multi cloud v hybrid cloud
Cloud Management

The Difference between Multi Cloud and Hybrid Cloud

How to choose between multi cloud and hybrid cloud, and how to find the right solution for your business's future.

Dennis Schwertel

Dennis Schwertel

Cloud Architect

Moving workloads to the cloud has been continuously accelerating over the past decade. As of 2021, as many as 94% of enterprises have some sort of cloud-based  workloads. Out of those, 92% use more than one provider or type of cloud. 

Despite the high adoption rates of cloud solutions, it’s also worth looking at the distribution between traditional, on-premise workloads and cloud based workloads. In 2019, only 20% of workloads were in the cloud, the remainder still running on-premises. The transformation and migration of mission-critical workloads from on-premises to ‘whole cloud’ solutions would involve complex and thorough projects. In such instances, it’s important to understand what cloud architectures are available and which best meet your requirements. We will discuss two such ideas: multi cloud and hybrid cloud.

The Components of Multi Cloud and Hybrid Cloud

We use the terms multi cloud and hybrid cloud as high level abstractions of other cloud concepts. To fully understand the difference between multi cloud and hybrid cloud, we need to get an understanding of their components. 

  • Public cloud: a set of on-demand computing resources and products managed by a third-party cloud service provider (CSP). In this cloud environment, multiple customers share the underlying infrastructure.

  • Private cloud: the infrastructure provided by the CSPs is dedicated for each tenant. A private cloud is essentially an abstraction of the on-premises infrastructure with the added enhancements of cloud management techniques for scaling and self-service.

What is Multi Cloud?

Multi cloud refers to the combination and integration of multiple clouds from different providers. Multi cloud users might leverage different cloud solution providers to optimise cost or deliver best-of-breed IT services. For example, an enterprise might host its front-end web application on AWS, host its Exchange servers on Microsoft Azure and perform analytics using Google App Engine. 

This approach also addresses the issue of vendor lock-in, where an enterprise that uses only one cloud provider is restricted to just one set of services, locations and pricing. Using multiple cloud providers enables enterprises to leverage the whole spectrum of cloud services and offerings available on the market, although it can be hard to move applications from one provider to the next (Divio provides CloudShift for just this problem).

One of the most significant advantages of using multiple clouds is improved resiliency. An enterprise deploying a redundant workload across two or more clouds can handle more global peak traffic and withstand regional or vendor-related failures. A multi cloud strategy can help enterprises future-proof their infrastructure. 

What is Hybrid Cloud?

Hybrid cloud solutions combine both public and private clouds with on-premises infrastructure into a unified IT environment. Hybrid cloud differs from a multi cloud due to the variation in the type of environments (private, public, or on-premise) instead of variation in providers. 

In the early stages of the cloud era, hybrid cloud architecture was thought of as just another step in the cloud migration journey of enterprise architecture from on-premises data centres to private or public cloud environments. Some enterprises only migrate partly to the cloud, finding either business continuity, timelines, migration cost  or lack of skills too difficult to migrate wholly. As such, these enterprises end up unintentionally in a hybrid cloud model rather than understanding its value and creating a strategy around it. 

Hybrid cloud has strategic value of its own. It offers enterprises the ability to distribute workloads across all cloud and on-premises environments. A hybrid cloud environment works best for enterprises that must comply with specific regulations on any subset of their data or business logic. This offers greater levels of control over access management, processing location, data retention, certifications and compliance. The applications that are subject to regulations can be hosted on a restricted, tightly controlled environment, like a private cloud or on-premises data centre, and the remainder of the technology stack can continue to run in highly scalable public clouds. 

Hybrid cloud solutions are harder to manage and optimise because of the need to manage multiple types of IT infrastructure and work with more than one provider. The key to a hybrid cloud is uniformity and interconnectivity between the environments, generally offered by a hybrid cloud management overlay platform that can orchestrate multiple environments from a single interface.

Multi Cloud vs Hybrid Cloud

There are many similarities between hybrid and multi cloud environments, such as:

  • Data Sovereignty: highly regulated industries and public sector entities have special requirements regarding how and where data is processed and stored. The on-premises data centre takes care of the regulatory concerns in a hybrid cloud, while enterprises can choose the most compliant public cloud in multi cloud.

  • Increased Resiliency: using multiple clouds provides failure resiliency and data redundancy. Enterprises can have failovers in instances where one cloud provider or environment suffers downtime.

Besides the benefits listed above, multi cloud and hybrid cloud also suffer from similar drawbacks related to integration and collaboration. This is important since DevOps and other cross-functional teams often need to work across silos or lack vendor-specific knowledge.

At the same time, there are important distinctions:

  • Multi cloud solution providers offer a similar set of services with variations in terms of naming and configuration, whilst the different hybrid cloud environments have completely different design, deployment and operations activities.

  • The infrastructure cost of the non-cloud resources in a hybrid environment require CAPEX investments, whereas the multi cloud setup guarantees zero capital expenses and zero infrastructure management.

  • Hybrid cloud offers a more granular level of control over workloads and storage compared to multi cloud environments. 

  • Hybrid cloud is more suitable for on-premises digital modernisation projects as it integrates cloud environments with traditional infrastructure. 

It’s important to note that hybrid clouds and multi clouds can coexist. A hybrid multi cloud can be used with multiple environments and multiple service providers. An enterprise can build a private cloud for internal use, merge it with a public cloud to create a hybrid cloud, and then add or integrate multiple other clouds (whether IaaS, PaaS, or SaaS) to deliver specific resources or services. In practice, the complex technical hurdles involved in such simultaneous integrations are rarely worth the effort unless it is a large, technically adept enterprise with demanding hybrid project requirements.

How to Choose Between Multi Cloud or Hybrid Cloud

To help you choose between a multi cloud or hybrid cloud architecture, we recommend using the following criteria:

  • Existing on-premises infrastructure: if your business has an existing on-premises infrastructure, migrating to a hybrid cloud model will be much easier in terms of business continuity, migration costs and management. For cloud-native startups, opting directly for a multi cloud architecture may be much easier

  • In-house technical knowledge: always take into consideration the skills that you have available in house. Typically, your existing skill set will reflect your current infrastructure, and mass-migration to a completely new provider or type of infrastructure will heavily disrupt your operations

  • Regional availability: it’s worth noting that public cloud providers in particular only have a handful of data centres spread across the world. In instances where the provider does not offer a local data centre, a hybrid cloud model may be beneficial

  • Compliance and regulation: regardless of where your workloads are, do not take compliance for granted. Simply holding infrastructure on-premises does not guarantee compliance,  your in-house team having to receive relevant certifications and configure the infrastructure in a specific way. Assess your current compliance posture and select the infrastructure model that best suits your requirements.

Considering the complexity of both hybrid and multi cloud architectures, you should always consider the management process. This can be streamlined by employing an adequate cloud management tool to gain control over all parts of the cloud estate from a single platform. Whether it’s connecting multiple public clouds or unifying an on-premises private cloud and a public cloud, Divio offers enterprises a consistent interface for managing all cloud activities from a single platform. To find out more, arrange a demo of the cloud management platform, or sign up and get started for free.