With the International Data Corporation (IDC) forecasting an annual worldwide spend of over $1.2 trillion this year, the cloud is a force to be reckoned with.
Yet, once you’ve decided to adopt a cloud environment for your organization, you’re just beginning the discussion. Moving to the cloud is complicated and begs a multitude of questions you’ll need to answer before you really start your migration – questions like public or private cloud, hybrid or not, who will manage the environment and how, and the list goes on.
One of the first questions you should be asking is whether you’ll adopt a single cloud model or multiple. Determining how you’ll host the applications and services you believe are better suited for the cloud will give you a better sense of the project going in – but even this decision shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Single Cloud Environment
A single cloud environment is accomplished by using a single cloud provider to serve any and all applications or services that the organization decides to migrate to the cloud. Single cloud environments can utilize either private or public clouds, using whichever one better serves their current and future needs. They enable organizations to move workloads to the cloud as their needs grow, with the option to expand the number of virtualized servers if their need grows beyond a single cloud server’s limits. Often, organizations with a single cloud model are employing the cloud for a single service or application, such as email, enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), or similar.
Organizations that employ a hybrid model of either a private or public cloud, along with maintaining their on-premise infrastructure also fit into a single-cloud environment, though hybrid clouds that utilize both public and private clouds would be considered a multi-cloud environment if the private cloud is served by a different provider. Additionally, Infrastructure-as-a-Service cloud environments may also be considered single cloud if they utilize either a private or public cloud offering by an IaaS provider.
A single cloud environment may be more fitting for smaller or less technically adept organizations that would like to gain the many benefits of the cloud without it becoming overwhelming. It can also be a great starting off point for startups with plans to grow in the future, but who need less cloud resources for the time being.
As David Linthicum of InfoWorld explained, “Multi-clouds add more clouds to the mix; perhaps two or more public IaaS providers, a private PaaS, on-demand management, and security systems from public clouds, private use-based accounting…you get the idea.” Simply put, multi-cloud allows organizations to employ different cloud solutions suitable for different types of projects. A multi-cloud approach can include private clouds, public clouds, or a mixture of both, utilizing different providers.
The trend is overwhelmingly moving towards multi-cloud. A recent Microsoft study found that 79% of organizations surveyed use a multi-cloud approach, with a whopping 29% responding that they use four or more different cloud providers. Additionally, a 2016 IDC survey found that just over 10% of single cloud organizations have no plans for multi-cloud, while nearly 80% of respondents are either currently using multi-cloud or are working to implement a multi-cloud environment over the next 12 months.
The multi-cloud approach is more about using different providers to meet specific workload requirements, and aren’t necessarily connected to each other. Multi-cloud environments use a mix of cloud offerings, sharing the workloads between them with cloud applications spread across different service providers. Different departments have different needs, and those differences, many organizations find, may be better utilized on different cloud platforms.
Factors in Choosing Single or Multi-Cloud Environment
Any type of cloud environment presents certain benefits as well as issues that apply differently to different organizations. How do you determine which cloud environment is better for your current and future organizational needs? Here are four factors that can help guide your decision.
- Vendor Lock-in
Vendor lock-in is a real issue with cloud providers, and can give a single cloud provider more leverage over an organization if they are their only provider. While a hybrid approach of one cloud provider and on-premises infrastructure can help offset lock in issues, a multi-cloud approach enables organizations to more quickly and migrate away from a provider they’re having issues with. In the case of a single cloud environment, the only other option is to move data and services back to the organization’s on-premises infrastructure, which is limiting and, depending on how much data is stored in the cloud, may not be feasible without another server purchase. For organizations that include vendor lock-in as a major risk, a multi-cloud approach may be the better choice.
The amount of flexibility your organization needs is another factor to be considered in deciding to go with one cloud or several. One of the prime benefits of a multi-cloud strategy is that it enables you to choose providers that offer innovations to fit your specific needs and workloads. That amount of flexibility can go along way in helping spur innovation within your organization: One provider may offer the best of breed solution for your email service or data storage, while another provider may be more adept at providing development and testing environments, and yet another cloud may be best for serving applications in production.
With a single cloud provider, you’re limited to only their offerings, and that sort of one-size-fits-all approach may be difficult to adapt all the requirements your organization requires or would like to utilize in the cloud.
- Privacy and Security
Security and compliance issues have historically stopped organizations from adopting the cloud in any capacity, but as cloud providers are increasingly working to better address security and privacy concerns, this is becoming less of an issue.
In any type of cloud environment, security is a shared responsibility between the provider and the organization. In a single cloud environment, this division is easier to tend to than in multi-cloud environments, which complicates the matter. The shared responsibilities will most likely differ between providers, with the onus on your organization to understand the distinctions between them. To mitigate potential issues, though, there are managed security and privacy platforms that can be deployed to analyze how and where data is stored, as well as prevent leakage and detect vulnerabilities in order to stay secure and maintain compliance with any required regulations.
The issues surrounding security in both single and multi-cloud environments are present, but with the right management and planning, security can be actually be made more simple in these organizations.
- Complexity and sprawl
One of the bigger issues surrounding a multi-cloud strategy is the complicated nature of the strategy, which requires an IT team adept at understanding the nuances of the various cloud providers and how best to leverage them for the benefit of the organization and its employees. Various providers have different SLAs, architectures, etc., which each need to considered and addressed properly during adoption.
This issue is most often encountered when migrating data or applications between providers, introducing another complexity for multi-cloud organizations. An app created on and for use on one cloud provider will require changes should the need arise to move it to another provider.
Lastly, the risk of cloud sprawl is another concern that can cause complexity in a multi-cloud environment and should be considered before making your decision. Cloud sprawl occurs when the organization loses track of their cloud computing resources and can happen in a single or multi-cloud organization – yet the issue is compounded with multi-cloud.
Similar to managing security concerns in the cloud, there are management and oversight tools available to prevent cloud sprawl from occurring and to visualize data and resources used in each cloud environment, which are a crucial part of successfully managing a multi-cloud environment. But complexity is not unique to multi-cloud; any cloud adoption adds complexity to the IT strategy.
Organizations are increasingly enjoying the benefits gained through cloud computing, whether through a single or multi-cloud approach. Both types of environments have benefits and risks associated with them, like any technology does. When defining or refining your cloud strategy, then, the real question you need to be asking is ‘do the benefits outweigh the risks’, with a deep understanding of how the cloud will be used and managed in your organization, taking into consideration the factors and issues discussed here.