There are both advantages and disadvantages of multi-cloud environments, and knowing when to use a multi-cloud strategy could depend on how minimizing your dependency on a single provider could affect costs, performance, and security. Before discussing these advantages and disadvantages in greater detail, it is best to first clarify what a multi-cloud environment is.
What is a multi-cloud environment?
For the purposes of this article, a multi-cloud environment is one in which you use two or more public cloud services from two or more cloud service providers. For example, you might use Azure in the US and Alibaba in Asia to avoid latency issues. Alternatively, you may find Google better for development and testing, and AWS preferable for running your production environment.
According to the 2016 IDC CloudView Survey, more than half of businesses using AWS also use another public cloud service provider (for information about mixing private and public clouds, see our blog “When to Use a Hybrid Cloud Strategy”). The market research company Research and Markets predicts businesses using multi-cloud environments will increase by approximately 30% per year.
The advantages of a multi-cloud environment
As well as choosing a multi-cloud strategy to avoid latency, and for development and testing in an isolated environment, businesses distribute their resources between cloud service providers for a number of reasons:
No single cloud service provider has the best tools for everything and, by using multiple cloud service providers, you can cherry-pick the best services from each. For example, if you build apps using the Watson AI platform that need to integrate with Microsoft products, you would use both IBM and Azure.
Improved disaster recovery
Similarly, no single cloud service provider has avoided a major outage. By using two or more providers, your infrastructure becomes more resilient and you could, if you wish, keep replicas of your applications in two separate clouds so that, if one cloud service provider goes down, you don’t.
Potential negotiating power
Competition between major cloud service providers means that, if you are a high-volume customer (a million dollars or more per year), you may be in a position to negotiate lower prices. Distributing your business between providers can give you some leverage in your negotiations.
Less single-vendor dependency
Depending on one provider for any product or service can be risky. Not only might they suffer an outage, but their service levels could decline or—unlikely as it may seem—their prices could go up. By not putting all your eggs in one basket, you are minimizing the risk of your own business suffering.
The disadvantages of a multi-cloud environment
Although many businesses have decided that now is the time to be using a multi-cloud strategy, some are looking at the disadvantages and have concerns about how they might overcome them.
Managing costs and loss of discounts
If you are currently using a single cloud service provider and having difficulty managing costs, imagine how much trouble you may have with two or three providers. Certainly, by diluting your cloud deployments, you will also be diluting the discounts you are entitled to.
Working with multiple cloud service providers also creates challenges with regard to having developers with the right skill sets to maximize the opportunities. Unless you have the right people in the right place, the resources you have deployed in the cloud may not work as well as they might do.
Increased security risk
Moving to a public cloud gives you less control over your data. Moving to two public clouds gives you even less, plus gives your applications a larger attack surface. There are tools to help secure multi-cloud environments, but you generally have to exercise a greater level of diligence.
Managing costs is not the only thing you have to worry about in a multi-cloud environment. Managing all your assets can be very complicated. Fortunately, there are some very good cloud management platforms with multi-cloud support to help you overcome this challenge. Management of multiple cloud providers might require a change in your existing processes and skill sets.
When to use a multi-cloud strategy
Weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of multi-cloud environments, there are compelling cases for using a multi-cloud strategy, but when? At CloudHealth Technologies, we would suggest:
- When there are operational advantages due to a wider choice of services.
- When unscheduled downtime would severely disrupt your business.
- When you have the right people in place to take advantage of the opportunities.
- When you have a solution in place to help manage costs, performance and security.
- When you have a global group of developers and you want to push resource efficiencies to them.
Want to learn more? Download the ebook 10 Frequently Asked Questions About Multi-cloud.