Why the Advantages of Multi-Cloud May Not Outweigh the Challenges

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Click to learn more about author Jay Chapel.

The time is ripe to take a fresh look at the advantages of multi-cloud. In the past 12 months, we’ve seen a huge increase in the number of customers who use multiple public clouds — now, more than 20 percent of our customers use multiple public clouds. With this trend in mind, we wanted to take a look at the positives of a multi-cloud strategy as well as the risks — because, of course, there’s no “easy button.”

What Is Multi-Cloud?

First off, let’s define multi-cloud. Clearly, we’re talking about using one or more clouds, but clouds come in different flavors. For example, multi-cloud incorporates the idea of a hybrid cloud — a mix of public and private clouds. But multi-cloud can also mean two or more public clouds or two or more private clouds.

According to the RightScale/Flexera State of the Cloud Report, 81 percent of enterprises have a multi-cloud strategy:

Image Source: Flexera

What Are the Advantages of Multi-Cloud?

So why are businesses heading this direction with their infrastructure? Simple reasons include the following:

  • Risk Mitigation: Create resilient architectures
  • Managing vendor lock-in: Get price protection
  • Optimization: Place your workloads to optimize for cost and performance
  • Cloud providers’ unique capabilities: Take advantage of offerings in AI, IoT, machine learning, and more

When I asked our CTO what he sees as the advantages of a multi-cloud strategy, he highlighted risk management. Our own platform was born in the cloud, we run on AWS, we have a multi-region architecture with redundancy (let’s call this multi-cloud “light”), and if we went multi-cloud, we would leverage another public cloud for risk mitigation.

Specifically, this is risk management from the perspective of one vendor having an infrastructure meltdown or attack. AWS had an issue about 15 months ago when S3 was offline in the US-East-1 region for 5-plus hours, affecting many companies, large and small, and software from web apps to smartphone apps were affected (including ours). There have also been issues with certain AWS regions getting a DDoS attack that affected service availability.

Having a backup to another cloud service provider (CSP) or private cloud in these cases could have ensured 100 percent uptime. In the case of Alibaba and other cloud vendors, they may have a much stronger presence in certain geographic regions due to a long-term presence. When any of the vendors just start getting a toe-hold in a region, their environment has minimal redundancy and safeguards in place that provide the desired high-availability, so another provider in the same region may be safer from that availability perspective.

Do the Advantages of Multi-Cloud Outweigh the Challenges?

Now let’s say you want to go multi-cloud; what does this mean to you? From our own experience integrating with AWS, Azure, and Google Cloud, we’ve seen that each cloud has its own set of interfaces and own challenges. It is not a “write once, runs everywhere” situation between the vendors, and any cloud or network management utility system needs to do the work to provide deep integration with each CSP.

Further, the nuances of configuring and managing each CSP requires both broad and deep knowledge, and it is rare to find employees with the essential expertise for multiple clouds — so more staff is needed to manage multi-cloud with confidence that it is being done in a way that is both secure and highly available. With everyone trying to play catch-up with AWS, and with AWS itself evolving at a breakneck pace, it is very difficult for an individual or organization to best utilize one CSP, let alone multiple clouds.

Things like a common container environment can help mitigate these issues somewhat by isolating engineers from the nuances of virtual machine management, but the issues of the network, infrastructure, cost optimization, security, and availability remain very CSP-specific.

On paper, there are advantages of having a multi-cloud strategy. In practice, like many things, it ain’t easy.

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