So what exactly is multi-cloud management is? Find out more about multi-cloud, as well as why you need a multi cloud management platform to future proof your IT success.
Cloud Solution Engineer
Multi-cloud refers to the use of concurrent services provided by multiple cloud vendors. For an intuitive understanding of multi-cloud, we need to understand the following terms:
Cloud-based services: the outsourcing of the hosting and management of cloud infrastructure and applications to a third party vendor, consuming the product as a service.
Cloud Service Providers (CSP): vendors which operate IT infrastructure and sell, as a service, virtualized instances of the infrastructure or so-called cloud infrastructure.
Public Cloud: an IT model where on-demand computing services and infrastructure are offered by third-party Cloud Service Providers and the resources are shared between multiple tenants.
Private Cloud: a similar model to public cloud, but where the infrastructure provided by the CSPs is dedicated for each tenant.
We can now better define multi-cloud as the consumption of virtual infrastructure as a service, from multiple cloud providers, who share the underlying physical hardware between multiple tenants and only separate it at a logical level.
Currently, the go-to public cloud providers include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). A multi-cloud environment will typically be composed of two or more of these providers.
It is worth noting that for the purposes of this article, we're referring to multi-cloud strictly as multiple public cloud environments. This is in contrast to hybrid cloud, where an environment uses a mixture of public cloud, private cloud and/or on-premises resources.
Multi-cloud allows us to capitalize on the strengths of each vendor and fill in any gaps in their portfolio of services. However, it also makes the extended environment considerably more difficult to manage. The advantages posed by multi-cloud architecture can be categorised into technical and business benefits.
With a multi-cloud architecture, enterprises can select the CSP with the most suitable service portfolio for their application requirements. This, in turn, creates a distributed, resilient and flexible infrastructure environment. Some of the key technical benefits for multi-cloud include:
Resiliency: hosting data and applications through different vendors adds a layer of resiliency and lowers the dependency on a single vendor. It is the IT equivalent of not putting all your eggs in one basket. The unfortunate fire from OVHCloud’s Strasbourg data center from March 2021 reminds us of the dangers of hosting all your data and applications in a single data centre.
Extended region availability: all leading public cloud providers have a global data centre footprint but may have slight differences in the available locations. For example, Microsoft Azure has more data centre locations in the US, which include southern and central regions, whilst AWS has data centres only on the east and west coasts. Having data centres in proximity to the end-users can help when deploying latency-sensitive applications.
App-specific requirements: Users who are building an IoT solution and require an email service like AWS SES are not able to achieve the use case using Microsoft Azure’s services. In this case, AWS might be a better fit for the use case.
Using a multi-cloud environment can bring benefits beyond the DevOps team. It allows enterprises to have more granular control over the cost of infrastructure, and to enable business across geographies and industries. Some of the key business benefits for multi-cloud include:
Compliance and Regulation: highly regulated industries and public sector entities have special requirements as to how and where data is processed and stored. A common requirement to contract with governmental agencies is to ensure that all processes happen on the respective country's territory, generally referred to as 'data sovereignty'. This includes data storage, application hosting, third party tooling and even support staff. Some countries have very comprehensive criteria which cloud providers are required to meet, such as the C5 in Germany, so it's important to scope out which providers meet relevant compliance and regulation for your use case.
Cost Optimization: using multiple public cloud providers will enable you to select the vendor whose prices are better suited for your needs. For example, if we compare Azure's costs to AWS's, Azure offers virtual machine instances roughly 25% cheaper than AWS when looking at a three-year reserved Windows machine with 4 CPUs and 16 GB of memory. However, when looking at block storage, AWS is not only 35% less expensive for SSD storage, but also offers 30 GB of free storage. In this instance, if your requirements include large amounts of storage, using AWS may be more cost efficient than using Azure.
Today, 90% of large enterprises have already adopted multi-cloud architecture to some degree. Using multiple public clouds is no longer a fringe practice but an architecture that nearly all enterprises will have to embrace soon. At a high level, we can split the reasoning for adopting multi-cloud into two categories:
The business has proactively decided to adopt a multi-cloud strategy, gradually expanding from one cloud provider to more.
The business was forced to start working with another different cloud provider to address immediate technical shortcomings or meet clients' requirements.
For the first category, a deliberate multi-cloud strategy can help future-proof your infrastructure, avoid vendor lock-in and create applications with fewer technical limitations. A smooth transition between one cloud provider to two or more can alleviate time pressure, address worker skill gaps and establish adequate communication between each of the cloud environments.
For the second category, businesses may have to react to a specific opportunity or existing customers' requests which cannot be fulfilled by their current cloud provider, or that could even require services from multiple cloud providers. If you are painted into a corner, creating a new public cloud environment will be expensive and pose challenges in terms of migration, lack of in-house skills and difficult integrations.
Whilst there are no inherent disadvantages (such as decreased performance) in using more than one cloud provider, it does present secondhand challenges from the increased complexity and extended footprint. Both performance and cost can be negatively affected if the environments are not optimized, which is usually a result of lack of skills and poorly designed workflows. Some of the most common challenges and inhibitors of multi-cloud include:
Lack of vendor-specific skills While the services are often like-for-like between the leading public cloud providers, the skills required to efficiently use each cloud provider need specialized staff.
Limited native multi-cloud support Naturally, there is little to no support for allowing cross-vendor workflows and even networking between the environments.
Twice (or thrice) the work To execute the same function in each cloud provider's environment, IT teams will have to duplicate the work for each vendor.
Inconsistent workflows across cloud environments The slight differences between each of these cloud providers means that there cannot be one-size-fits all workflow for each use case or application, forcing the creation of different workflows to achieve the same scope.
Silo-ing and poor collaboration Having dedicated teams for each cloud provider will naturally tend towards silo-ing and lack of collaboration between the teams.
Monitoring Not only is cloud monitoring challenging by itself using native tooling, but monitoring the performance across different cloud providers is not possible without third party tools.
The easiest way of tackling these multi-cloud challenges is to address the underlying issue of complexity. Rather than hiring specialized teams to manage each cloud provider's environment individually, enterprises that use multi-cloud can implement a central management layer to enable the management from a single platform using a vendor-agnostic interface.
To remove this complexity, the multi-cloud management platform must be able to fully support all the required cloud providers, offer a unified interface across all environments, and ensure consistency across all providers such that any function can be replicated across vendors without adjustments.
With this management layer in place, we can step away from a scenario where the AWS team and the Azure team only communicate through incidents and escalations, and step towards a unified Cloud DevOps team aligned in scope.
A multi-cloud management platform should be an integral part of the journey to multi-cloud. It makes it easier to deploy new environments, unify existing ones, migrate services and shift between providers. Adopting a comprehensive and mature cloud management platform can streamline deployments, save costs and improve the IT team's organizational structure to promote collaboration.
History has shown that as technology matures, the industry tends toward vendor agnosticism. That's why we have developed our cloud management platform to facilitate seamless transition between the world's leading cloud providers without the technology equivalent of red tape. With Divio, you can seamlessly shift apps between regions and cloud vendors through self-service features. This will enable you to take advantage of the region-specific compliance features, and also to physically move apps closer to the end user.
We are firm promoters of the "don't repeat yourself" -- aka DRY -- principle, enabling you to create standardised workflows and implement automation in the provisioning and management of your infrastructure.