If you ask most industry analysts, they will tell you that a multi-cloud infrastructure is the future, or even the present, of computing. It is true that many enterprises are increasingly using public cloud services from more than just one provider. Indeed, there are a number of reasons to use services from a combination of Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud Platform and others. Those reasons typically fall into three categories, namely: Strategic, Evolutionary, and Incidental Multi-Cloud Computing.
Strategic Multi-Cloud Computing
The company has deliberately made the decision to use two or more cloud providers, to align with their corporate strategy.
- Technological reasons. The company believes that a different cloud provider’s technology is superior long-term for a specific application or workload such as Serverless or Machine Learning. Maybe you believe that Google Cloud is the best platform for your Big Data project whereas Azure is better for your SQL Databases. If you have truly independent workloads, it could make sense to use different clouds for different requirements, i.e. the right tool for the job. However, if the jobs are related, you could run into problems related to bandwidth and data transfer costs. If you need to export data from SQL Servers on Azure to a Big Data project running on Google Cloud, expect to pay a lot for egress costs. It might make sense to consolidate that data and the analysis in the same region of the same cloud vendor. Ask yourself if the technology reasons you once applied to move to multi-cloud are still accurate.
- Market-driven. This applies to SaaS or other companies where their cloud environment matters to their end customers or value chain. For example you want to offer a service on multiple clouds or perhaps there is a data hosting location reason you need to comply with data sovereignty regulations or to maximize performance and minimize latency.
- Agility. Some companies are afraid of putting all of their eggs in one basket so they seek to avoid “lock-in.” Ask yourself why you are worried about being locked in. Are you afraid that the cloud vendor might raise prices? How likely is that to happen? Amazon has actually lowered prices more than 60 times in over a decade. For many years, Amazon charged per-hour while Microsoft charged per-minute. So Amazon switched to per-second pricing. Have you negotiated with your current vendor regarding pricing options that might be available from others?
- Competing With Your Provider. Another motivation for multi-cloud is if one of the cloud hosts is considered a potential competitor. This comes up often with Amazon. After all, the parent company of AWS dominates multiple markets, particularly e-commerce. Many retailers are skeptical about partnering with a potential competitor. On the other hand, some companies that compete with Amazon have embraced AWS. Netflix, a massive entertainment and content competitor to Amazon Prime Video, is a major AWS user – and perhaps surprisingly to some, Amazon hasn’t been shy about promoting the relationship, even featuring Netflix in a commercial! On the other hand, Service Providers who resell VMware virtualization solutions on public clouds have found themselves squeezed out of deals. Enterprises might end up getting a better deal by going direct and bypassing the partner. This understandably turns off a lot of providers from proposing VMware offerings.
Evolutionary Multi-Cloud Computing
Deliberate decisions were made to choose one cloud provider over another, for legitimate reasons at the time.
- Inertia. At one point in time the customer consciously chose a new or different cloud provider for an initiative, because, in that moment, the new provider was a better option. Maybe one provider offered a new technology or service, such as Lambda, or perhaps there was an offer of special pricing. But it may have been a long time since that decision was made. Have they evaluated whether that’s true anymore? Is this part of a documented cloud strategy?
- Mergers and Acquisitions. Even the best intentioned single-cloud customer might acquire a company that uses a different cloud vendor. The costs and hassles of migrating those foreign workloads to the dominant cloud provider usually aren’t prioritized upon acquisition and may not be worth it. The result is a multi-cloud enterprise, although not strategically designed that way. The new entity could continue with a multi-cloud configuration indefinitely, using each cloud platform for the different lines of businesses, and rely on open standards for communication across the Internet.
Incidental Multi-Cloud Computing
While it wasn’t necessarily planned, the company ended up using a variety of cloud providers over time, through a series of actions or inaction.
- Lack of Standards. Without a Cloud Center of Excellence choosing a corporate standard cloud provider, departments might not have any guidance as to which cloud platform to use. Sales, Marketing, HR, Engineering, etc., could all make decisions in a vacuum, and end up using two or more cloud providers.
- Accidental Multi-Cloud. Even if the organization has officially standardized on a single cloud vendor, any enterprise, especially a larger one where employees can operate below the radar of IT, may find multiple clouds in use. This is because developers, researchers, business analysts and other technology enthusiasts may have signed up for an account with one or more cloud providers. Perhaps they attended a seminar or webinar or received a free trial offer via email. Before you know it, there are multiple cloud vendors being used within the enterprise, often unbeknownst to the IT department.
Considerations for a Multi-Cloud Infrastructure
When making the determination to add a second or third cloud, consider the following to make the process easier.
- Cloud Agnostic Tools. Some companies embrace cloud agnostic technologies, like Kubernetes, in order to avoid lock-in. This can make it easier to migrate to another platform if that is ever needed in the future. Just be sure to pay attention to all aspects of your code. If you still rely on Amazon’s IAM or Microsoft’s Active Directory, are you doing enough to prevent lock-in?
- Lowest Common Denominator. If embracing multi-cloud to prevent lock-in is the goal, you should consider developing to the lowest common denominator. Avoid using technology unique to a single vendor where possible. Consider a universal Tag Management solution with Tag Mapping so you can more easily absorb acquisitions who might have embraced a different cloud vendor.
- Training, Certification, and Updates. You might think it is hard enough mastering a single cloud vendor’s platform. Multi-cloud adoption could put a strain on finding and training employees. Fortunately there are some commonalities among the cloud vendors, and only the terminology is different.
- Volume Discounts. Imagine spending two million dollars on AWS, another million on Azure and half a million on Google. Now consider the volume discount any of those vendors would offer if you spent all 3.5 million dollars in one place. There are cost savings you could be missing out on that make multi-cloud more expensive. Maybe you can factor that into your negotiations if you do add another cloud provider!
- Leverage Service Providers. MSPs, CSPs, and Resellers are a great example of where multi-cloud makes a lot of sense. If you only offer services for one cloud vendor, you are missing out on half or more of your potential customer base, especially if those customers have even a tiny bit of multi-cloud use cases themselves.
Embracing a Multi-Cloud Infrastructure
Remember, the cloud vendors are competing with each other every day, so the best decision for you might be to just let them fight it out so you can enjoy the benefits of improved service at a better rate. We have seen the top cloud vendors continually roll out better services and resources, often at lower prices, due to this fierce competition.
There are legitimate reasons to embrace two or more clouds. But the challenges in training, staying updated, and saving money lead to the need for outside help. Service providers make it their priority to stay informed and trained, while cloud management tools help everyone make sense of multiple clouds using a consistent user-friendly interface.
Need to start managing your multi-cloud infrastructure? Large enterprises, managed service providers, resellers, and government agencies rely on CloudCheckr to solidify their multi-cloud strategies. Request a free Cloud Check Up for your environment.