Multicloud: A cheat sheet

This comprehensive guide covers the use of services from multiple cloud vendors, including the benefits businesses gain and the challenges IT teams face when using multicloud.

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While Amazon continues to benefit from the "first mover" approach of launching AWS years before competing cloud services from other industry titans such as Google or Microsoft, AWS does not have a hegemonic control of the cloud market. As more competitors enter the field, the cloud market is more competitive than ever. As a result, organizations and developers are utilizing cloud services from multiple vendors—leading to the aptly-named paradigm of multicloud.

TechRepublic's cheat sheet to multicloud is a quick introduction to using multiple cloud providers as well as a "living" guide that will be updated periodically as new integrations and services become available.

SEE: All of TechRepublic's cheat sheets and smart person's guides

Executive summary

  • What is multicloud? Multicloud is the practice of using cloud services from multiple heterogeneous cloud services, including private cloud and hybrid clouds with more than one public cloud component.
  • Why does multicloud matter? Multicloud enables choice for organizations and application developers to be able to pick and choose what components are the best fit for a given purpose.
  • Who does multicloud affect? Generally, organizations with specific integration needs are the most likely candidate for a multicloud deployment.
  • When is multicloud happening? This is happening on a case-by-case basis. As organizations outgrow the capabilities of their cloud service providers, services from additional vendors may be needed.
  • How do I build a multicloud deployment? A multicloud deployment should be carefully planned to avoid interoperability issues.

SEE: Special report: The cloud v. data center decision (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

What is multicloud?

As the name implies, multicloud is the practice of using cloud services from multiple heterogeneous cloud service providers, such as AWS, Google Cloud Platform, or Microsoft Azure. In a wider sense, multicloud also covers the use of private cloud systems and hybrid cloud deployments that have more than one public cloud vendor.

As an architectural choice, multicloud can be used for a variety of reasons, the most obvious of which is a failsafe: While cloud vendors offer a variety of options for redundancy to guarantee uptime and backups to ensure data integrity, both of these rely on the supposition that the vendor's entire infrastructure does not fail at once.

Feature availability and external integrations are also significant factors in multicloud formations. Organizations creating Alexa skills would be better served by using AWS to handle cloud-facing operations in that service. Accordingly, the available language support and depth of ability of natural language processing varies widely between different cloud providers, which could prompt developers to rely on different cloud vendors for different localizations of voice-controlled software. Other cloud or SaaS providers may be more specialized and not offer full-package compute and storage services, which would in most cases necessitate a multicloud deployment.

Another possible benefit of multicloud deployments, though remote, is cost savings. While there has been a long-standing price war between cloud vendors competing for market share, cost savings as a pretext for a multicloud deployment is unlikely, as the time required to create that integration is likely to cost more than the savings produced by using different cloud vendors for different services.

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Why does multicloud matter?

Ultimately, multicloud is about enabling choice for organizations and application developers to be able to pick and choose what components are the best fit for the intended purpose. To draw a comparison, multicloud is more à la carte than table d'hôte. As an example, for organizations that have an outsized dependency on the Windows ecosystem, leveraging some Microsoft Azure services may be beneficial, while the same organization may use Google for machine learning and analytics, and/or Amazon for public-facing web services.

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Who does multicloud affect?

Generally, most multicloud deployments will be for applications or organizations that have specific needs or dependencies to satisfy, such as integrations with IoT devices or dependencies related to Windows or legacy software.

At the same time, cloud providers are affected by organizations that rely on a multicloud deployment. While cloud providers are not putting up barriers to interoperability or migrating to a different provider, customer retention is an increasing concern as cloud services are commoditized. According to Carson Sweet, CTO of cloud security firm CloudPassage, "Retention in most of the major cloud providers is achieved by crafting a value proposition that entices users to use more services on a broader scale. The idea now is to get customers to the point of being 'all-in' of the customer's own volition... buyers have largely evolved well beyond getting 'tricked' into lock-in."

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When is multicloud happening?

Multicloud has been gaining popularity as competitors to AWS have appeared, and particularly as specialized cloud vendors have gained traction. As organizations grow, it may be the case that their needs are not met by their existing cloud provider. Rather than migrate their entire business operations to a new cloud provider to satisfy the needs of one team or project, this becomes an optimal case for adding a secondary public cloud provider for a multicloud deployment.

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How do I build a multicloud deployment?

Building a multicloud deployment is not a decision that should be entered into lightly. While the proliferation of open source software has greatly decreased issues with vendor lock-in, the potential for interoperability problems to occur still exist. Particularly, as vendor-specific APIs are somewhat opaque and not exactly static, the ability to launch a multicloud deployment can be somewhat hampered by mutual incompatibilities.

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By James Sanders

James Sanders is a technology writer for TechRepublic. He covers future technology, including quantum computing, AI, and 5G, as well as cloud, security, open source, mobility, and the impact of globalization on the industry, with a focus on Asia.