Multi-cloud Strategy: How Does It Work and Is It Trustworthy?
One of the latest buzzphrases in IT is Multi-Cloud. Or perhaps Multicloud – a debate is raging about the correct spelling. However it is spelt, is an implementation of Cloud Computing that is gaining traction as Cloud technologies become more commonplace and cost-effective.
What is Multi-Cloud?
Simply put, a multi-cloud is the use of multiple cloud computing and storage environments in an integrated local or distributed network architecture. The term can also be used to refer to the distribution of assets such as hardware and software across cloud computing environments. In some environments, it was called Fog Computing, but that phrase seems to have fallen into disuse.
An example of a simple multi-cloud approach can be found in a manufacturing environment. Digitally controlled machinery at the network periphery receive their instructions from a central ERP system and pass completion results back to it. Processing intermediate instructions at the periphery that don’t need processing at the core saves on network traffic and load on the core. It is becoming increasingly common to put the peripheral computing equipment in private clouds integrated with the corporate cloud.
Recently however a more common implementation is that of a hybrid cloud, involving both private and public cloud components. An example includes public clouds as infrastructure providers (“IaaS”) linking corporate data centres, PaaS (“Platforms as a Service”) public clouds from AWS, Azure or Google, and security services, a delivery environment supporting corporate private clouds offering internal and customer-facing applications operated from hosted desktops.
Benefits of Multi-Cloud
There are several advantages and benefits to a Multi-Cloud environment, particularly one supporting hosted desktops in a high-availability environment such as e-commerce and real-time travel systems.
High availability protects against loss of business services. Applications Services and data storage are protected from malware and other outages. Other clouds are available to run applications and provide services to users if one cloud is unavailable for any reason.
Cost management, especially balancing capital and operational costs are of paramount importance today. There is evidence of a growing move from a CAPEX to an OPEX-=driven financial model.
Using public clouds allows organisations to take full advantage of vendors competing on price. In many cases, additional functionality can be provided at no additional cost. They do not need to hire additional staff to manage the prime and dependent services.
Multi-clouds allow organisations to maximise the use of public clouds to provide flexibility on the choice of service providers. Environments can change, business priorities can change and as they do, a multi-cloud approach provides flexibility in selecting the best of breed for each cloud type.
One particular benefit is in avoiding being locked into a particular vendor as a service provider. Flexibility provides cost benefits in the ability to extend or hire new services for a limited period, and not need to employ expensive hires.
Multi-Clouds – The Strategy
Achieving the maximum financial benefit from a supplier requires a long-term commitment to an individual supplier or suppliers which can conflict with the flexibility needed as the multi-cloud develops. In the first steps, while scaling up the hybrid cloud, it is difficult to spend enough across different vendors to reach their benefit platforms.
At the outset, it is probably best to align with a single provider to reach benefit thresholds.
For example, if there is an existing relationship with Microsoft, an organisation can benefit from bundling existing licensing agreements with an Azure implementation. AWS provides an Enterprise Discount Programme that provides discounted pricing, but also the ability to purchase in the AWS marketplace.
A second consideration is public versus private and who is best-of-breed. The model we discussed above emphasised the benefits of retaining as much flexibility as possible and avoiding vendor lock-in.
Balancing cost, applicability, flexibility and a long-term strategy is a complex juggling act and not an easy one.
The most sage advice is to take a long-term view and not be sidetracked by a short-term gain that will compromise the long-term strategy. This is as true of an individual application as of the entire environment. Bear in mind also, that in a transition, legacy systems need to keep operating.
On the specific question around trustworthiness, the answer is that it depends. There are tools, hardware and software, and operational techniques to minimise risk to an organisation adopting a Cloud strategy, single or Multi-Cloud. To answer realistically, it is as trustworthy as elsewhere in the Cloud environment.
Software and hardware vendors are continually working to update their tools, and there are many potential suppliers of advice and guidance at all stages of a migration to a Multi-Cloud environment.
Ultimately it comes down to an organisations view, and how much they are willing to invest in the security of their multi-cloud environment at the definition, strategic and operational levels.