In his article “Multicloud madness,” cloud guru Scott Pletcher wrote, “In general, I don’t recommend that companies intentionally set out to spread their cloud investment across multiple public cloud platforms. Yes, there are many opinions on this topic and my opinion is of course my own. For every ‘avoiding vendor lock-in’ or ‘diversifying our cloud investment’ assertion, I can counter with ‘diluted skills development’ and ‘unnecessary complexity.’”
Curious to hear more, Pluralsight recently interviewed Scott regarding his multicloud perspectives. Here’s what he shared:
How common is it to spread cloud investments across multiple public cloud platforms?
Scott Pletcher (SP): According to industry surveys, most organizations have some form of multicloud strategy. But the most common multicloud flavor is a hybrid-cloud approach, combining one public cloud provider with virtualization infrastructure in their own data centers. Fewer entities use multiple public cloud providers.
However, there are many good reasons you might find yourself in a multiple public cloud scenario. Perhaps through a merger or acquisition, you inherited a new public cloud. Maybe you are consolidating IT functions after many years of each business unit doing its own thing. For multinational organizations, some cloud providers just don’t operate in certain geographies, so if you need a local provider, now you’re multicloud…like it or not.
What are some “wrong” reasons to adopt multiple public cloud providers?
SP: Some viewpoints on this topic are dated and worth reevaluating, in my opinion.
For example, some business leaders believe that utilizing more than one public cloud will somehow preserve their bargaining power with other providers. This may have been true at one point but not in the current landscape.
Thanks to competition, all the major cloud providers have pretty similar offerings. So, in the event you find yourself in a dispute with your cloud provider, it’s feasible to move to another one (though not ideal, since your teams will need additional upskilling). You’re not beholden to a huge pile of sunk cost in capital assets from your old provider. And if your cloud architecture is designed properly, everything should be relatively portable.
Reliability is another common reason that organizations cite for intentionally going with multiple public clouds. In manufacturing, it’s common to have multiple providers for the same raw material as a way to reduce supply risk. Or, you might utilize multiple telecommunications partners to hedge against an errant utility crew accidentally cutting a fiber optic cable.
In contrast, public cloud providers offer processes and services to ensure reliability. If a tornado wipes out a single cloud data center, your data and service should still be humming along just fine provided you have architected things correctly and are taking advantage of the redundancy features the providers offer.
What are the pros and cons of using multiple public clouds?
SP: Let’s look at the considerations through a few different lenses:
Cloud skill development
While each cloud provider offers similar functionality, how you use and optimize that functionality differs widely. Each provider has unique nuances that rarely map over one-to-one, so your team will need to develop additional expertise.
Given the current shortage of candidates with requisite cloud skills, you complicate your recruiting and training efforts if you decide to use multiple public clouds. Plus, you prolong the march up the competency hill.
While structured, high-quality training reduces time to full productivity, skill mastery comes through hands-on practice. Having more than one public cloud provider means your engineers will need more practice and, unfortunately, you also increase the risk of mistakes and do-overs.
Organizations have various options for how they migrate their workloads to the cloud. “Lift and shift” (moving VMs or containers into the public cloud) has been a popular starting point, but it only delivers temporary benefits.
The real benefits kick in when you’re able to harness cloud-native architectures, which leverage options like fully managed services and serverless. All the large providers have strong offerings to increase scale, greatly reduce cost, boost security and offload undifferentiated work from your staff. Cloud-native architectures typically take greater advantage of cloud provider economics and efficiencies.
If you use multiple public clouds and want cloud-agnostic architecture, you’ll likely be limited to the “lowest common denominator” architecture across the providers (most likely at the VM or container level). You won’t be able to take full advantage of any single provider’s efficiencies, and you risk reducing the potential ROI of your cloud investments.
Any time public cloud providers experience a well-publicized outage, it’s only natural to reflect on your own level of exposure. Should you hedge your bets by adding another public cloud provider? My position is that one can architect a landscape that is as resilient or more resilient on any single major cloud provider than across multiple cloud providers. Ideally, if you’ve opted for a cloud-native architecture, resilience is baked in as part of the service.
If you’re not there yet, providers have multi-site and multi-region options with replication, auto-scaling and auto-failover that are either enabled by default or a mouse-click away. If you’re building these resilience features across multiple providers, you’ll have to use manual or third-party options to monitor systems, sync data and trigger failovers. Plus, if you’re not lucky enough to have a team of absolute unicorn cloud engineers who are expert-level fluent across multiple cloud providers, you’re going to have more handoffs and touches—not great in crisis situations.
Lydia Leong, Distinguished VP and Analyst at Gartner, penned a comprehensive opinion on multicloud failover not being the way to achieve resilience.
There’s a line in the movie Contact when John Hurt’s character says, “Why build one when you can have two at twice the cost?” Cloud providers have spending plans and tiered pricing, so consolidating your spend into one provider can drive lower invoice cost.
In the case of multiple cloud providers, the costs are not just those on the monthly invoice. There are other tangible and intangible costs that are part of the total cost of ownership, such as those related to recruiting and skill development.
Are there other aspects of multicloud that organizations should be aware of?
SP: Some who promote adoption of a multiple public cloud strategy have potential underlying motives. For example, if a cloud provider is trying to build market share, it has incentive to promote multicloud as a perfectly sensible approach. They may be trying to get a piece of the pie however they can get it.
Similarly, there are third-party tools to help companies manage cloud complexity, and, understandably, they also are vocal about the many benefits of multicloud.
Here are the most important questions to ask yourself:
- What do you want to achieve with your cloud strategy?
- Are you sure you can’t do that with one provider?
In my view, multiple public clouds should be a last resort.
Curious to learn what other organizations are doing?
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