Is a Multicloud Strategy Right for Your Organization?
Cloud adoption has been accelerating for the past several years, with many organizations replacing traditional data centers with cloud-hosted infrastructure and updating applications to leverage cloud-based services.
According to industry analyst Gartner, global public cloud spending is expected to grow from $396 billion in 2021 to $482 billion in 2022, an increase of more than 21 percent. The global pandemic and resulting growth of distributed work environments has further underscored the need for flexible and scalable cloud-based solutions.
But for many organizations, hosting all their data and applications on a single cloud provider presents an unacceptable level of risk. The potential for service outages, security breaches and unexpected cost increases can leave software teams uneasy about entrusting their critical applications to third-party infrastructure providers. To mitigate these risks, many organizations adopt a multicloud strategy by spreading resources across multiple cloud providers.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the drivers for adopting multiple clouds and the associated benefits of this approach. We’ll also examine some downsides of multicloud provider environments and the best ways to structure environments when working across cloud providers.
What Is a Multicloud Strategy?
A multicloud strategy goes beyond just having workloads in more than one cloud provider. It requires a thoughtful approach to both designing and deploying resources so that your application architecture complements the strengths of your chosen infrastructure providers and vice versa.
Deploying services across more than one provider could entail using purely consumer-based providers such as AWS, Azure, and GCP, using different cloud services within the same provider or including a mix of private cloud providers. Some of the more common architectures for multicloud services include:
- Deploying containerized applications or services across providers and behind load balancers to enable an “always-on” environment.
- Grouping services by business function and distributing them across cloud providers, with redundant cold-start components for each.
- Aligning application or service components with specific cloud providers based on the application’s resource needs and the specific capabilities and performance advantages that each provider offers.
These architectures require some strategic thinking to ensure the implemented patterns are consistent and align with your business goals. A multicloud strategy must also align with the architecture and design of the applications and services you plan to deploy.
Benefits of Multicloud
There are many reasons why organizations adopt a multicloud strategy. Most organizations move to a multicloud environment to mitigate the risks inherent in a single cloud environment. The other primary driver occurs when organizations want to take advantage of different providers’ strengths and technology stacks. These motivations highlight three significant benefits of adopting a multicloud strategy: resilience, flexibility and compliance.
With the internet’s global capabilities, many organizations serve customers worldwide and require applications and systems to be running 24 hours a day. Having a resilient environment is critical for ensuring no service interruptions, including cloud vendor environment outages. Even the biggest cloud providers experience outages, including Google, Azure and AWS.
Ensuring that critical services do not go down with the cloud is a primary benefit of the multicloud approach. Sometimes even having cold backup services on a different cloud provider can provide invaluable coverage that allows organizations to implement long-term fixes without significant service interruptions. For instance, having web application nodes spread across multiple vendor clouds enables your service to keep running, albeit with reduced resources, if a vendor experiences an outage. Even having services deployed to a secondary cloud that remains idle but that organizations can switch on provides a quick and simple fix until issues are resolved.
When first moving workloads into a cloud environment, most organizations settle on a single provider that best meets most of their criteria. However, as these workloads increase, so does the reliance on that single vendor’s services. Vendors change their strategy, services, agreements and pricing models quite frequently. Being locked into a single vendor can mean misalignment, increased cost, unavailability of better offerings or forced updates to applications and services. It is easy to move and create workloads in a cloud environment, but it can be difficult and costly to make these changes if the moves are unplanned.
Adopting a multicloud approach for your applications and services minimizes your exposure to vendor lock-in. Using the same technology stack and features like containerization makes it easy to design and deploy the same services across cloud environments effectively. It also enables organizations to choose specialized cloud services that offer significant benefits over more generic offerings.
Still, it is vital to ensure that the options you choose are flexible. For example, Azure Functions is an event-driven, serverless computing platform that organizations can use to build and deploy services without needing to size and scale to meet demand. Yet organizations can also deploy these functions into containers and host them outside of Azure, providing options for changing services if needed.
In a similar vein to avoiding vendor lock-in, many organizations have specific requirements for IT systems compliance. These compliance requirements can cover data privacy or sovereignty concerns, including disaster recovery and mitigation specifications.
By adopting a multicloud strategy in combination with assessing services and data for compliance requirements, an organization can establish specific environments or architectures for its critical components. Sensitive data sets, such as personally identifiable or financial information, often involve strict data security requirements. With a multicloud approach, you can store sensitive data within a hardened private cloud environment and allow applications hosted in public cloud environments to query them only in specific, carefully controlled ways.
Drawbacks of Multicloud
While there are several key benefits to a multicloud approach, organizations should be aware of two potential drawbacks: increased cost and environmental complexity. The advantages outlined above often offset these challenges, but without careful planning and oversight, organizations can quickly find their multicloud strategy becoming a drain on time and resources.
Adopting a single cloud provider can present a steep learning curve for staff, given the breadth of services available from most of today’s cloud platforms. Adopting a second cloud provider can potentially double the number of services, other multicloud systems and processes that IT staff must learn. Ensuring that people are knowledgeable across a multicloud environment can be challenging for organizations with resource constraints. These sorts of environments require a cross-functional IT operations group that needs to secure, manage and optimize multiple platforms and technology stacks with a wide variety of integrations.
The second prohibitive factor is the overall cost. Even if current resources are essentially split between providers, the additional traffic and management layer between environments adds some costs. Failing to understand the cost differences between providers, especially when landing on a technology stack, can also lead to unnecessary expenses.
Be sure to add the cost to hire or train staff to cover all of your chosen environments when calculating the price of switching to multicloud. Also, consider the cost of unused resources that can occur when the environment’s complexity hampers the visibility of all resources. Although multicloud adoption can drive some cost savings by providing an escape route from vendor lock-in, maintaining multiple environments introduces new costs that can quickly spiral out of control if not actively monitored and managed.
Should You Adopt a Multicloud Strategy?
When is the right time to consider adopting a multicloud strategy? This question can be challenging to answer. Because of the added complexity and cost, there should be a pressing business need that the benefits described above would address. Without a legitimate reason to pursue a multicloud approach, organizations can take on additional complexity and cost without seeing any tangible benefits in return.
Examples of business drivers for multicloud adoption include:
- Complying with industry or legal concerns that represent a potential cost or business risk.
- Increasing organizational flexibility and speed by making different tools, services and technologies available.
- Reducing downtime for an already containerized suite of services.
These examples still require a significant uplift and solid technical resources to ensure organizations can effectively adopt this strategy. When considering whether your team is ready to implement a multicloud approach, it is crucial that you fully understand your organization’s objectives and capabilities along with the potential tradeoffs involved.
How to Manage Multiple Cloud Deployments in a CI/CD Workflow
Consistently deploying applications and services across multicloud environments is critical. Eliminating manual processes is a fundamental way to maintain consistency in your organization’s workflow, and setting up a reliable continuous integration and delivery (CI/CD) pipeline is the best way to make automation a part of your team’s success.
Here are some tips in setting up CI/CD workflows to get the best results out of a multicloud environment:
- Develop a deployment strategy that all teams can follow with standardized pipelines.
- Ensure deployments are as modular as possible to allow swapping components as teams deploy them to different vendors.
- Adopt infrastructure-as-code templates that provide multicloud support, such as Terraform and Ansible, to ensure minimal infrastructure reconfiguration.
- Use release orchestration tools to ensure the right builds reach suitable environments and to monitor the health of your applications in production.
Implementing a continuous integration and delivery solution can simplify the shift to multicloud by introducing more control and consistency into your infrastructure provisioning and application deployment practices. Many CI/CD platforms also offer integrations with tools that you can use to monitor costs across providers and to quickly identify and address service degradations before they negatively affect your users.
Software delivery increasingly relies on the cloud to provide fast, secure, and scalable solutions to users all around the world. While there are some risks associated with cloud-based deployments, organizations are increasingly adopting the multicloud approach to ensure their applications stay resilient, flexible and secure. By adopting established continuous integration practices, teams can achieve even greater levels of confidence and consistency in their deployments.
Adopting multiple cloud vendors offers several benefits but can be quite challenging and costly. This complexity and cost can quickly spiral out of control without a clearly defined strategy. Being intentional about multicloud adoption and objectively assessing your organization’s technical maturity is key to ensuring success.