UKCloud is the leading multi-cloud provider in the UK. Hence, we’re often asked what is multi-cloud, and how is it different from public cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud and distributed cloud?
Whereas public cloud and private cloud are deployment types defined by NIST (the US-based National Institute of Standards and Technology), terms like multi-cloud and distributed cloud recognise that the market has evolved and traditional definitions have become blurred.
What is multi-cloud?
We think of multi-cloud as more of a philosophy than a thing. Multi-cloud is about exploiting the unique capabilities of different clouds, rather than going ‘all in’ with a single cloud.
- It’s about being able to secure and operate the diversity of cloud services ranging from Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) to Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).
- It’s about harnessing the best mix of cloud services to meet your specific needs.
- It’s about changing the decision from A or B, to A and B (and C and D).
Multi-cloud versus hybrid cloud
Hybrid cloud refers to a single solution which spans two different cloud deployment types (as defined by NIST). This is commonly where an on-premises private cloud environment (running a secure database) is connected to a public cloud environment (running a scalable front-end).
Multi-cloud is where two or more clouds of any deployment type and any service model are used for different solutions. For example, one public cloud might be used for data analytics, another public cloud might be used for messaging and collaboration, and a private cloud might be used for traditional line of business applications. In that sense, hybrid cloud is a subset of multi-cloud.
UKCloud provide both hybrid cloud and multi-cloud solutions.
Multi-cloud versus distributed cloud
Distributed cloud is a relatively new category. It refers to public cloud technology that was originally only available from datacentres owned and operated by the public cloud provider. This public cloud technology can now be deployed in third-party locations – such as internal datacentres or branch offices. Microsoft was the first to deliver this capability through Azure Stack. Now both AWS (Outposts) and Google (Anthos) have followed suit.
UKCloud has long provided the option for customers to have a dedicated instance of UKCloud’s multi-cloud platform in Crown Hosting or on-premises – distributed cloud before it was called distributed cloud.
Learn more about UKCloud for Microsoft Azure here.
Multi-cloud and policy
The UK Government announced its Cloud First policy in 2013. This was followed by similar policies across Healthcare, Policing, Defence and Local Authorities. But typically, the policy speaks of ‘public cloud first’ and reference to multi-cloud is implicit rather than explicit. For example, the Technology Code of Practice specifically talks of a preference for open-source over proprietary technology, and to ensure the use of open standards and interoperability between different solutions.
In our State of Cloud Adoption survey, 40.1% cited lack of clear policy/strategy as a major inhibitor to cloud, 85.5% stated that they would prefer a multi-cloud vendor, and less than 1/5 (19.4)% said they’d only use a single public cloud. Hence, the reality is that policy needs to be refreshed and updated to reflect the need for organisations to use a combination of cloud deployment types (public, private, etc) and cloud service models (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, etc).
Download The State of Cloud Adoption survey here.
Why do organisations want multi-cloud?
We surveyed more that 300 IT professionals and business leaders across UK public sector and the results were emphatic:
- 9 out of 10 are looking for the ‘perfect solution’. 85.5% stated that they would prefer a multi-cloud vendor and more than 78% said they fear becoming locked into a single provider. Red Hat says, “You might find the perfect cloud solution for 1 aspect of your enterprise—a proprietary cloud fine-tuned for hosting a proprietary app, an affordable cloud perfect for archiving public records, a cloud that scales broadly for hosting systems with highly variable use rates—but no single cloud can do everything. (Or, rather, no single cloud can do everything well.)
Webinar: ‘The current state of cloud adoption in the UK public sector‘, with Leighton James (UKCloud) and Louise Fellows (VMware)
- Opex/Capex. The nature of public cloud services means that it is perfect for those with an opex budget. But many organisations (47.7% of those surveyed) prefer budgeting for capex (i.e. buying infrastructure for on-premises environments) – and private cloud solutions enable organisations to buy the infrastructure (capex) which is operated by UKCloud (opex). Hence, multi-cloud enables organisations to mix and match cloud solutions to maximise their budget.
Webinar: ‘Budgeting and affordability of cloud,’ with Gerry Cantwell (UKCloudX)
- Skills. Our survey revealed that 83% of respondents cannot find the right skills to build cloud native solutions. Multi-cloud enables organisations to buy SaaS applications rather than to build them. Plus, multi-cloud enables organisations to use cloud technologies, like VMware, in which they’ve already got skills and tools.
Webinar: ‘Managing the commercial risks of cloud,’ with Nicky Stewart (UKCloud), Henry Rex (Tech UK), and Sue Daley (Tech UK)
- Commercial risk. Gartner says, “The desire to increase agility and avoid or minimize vendor lock-in. The decision may be driven by a variety of factors, including availability, performance, data sovereignty, regulatory requirements and labour costs.”
Webinar: ‘Managing the commercial risks of cloud,’ with Nicky Stewart (UKCloud), Henry Rex (Tech UK), and Sue Daley (Tech UK)
- Security. Cloud Industry Forum says, “Multi-cloud infrastructure allows organizations to maintain a hybrid cloud environment that enables a combination of security and cost savings at the same time. The most security-focused workloads are kept in the private cloud while running regular business data and apps in cost-effective public cloud networks.”
Learn more about our cyber security solution for multi-cloud: CloudSOC
- Compatibility. Cloud Industry Forum says, “Every cloud is built differently. Different vendors offer integration and support for different platforms and constantly change the capabilities they have to offer. The right fit is therefore determined in reference to individual metrics, for individual apps, and for individual business needs – all of which means unnecessary tradeoff and compromised choices. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With the multi-cloud environment, you can spin up whatever cloud resources are on offer without having to compromise your choices. Multi-cloud infrastructure offers a rich set of cloud options to solve rigorous needs across a diverse range of computing and business functions, thereby optimizing returns on cloud investments.”
Learn more about multi-cloud here.
What are others saying about multi-cloud?
As more and more organisations shift to cloud it is becoming obvious that there is a need for more than one cloud. This is creating a market for technologies and products that help organisations manage multiple clouds. And it means industry analysts and journalists are increasingly addressing it. Here are some highlights:
Gartner has published research on multi-cloud and has reflected on the key reasons that organisations have taken that path.
“In a recent Gartner survey of public cloud users, 81% of respondents said they are working with two or more providers… Most organizations adopt a multicloud strategy out of a desire to avoid vendor lock-in or to take advantage of best-of-breed solutions. We expect that most large organizations will continue to willfully pursue this approach.”
IDC has written a blog on multi-cloud that observes,
“Today, everyone and their dog is using multiple cloud services in Europe. Think about a company (ANY company) you know, that has no productivity suites or HR capabilities delivered in SaaS mode, no virtualized resources on-premise, and no dedicated capacity at an external managed service provider. Exactly — there aren’t any companies like that.”
Cloud Industry Forum has identified five reasons for multi-cloud and said,
“For progressive organizations that want to fly cloud-ward without placing all their eggs in the same basket, they can do just that: leverage a multi-cloud environment. Multi-cloud architecture empowers organizations to distribute their workloads across multiple cloud environments so they can get the biggest bang for their buck while mitigating risks associated with individual cloud environments. This value proposition alone justifies widespread growth and adoption of multi-cloud infrastructure solutions in the future.”
Computer Business Review has written about cloud monogamy:
“I often attend Re:Invent conferences, where Amazon has made it a habit to wow its users with a plethora of new services. At the same time, the term “multi-cloud” is understandably absent from their vocabulary. In stark contrast to AWS, challengers like Google are trying to win enterprises’ affection by investing in open cloud standards that encourage a multi-cloud strategy. The best example of this is Kubernetes, Google’s open source container management tool, which is becoming a de-facto standard for workloads that run in multi-cloud environments.”
Forbes has said:
“With cloud infrastructure evolving at such a rapid pace, it becomes more and more difficult to simply migrate from old to new. Multicloud is now mostly a reality forced on organizations due to the rapid growth of infrastructure — a single cloud approach is both unrealistic and naive.”
“Customers are moving beyond thinking about what multicloud is, when it’s coming (it’s already here) or why it’s accelerating. At this point, we are in a new phase, where customers need to know how to navigate the complexity and power their next wave of multicloud initiatives. Since introducing the Cisco Multicloud Portfolio, we’ve seen many customers use it to guide their investments. While every customer is unique and has different paths to cloud adoption, we’ve seen common consumption-related use cases emerge with large and small organizations.”
“Multicloud helps enterprises avoid the pitfalls of single-vendor reliance. Spreading workloads across multiple cloud vendors gives enterprises flexibility to use (or stop using) a cloud whenever they want. There’s nothing evil about having multiple clouds—in fact, it’s a good thing. And open source software magnifies that good. Our open source technologies bring a consistent foundation to any cloud deployment: public, private, hybrid, or multi.”
Advantages of multi-cloud
- Multi-cloud is inevitable – no single cloud is able to support all your requirements. Every organisation will eventually be using many SaaS products alongside development platforms (PaaS) to support bespoke applications and hosting platforms (IaaS) to support traditional and off-the-shelf applications.
- Technically, not all applications are built the same. Cloud Native applications work well on hyperscale platforms, but traditional applications are better suited to traditional platforms such as VMware and Oracle. Further, each cloud platform has particular strengths and weaknesses – so multi-cloud enables organisations to construct best-of-breed environments.
- Public Cloud is great for elastic and dynamic workloads. But static and predictable workloads will be more cost effective on private cloud solutions where organisations can capitalise the infrastructure costs. Microsoft were the first to extend their hyperscale technology into 3rd party environments, AWS and Google have announced similar capabilities – recognising that there is increasing demand from organisations to run their workloads across multiple cloud environments.
- Commercially, using multiple clouds helps to avoid vendor lock-in and reduce the concentration risk of being over-dependant on a single technology or provider. Multi-cloud enables organisations to benefit from the competitive tension between the different cloud environments – driving down cost and driving up service levels and innovation. CBR refer to this as ‘bargaining power’, “If you are tied to a single cloud provider, you don’t have the leverage to negotiate better pricing from your existing vendor.”
- Multi-cloud enables you to adapt and pivot regardless of the capabilities of a single cloud platform.
- There is an increasing number of Managed Service Providers (MSPs) that provide support for multi-cloud, enabling organisations to avoid having to focus on multiple cloud platforms.
Disadvantages of multi-cloud
- It’s more convenient to use a single cloud. Using multiple clouds can increase the complexity of cloud solutions as regards service assurance, security and cost control.
- Distributing a single application across multiple clouds can be costly, especially with regard to the cost of network traffic between different cloud platforms. It’s often more prudent to deploy different applications on different clouds
- A sub-optimal approach to multi-cloud would be to insulate oneself from proprietary features of each cloud so that workloads can easily be moved between cloud platforms. CBR recommend, “if you decide to run keep workloads on a single cloud vendor, prefer cloud-agnostic solutions wherever possible. For example, if you are an Amazon customer, prefer Amazon EKS Managed Kubernetes Service over the more proprietary ECS. For Infrastructure as Code… prefer Terraform over Amazon’s proprietary Cloud Formation”. It is commonly argued that this can result in organisations only using ‘lowest common denominator’ features rather than tapping into specific innovation within each cloud platform.
- Organisations can find it difficult to build skills and capabilities for one platform, and hence the thought of doing so across multiple cloud platforms can be daunting. In reality, using multiple clouds can enable organisations to carry forward existing skills and capabilities (e.g. VMware, Oracle, etc) whilst building new skills (e.g. DevOps, Agile, etc) in parallel.
- There is more pressure to ensure IT operations (monitoring and management) and cyber security (Security Operations Centre) spans multiple environments – traditional, on-premises deployments struggle to handle the scale and diversity of cloud – and hyperscale cloud based deployments lack the connectivity back to existing environments. This is driving demand for Crown Hosted environments which are ideally positioned between the existing on-premises environments and the global cloud (PaaS/SaaS) environments.
Ultimately, multi-cloud is more complex than single-cloud. Which is why our multi-cloud platform simplifies this complexity and make it much easier for organisations to tap into multiple cloud technologies without having to worry about the underlying complexity.
Contact our multi-cloud experts here.