A multi-cloud strategy is characterized by the use of a variety of cloud platforms and applications, including cloud storage and software as a service (SaaS). Businesses that adopt this approach do so for a number of reasons, chief among them increased flexibility. A multi-cloud strategy means not being wed to a single vendor or platform, and this translates - as we’ll see - to reduced costs, tighter security, improved scalability, and more.
While there are some challenges to be taken into consideration - like ensuring interoperability between applications and services, increased training requirements and a functionally smaller pool of skilled candidates when hiring, and increased operational and logistical complexity - many companies have found that the benefits are well worth it.
Freedom of choice
As previously mentioned, one of the greatest advantages to adopting a multi-cloud strategy is that you ultimately have greater freedom to build the cloud solution that best fits your business.
The alternative, entrusting all of your operations to a single, large cloud vendor, also has some benefits - lighter operational overhead, some security advantages - but eliminates your ability to add and remove features from your workflow as needed. If your one cloud provider doesn’t offer a feature, it’s shut off to you - and your customers.
By opting for a multi-cloud approach, businesses can find and use platforms and applications that work with current practices, rather than against them. If those practices change, it’s much easier to replace one vendor with another than it would be to migrate the whole company’s operations from a single platform to another. As a result, businesses are more agile, and can better respond to changes in protocol, compliance, and best practices.
Vendor lock-in is something many businesses have had to contend with, but a multi-cloud approach puts a company in a much stronger bargaining position.
Cloud vendors are aware of this, too, and act as can be expected in a free market: rates are highly competitive, basic customer and technical service is rarely offered at a premium, and many providers have opted for pay-as-you-go or pay-what-you-use pricing schemes.
While there are some obvious financial advantages to adopting a single-cloud strategy, in terms of overhead related to accounting - for example - a multi-cloud approach is often much cheaper in both the short and long term. Investing in a good multi-cloud manager can also help smooth any additional accounting and administrative bumps in the road.
Reduce or eliminate shadow IT
The rapid multiplication of cloud solutions in recent years have led to an increase in “shadow IT,” a problem that many IT departments now face (albeit a somewhat less sinister one than its name suggests). Shadow IT refers to the use of digital solutions, like cloud services, without the explicit approval and oversight of the IT department.
This can occur for a variety of reasons, including improper training and poor communications between IT and other departments. However, a leading cause is that a single solution fails to meet the needs of a diverse workforce and diverse workflows. As a result, departments and individuals seek out their own solutions - in effect adopting a multi-cloud approach - but without IT signing off on the new solution, or even being aware of it.
A multi-cloud approach helps mitigate this by providing a platform for departments and teams to find solutions that best work for them, and maintaining open lines of communications with the IT department.
We’ve already said that “freedom of choice” is a fundamental advantage of a multi-cloud approach, but the reality is that employees will make choices anyway. In a single-cloud approach, this leads to shadow IT; in a multi-cloud approach, it empowers teams to be more efficient, more innovative, and more accountable.
Scalability and agility
It’s true that a single-cloud solution can be quite adaptable and scalable, by virtue of the fact that most cloud providers that cater to this approach have extensive resources at their disposal - and can easily provide growing businesses with more storage, computing power, and support.
However, growth is not always vertical - the addition of features is something a multi-cloud approach can support far better than a single-cloud one, where a business’s own ability to respond to demand is entirely bounded by that of its cloud provider.
And of course, no company experiences linear growth - sometimes it’s necessary to downscale for a period, or to sever a feature that isn’t particularly popular among your target audience. You’ll be hard pressed to convince a single-cloud provider to take this off your bill; but ending a service agreement with a specialized cloud vendor can often be done in as little as 30 days.
Risk management and disaster recovery
“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” The wisdom of this simple and oft-stated adage has proven itself time and again, and certainly in the world of cloud computing. Of course, cloud providers do their best to mitigate the risks of data loss, corruption, and downtime - but failures happen nonetheless.
With a thoughtfully planned multi-cloud approach, it’s much easier to maintain operations in the event of a system failure, and easier to rebound following one. If a single cloud application fails, your business can function in its absence until service is restored. Multi-cloud approaches in which several platforms are used for similar workflows also help in this case, as workflows can simply be moved from the downed provider to an active one.
A multi-cloud approach enables businesses to pick and choose not only solutions, but also where those solutions are hosted. Thus, a company can choose a provider whose servers are in close proximity to its clients or to its offices, reducing latency and improving network performance.
What to watch out for
As we’ve seen, there are numerous benefits to a multi-cloud strategy, but there are some important stumbling blocks to take into account.
First, a multi-cloud approach multiplies the number of logins each team member is responsible for, something that’s been proven to dramatically increase the risk of an employee engaging in unsafe password management practices, like reusing passwords or opting for those which are easiest to remember.
Thus, businesses should either ensure that cloud providers support single sign-on (SSO), or else train employees in proper password management and encourage the use of a good password manager.
Second, interoperability can be a troublesome issue when working with multiple cloud platforms. While many of the biggest names, like AWS and Microsoft Azure, demonstrate high interoperability, multi-cloud approaches often include individual SaaS solutions, between which integrations can be more complex. Carefully planning one’s multi-cloud approach is the first step to avoiding these issues.
Finally, data governance and compliance with regional and state legislation is often more difficult to ensure with a multi-cloud approach, where each vendor may ensure compliance with certain regulations but not others. Once again, planning and foresight are a business’s best line of defense here. Companies will need to take special care, as information is moved from one platform to another, that all regulations are being met.
A multi-cloud strategy benefits businesses for a variety of reasons. Freedom of choice ensures that businesses can include (and pay for only) the features needed, and places pressure on vendors to maintain competitive prices and service agreements. It can make it easier for businesses to adapt with agility to rises (or drops) in demand, improve security and operations by eliminating the need for shadow IT, and better respond to data crises.