Cloud deployments are continuing to gain massive popularity, accelerated by the desire to modernize, evolving telework trends, and cost concerns. While not an exhaustive list of reasons, cloud platforms are here to stay. Eighty-one percent of surveyed organizations leveraged multi-cloud strategies last year. Additionally, Flexera’s 2020 State of the Cloud Survey found that 93% of respondents plan to implement multi-cloud.
That said, what’s all the buzz about? We’ll dive into the ins and outs of multi-cloud, how you can implement it, and its inherent benefits.
What is multi-cloud infrastructure?
Companies, and especially larger enterprises, quickly find that their workflows require more than a one-size-fits-all tooling approach. Settling for one vendor’s product, while a unified strategy, can prevent teams from accomplishing important tasks efficiently. Therefore, multi-cloud involves using solutions from at least two cloud vendors simultaneously. Research from three years ago, however, asserts that most multi-cloud organizations leverage about five cloud solutions. This approach has only surged in popularity since.
This might include large suites like AWS, Google Cloud, or Azure. However, these companies and others offer specialized services, infrastructure, and platforms geared towards specific workflows. We often refer to these as Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), and Platform as a Service (PaaS). Additionally, Function as a Service (FaaS) solutions are becoming an integral part of serverless workflows.
Multiple clouds aren’t just for companies running a pure-cloud deployment. Even hybrid deployments can implement a multi-cloud strategy — since any number of applications and workflows can live in the cloud, while others remain on premises.
Benefits of multi-cloud
Organizations can mix and match any of these when making tooling choices — provided any needed integrations or compatibilities are satisfied. Organizations don’t only use a multi-cloud infrastructure for its capabilities. A “fragmented” infrastructure approach helps prevent vendor lock-in.
This is a major pain point for many teams. Application suites can scale beyond a system’s capacity, and new processes can dictate transitions to new platforms. Unfortunately, this can be extremely challenging when using vendor-specific APIs. That process requires rethinking how one’s infrastructure is arranged.
Additionally, multi-cloud gives teams added flexibility. An organization might say one day, “We’re mandating a transition to the Google Cloud Platform — only that platform and its adjacent tools are usable.” Forced transitions mean employees with limited tooling experience have to hit the ground running with unfamiliar platforms. That creates inefficiencies as teams learn new processes. Meanwhile, an open approach typically allows teams to use what they’re more comfortable with.
Finally, the cloud market is rife with competition. That means better pricing for your organization, as vendors aim to offer the best value proposition.
How to build a multi-cloud architecture
As with any transition, making an infrastructure decision requires plenty of planning. Beyond deciding whether the cloud is right for you, the following must be considered:
- Team expertise and comfortability with certain technology stacks
- The types of applications you’re running and their requirements
- How data governance policies are shaped, and how that impacts where applications are hosted
- Security requirements
- Compliance guidelines
- Budgetary concerns
- Application portability
- Ecosystem openness and integration availability
- Lock-in potential or tooling dependence
It’s therefore important to understand how configurations might impact your deployments. Are you running a monolith or microservices? Finally (for the scope of this article), how will using vendor-specific APIs across multiple platforms impact you long term?
Also, consider the overall value proposition. Will choosing a multi-cloud approach provide enough of a functionality boost to warrant adoption? It’s fully possible that a single-cloud deployment could offer an ideal balance. It’s important that decision makers sit down with their technical teams and understand their needs before handing down requirements.
How to use a multi-cloud strategy
Overall, your strategy for multi-cloud should build on the considerations mentioned earlier. Vendor comparisons aside, it’s also important to decide between public and private clouds. Surveys suggest that 90% of organizations will rely on hybrid cloud environments by 2022.
Why is that? A public cloud might be cost effective, while private clouds allow for tailored resource reservations and improved security. It’s generally not advisable to host applications and databases with sensitive data on shared resources. However, applications without strict data governance or RBAC controls might thrive in a public ecosystem. Private clouds reign supreme when ultimate customization is desired.
Accordingly, pairing your services with complimentary platforms is best. Look for a solution with accessible APIs and language support. If you’re using containerized applications, pay careful attention to scalability and resource availability.
It’s also possible to use multi-cloud as a testbed for transitioning. Many companies are turning away from data centers, and may experiment with the cloud by sending non mission-critical services skyward. If this goes well, it’s possible to branch out to more clouds and move more applications. Just know that there may be some downtime risks in more places by using more clouds.
Finally, teams with tighter budgets may find relief by leveraging multiple clouds. You’re not maintaining or procuring hardware. You’re not paying for power or building costs. Furthermore, your organization could save by having fewer IT or data center engineering staffers on the payroll.
Multi-cloud data protection
Touching back on the private vs. public cloud debate, your industry might determine your direction. For example, companies in the healthcare realm must absolutely use a private cloud solution (in critical places) to meet HIPAA requirements.
Patient and customer data security is paramount in these instances, and not all vendors will meet these regulations. The same goes for the financial industry (COSO framework and GLBA), general internet entities (GDPR), and the education realm (FERPA). Also consider that 90% of IT pros have expressed concerns over public-cloud security, by comparison. Multi-cloud security includes these considerations and more as they pertain to data.
Privacy and security aside, data fragmentation is a real concern with multi-cloud data protection. A core part of data protection is availability — or the ability to access cloud resources at will with appropriate permissions. How can we make this data available if applications are spread across different clouds, and if databases are distributed? While no cloud provider can promise 100% availability, many can get close to that figure.
Percona’s 2020 Data Management Survey revealed that organizations prefer to have multiple databases spread across different platforms and locations. However, tapping into a “multi-cloud database” might be a better idea for some. Solutions like MongoDB Atlas, SkySQL MariaDB Cloud Database, and ElephantSQL are worthy options with cross-platform compatibility. You might even see the term Database as a Service (DaaS) thrown around—where a platform’s sole purpose is securing and serving data on demand.
Multi-cloud backup and disaster recovery
Without a doubt, backing up your multi-cloud environment is key in preserving data over the long term. Redundancy is pivotal in the event of a crash or system failure. While we know that no cloud database provider can always make data available, it’s important to also ensure that you and your vendor still follow the 3-2-1 backup rule.
Three backups of your data should exist: two locally via different mediums, and at least one remotely. This protects against power outages and disruptions. Accordingly, this makes multi-cloud disaster recovery much easier. Data losses are kept to a minimum, as we’ve seen with Amazon S3 and others. Spreading backups across multiple locations is also much easier via the multi-cloud.
Generally, you’ll seek to create a number of backups and store them locally. Your software of choice can transport this backup to any number of cloud destinations. From there, they’re both safe and accessible regardless of geographical location. A number of third-party services can make this happen.
Determining where your data resides and vetting the solutions you choose is essential. Ensure that data rests in distributed data centers. That way, if one center goes offline, it won’t disrupt your business operations in their entirety.
Multi-Cloud is the future
On the whole, leveraging multiple clouds affords teams the flexibility and savings necessary to maintain agile operations. That strategy promises to be a center point of company operations across the enterprise realm. While the big boys of the cloud realm (AWS, Azure, Google Cloud) have an impressive assortment of cloud tools, hundreds of services permeate the industry. Choosing the right strategy requires a deep look into your infrastructure priorities.