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What is multicloud: Understanding the multicloud strategy

Multicloud is a cloud computing strategy where multiple cloud providers are used to host applications, websites, or run specific tasks.

Jul 21, 2023 • 7 Minute Read

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  • Cloud
  • Learning & Development
  • AWS
  • Business
  • Security
  • azure

According to Gartner, more than 80% of organizations use more than one cloud provider, with 75% of organizations defaulting to multicloud environments. But what is a multicloud strategy and how do you know if it’s right for your organization?

Table of Contents

What is a multicloud strategy?

Multicloud is a cloud computing strategy where an organization uses multiple cloud service providers or platforms to host an application or website (software-as-a-service), to run specific tasks related to an application (platform-as-a-service), or as an underlying technology infrastructure (infrastructure-as-a-service). 

A multicloud strategy can use multiple public clouds or a mixture of public and private cloud providers. The theory is that no one cloud provider can be everything to an organization. So an organization may use Amazon Web Services (AWS) to develop applications or systems, but use Microsoft Azure to run internal analytics processes. In an ideal world, they’re using the best features in each platform to get the best of both worlds, while also reducing their reliance on a single provider. But just because you have a multicloud environment doesn’t mean you have a multicloud strategy.

A multicloud strategy is more than a multicloud environment

A multicloud strategy includes a multicloud environment. But without an intentional strategy, your multicloud environment is just an unnecessary complexity.

For all the benefits of cloud computing, the one downside is an increase in “shadow data”—data stored outside of approved databases or data assets security teams don’t know exist. Programmers are given a lot of freedom when developing cloud applications or cloud infrastructures. And their end creation isn’t always as secure as security teams would like. 

But that's the best case scenario. Because that issue can be mitigated with automation and retention policies. The worst case is when leaders are so focused on the cloud aspect of technology that they don’t take the time to work out the strategy. Multicloud environments are only beneficial when leaders understand the differences between each provider or cloud platform. Then they can leverage all the best features for their applications, systems, or infrastructure.

How is multicloud different from hybrid cloud?

Multicloud strategies are made up of two or more different public clouds, whereas a hybrid cloud strategy is made up of two or more different types of infrastructure. So a hybrid cloud strategy could be multicloud and use two or more public cloud solutions with a private cloud or on-premise solution. Or not, and only be made up of only a private cloud and on-premise solution.

Download Pluralsight's "Road to Multicloud" report for more insights, trends, and multicloud strategies.

Why even bother with a multicloud strategy?

Not all clouds are made equal. Each has their own pros, cons, and capabilities. Leaders who develop a multicloud strategy want to take advantage of the vendor-specific capabilities offered by more than one cloud provider. 

According to a 2020 survey, 76% of companies use two or more public clouds. And the larger the organization, the more likely it is they use even more cloud offerings. It’s a strategic decision made to lower cost or drive larger business outcomes due to three main benefits.

What are the benefits of multicloud strategies?

  • Flexibility: No one cloud provider is the same. Multicloud strategies allow leaders to build solutions that take advantage of best-of-breed services, unique or better integrations, or different pricing structures.
  • Proximity: A multicloud strategy allows leaders to host their solutions with regional cloud providers that may operate closer to where users live. Not only does this make accessibility more reliable for users, but it also helps large enterprises manage regional data regulations.
  • Failover: Another benefit of multicloud is that it’s not reliant on a single location or host. If one goes down, the solution still runs because it’s hosted with multiple cloud providers.

But that’s not to say multicloud is a perfect solution. It’s not. Read more about the pros and cons.

Why do companies use multicloud?

When leaders start to implement a multicloud strategy, there’s one of two reasons why: they want to be able to migrate data from one public cloud to another or they want to take advantage of best-of-breed solutions within multiple public cloud providers.

A strategy of portability

One of the most common reasons organizations give for going multicloud is that it helps them avoid vendor lock-in. Leaders want to be able to move their whole solution or data from one cloud provider to another quickly. 

The idea is that this flexibility gives organizations more power in cost negotiations. But that means building a solution based on the lowest common denominator without leveraging powerful, proprietary services. A recipe for lackluster solutions. 

Sometimes the trade off is worth it, though. Failover plans protect organizations from potential cloud outages—especially for those businesses that can’t afford to lose access to their data for even a minute. This type of strategy also provides coverage for organizations with global clients in regions that don’t support the primary cloud provider.

A strategy of expansion

The other common strategy is to use multicloud to expand your access to features and functionality. You’re intentionally adding other cloud platforms to your environment to take advantage of new or better services specific to that platform. 

The idea is that by taking advantage of better services in another cloud platform, you elevate your solution and make it more efficient. But the tradeoff is additional cost and overhead, especially in the short term. You have to go into this kind of strategy with your eyes wide open.

If you have the right people implementing and managing the right cloud platforms for the outcomes you’re trying to achieve, then a long-term expansion strategy can lead to better systems that work better over time and generate larger returns on your cloud investments.

How do you optimize multicloud costs?

While multicloud adoption may be growing across the industry, many organizations went into these structures either blind to the challenges of developing and maintaining a multicloud environment or because of acquisitions and organic growth. Even organizations that went into multicloud to reduce or optimize cloud computing costs are struggling with the costs of running such a complex infrastructure. 

So how do you optimize costs of multicloud environment? Take stock of what you're currently spending and why, eliminate waste, leverage automation, and implement cost visibility and monitoring tools. 

Conduct a cost assessment

Before you can optimize your multicloud costs, you need to understand what you're spending now, what services you're underutilizing, and opportunities for cost-savings. A cost assessment gives you a picture of what your current spend looks like so you can target your cost-optimization efforts instead of trying to replace the wheel while you're driving. 

Rightsize your cloud resources

If you have performance monitoring in place for your cloud solutions, you can see how many cloud resources you're using for your applications and workloads. Eliminate any cost waste and reduce unnecessary expenses by making your resource allocation dynamic that avoids over-provisioning.

Leverage automation

Dynamic resource allocation and provisioning doesn't just help you eliminate unnecessary spend. These automation tools also help you scale your systems up with demand, which improves user experiences and limits the need for hands-on adjustments from your team (so they can focus on other initiatives). 

Implement cost visibility and monitoring tools

Cost-optimization isn't a one-and-done project. It requires continuous adjustments, especially as you add new cloud services and build new cloud solutions. Implementing cloud cost-optimization tools provides cost tracking, optimization suggestions, and insights into resource allocation as you move forward with your multicloud journey.

What are the challenges of multicloud strategies?

Tech changes so fast that it’s hard for leaders to keep up. It can feel like you’re constantly following someone else’s lead instead of developing your own strategy. You look around and see everyone running multicloud and feel behind, so you rush to catch up. But without a clear understanding of multicloud and a strategy to make it work for your organization, you’re compounding the challenges and frustrations for your cloud team.

Accidental multicloud environments

Software-as-a-service (SaaS) made it incredibly easy for end users to find, subscribe, and implement cloud tools without IT involvement, increasing management overhead, security risks, and cloud costs. Sometimes, users don’t understand the policies for how and why specific software solutions are chosen over others. Others don’t care, and want the application that best meets their needs without thinking about organizational needs. It’s your job to protect the integrity of your cloud environment, and that starts with creating and enforcing governance policies that prevent accidental multicloud solutions.

Increased security risks in multicloud strategies

It’s hard enough to secure one cloud. And adding other platforms just makes it harder. Your technologists already struggle with security; it’s the number one skills gap for technologists. The more complex you make it, the harder it is for your teams to secure your data. It would be easier if cloud security worked like on-premise security, or the cloud providers had the same security settings and shared responsibility model. But they don’t. Each provider approaches security a little differently, and it’s on your team to identify those differences and compensate for them. 

The first step to securing a multicloud environment is to make sure you need it. The easiest way to increase cloud security is to remove complexity, so get rid of it if you don’t need it. The second step is to get your team comfortable with the cloud providers you’re choosing to use. Technologists are more likely to spot and remediate security vulnerabilities (before they become a problem) if they know what to look for. Get them training on the tools you’re adding to your cloud environment so they are equipped to securely develop solutions within the cloud platforms. 

The third step is to invest in security tools. Data tracking is the number one problem with multicloud environments. Use third-party tools to monitor data visibility, access management, key management, and workload management across your multicloud environment.

Learn more about securing the three pillars of your multicloud environment 

Manage complexity

Everyone knows about the infrastructural complexity required to make a multicloud environment run. When you add a cloud platform, you’re getting more than the feature you were looking for. You get additional complexity, which leads to increased costs, security risks, and overhead. The only way to mitigate them is for your team to understand the ins and outs of every one of your cloud platforms. 

That means you need to give your team the tools, time, and technology to build their multicloud skills. Start with certifications. Each of the providers offers cloud certifications and there are many on-demand courses available to prepare them for those certification assessments. There are also hands-on labs, skills assessments, and sandboxes that can turn their intellectual knowledge into practical experience. 

Technologists say the biggest obstacle to their learning is not having enough time. It’s on you, as a leader, to set aside individual learning time to get them to the technical level you need them at to effectively manage your multicloud environment.

Get started with Cloud Adventures and learn more about how to use on-demand cloud courses to jumpstart multicloud learning.