What is multi-cloud anyway and why do we use it?

clouds in field of grass

Many companies are moving to multi-cloud deployments. For example, most EMEA and North American financial services businesses are moving to multi-clouds within the next two years. Gartner reports 81 percent of surveyed public cloud users are already working with multi-clouds.

But, Gartner states that multi-cloud is a subset of hybrid clouds. I disagree.

In a hybrid cloud, the public and private cloud are seamlessly blended into a unified infrastructure. In the past, several different technologies were used to deliver these platforms. These days, Kubernetes is often the glue binding hybrid clouds together.

A multi-cloud is when you have more than one public or private cloud from different providers. So, in a multi-cloud you can have two or more public or private clouds. For example, you might well use Microsoft Office 365, a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) application, for your office software while relying on a managed VMware multi-cloud service, including VMware running on top of Amazon Web Services (AWS) for your enterprise IT stack.

These two different approaches aren’t mutually exclusive. Indeed, many companies have both.

With a hybrid cloud you have more control of your cloud-based IT stack. So, with many people afraid of losing control of their programs and data, why is multi-cloud even a thing? Well, there are several reasons.

First, some companies don’t want to put all their IT eggs into one public cloud basket. Whether it’s to avoid getting caught in a massive single cloud failure or vendor lock-in, many businesses feel better spreading their compute dollars around.

Another popular reason is every cloud provider has its strengths and weaknesses. By spreading your work around through the mixing and matching of public cloud providers, you can put together the best possible solution.

It’s possible to use a multi-cloud strategy to improve reliability by using one public cloud as a failover for another. I don’t see many companies doing this yet, but it can be done. In the meantime, however, you can certainly store data across different public clouds for backup and disaster recovery.

With the rise of the EU General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and other privacy laws, you also may need to use multiple clouds just to make sure your customer data meets these laws’ requirements.

If you’re moving to edge computing, you may well find that, for sufficient speed and latency, you’ll need to use one cloud in one area and quite another somewhere else. The cloud may look like it’s everywhere, but where each cloud’s data center is located still matters.

Last, but never least, if you embrace multi-cloud, you can bring all those shadow IT cloud deployments hiding within your offices in from the cold. You may not hate it but chances are some department or the other is already depending on their cloud of choice. It’s better to get these rogue operations under IT’s rule rather than issue orders, which will surely be disobeyed.

So, while in an ideal world you might use a hybrid cloud for all your needs, in practice, a multi-cloud approach is often more realistic and can be quite useful.

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