Multicloud: A cheat sheet

Over a decade after the launch of Amazon Web Services, Amazon continues to benefit from the "first mover" position. While AWS is still the market leader, cloud services from other industry titans such as Google or Microsoft have increased in popularity (as have specialized services from other vendors), preventing Amazon from having hegemonic control of the cloud market.

As a result, organizations and developers are utilizing cloud services from multiple vendors, leading to the aptly-named paradigm of multicloud.

TechRepublic's cheat sheet to multicloud is an introduction to using multiple cloud providers. This guide that will be updated as new integrations and services become available.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides

Executive summary

SEE: The cloud v. data center decision (ZDNet/TechRepublic special report) | Download the free PDF version (TechRepublic)

What is multicloud?

Multicloud refers to the practice of using services from multiple heterogeneous cloud service providers, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) , Google Cloud Platform , or Microsoft Azure , as well as specialized platform-as-a-service (PaaS), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), or software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers. Multicloud also comprises the use of private cloud environments and hybrid cloud environments that leverage more than one public cloud platform.

As an architectural choice, multicloud can be used for a variety of reasons-the most obvious one is disaster recovery: While cloud vendors offer a variety of options and SLAs for redundancy to guarantee uptime and backups to ensure data integrity, both of these rely on the supposition that the vendor's entire infrastructure does not fail at once.

SEE: Managing the Multicloud (ZDNet Special Feature)

While most workloads can be built to be vendor neutral (this flexibility is a primary benefit of multicloud), some workloads may benefit from using specific cloud platforms. For example, apps that use Alexa Skills are better served by using Amazon Web Services, as the APIs involved are native to AWS. Likewise, supported languages and depth of ability for natural language processing varies widely between different cloud providers.

Roughly one third of the IT professionals surveyed in TechRepublic Premium's Managing the multicloud survey indicated their organization uses a specialized application or solutions provider, such as Google Drive, Salesforce, or Cloudflare. These are closer to services than they are cloud platforms-while there is feature duplication between these and similar companies as with public cloud, these products do not support general compute workloads commonly associated with cloud computing.

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What advantages do multicloud deployments offer?

Multicloud's main advantage is that organizations and application developers can pick and choose components from multiple vendors and use the best fit for their intended purpose. To draw a comparison, multicloud is more à la carte than table d'hôte.

For organizations with an outsized dependency on the Windows ecosystem, leveraging some Microsoft Azure services may be beneficial, while the same organization may use Google Cloud for machine learning and analytics and/or Amazon for public-facing web services.

Industry cloud service providers, such as Dell Boomi, offer cloud-focused digital transformation and data management services for targeted industries (e.g., healthcare organizations) that traditionally face regulatory hurdles to modernization. These hurdles include data storage requirements for regulatory compliance and disaster recovery or business continuity when integrating with public cloud services.

Another benefit of multicloud deployments is cost savings. Competitive pricing is a strategy used by multiple vendors to entice customers to migrate from a traditional, on-premises data center to a hybrid or public cloud model. There is an important caveat to this approach: The time required to create integrations between clouds, with cost savings as a primary motivator, can be counterproductive, as developing those integrations can cost more than the savings they would produce.

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Should my business use a multicloud approach?

Generally, a multicloud deployment will be useful for organizations that have specific needs or dependencies to satisfy, such as integrations with Internet of Things (IoT) devices, or a reliance on Windows software or specific third-party solutions. Multicloud offers a great deal of flexibility in how resources are managed, though the difficulty increases roughly exponentially with the number of integrations added. Cloud management platforms can be used to ease deployment and integration of various cloud services.

Presently, cloud providers are not engaging in vendor lock-in-putting up barriers to interoperability, or hampering migration to a different provider-though customer retention is expected to become an increasing concern as cloud services are commoditized.

According to Carson Sweet, CTO of cloud security firm CloudPassage, "Retention in most of the major cloud providers is achieved by crafting a value proposition that entices users to use more services on a broader scale. The idea now is to get customers to the point of being 'all-in' of the customer's own volition... buyers have largely evolved well beyond getting 'tricked' into lock-in."

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How popular is multicloud?

Multicloud is continuing to gain popularity as competitors to Amazon Web Services have appeared, and particularly as specialized cloud technology vendors and service vendors have gained traction.

As organizations grow, it may be the case that needs for individual teams or projects are not met by their existing cloud provider; likewise, for mergers and acquisitions, not all business operations can be easily migrated to the cloud infrastructure of the acquiring company. These are optimal cases for adding a secondary public cloud provider for a multicloud deployment.

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How do I build a multicloud deployment?

Migrating to a multicloud deployment is not a decision that should be entered into lightly. While the proliferation of open source software has greatly decreased issues with vendor lock-in, the potential for interoperability problems to occur still exist. Cloud management platforms can be used to avoid potential issues with common configurations, though some corner cases can hamper successful deployment. Particularly, as vendor-specific APIs are somewhat opaque and not necessarily static, the ability to launch a multicloud deployment can be complicated by mutual incompatibilities.

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