale public cloud providers continue to expand their offerings into additional regions of the globe, not all clouds are equal in terms of their presence in specific locales. Utilizing multiple public cloud providers enable organizations to deploy workloads into the regions where their customers reside, minimizing latency to these services, while also enabling the adherence to any existing data residency requirements.
Each of the public hyperscale cloud providers maintains a list of multiple global and regional compliance certifications; these vary by provider and by region. As such, different providers may be suitable for differing workloads within an organization’s application portfolio, depending on the requirements of the application and the country or region in which it operates. For organizations with vast and varied application compliance mandates, a multicloud strategy may be necessary to comply with the requirements of these disparate workloads.
Many organizations envision that a multicloud strategy will help them avoid vendor lock-in to a specific provider, allowing portability between providers should the financial or competitive landscapes change in the future. Similar to the discussion around availability and resiliency, expectations around avoiding vendor lock-in often fall short. The more of these services that a user consumes from a provider, the greater the lock-in to that vendor and the more difficult portability becomes. Regardless, the concept of vendor neutrality influences many multicloud strategies.
Combinations of these five reasons factor into the cloud strategies of many organizations, often resulting in a multicloud approach. As with most technology decisions, there’s no one-size-fits-all solution with regard to cloud strategy. For most organizations, the benefits of utilizing multiple cloud providers outweigh the complexity it creates.