Speak to an executive in most businesses about leveraging new technologies, saving costs, creating new revenue streams, and improving agility and performance, and cloud will more than likely be a part of those discussions. Enterprises of all sizes are increasing investment in cloud platforms and seeing the benefits. In fact, the worldwide public cloud services market is projected to grow to $331 billion by 2020.

As a result of this substantial trajectory growth, the cloud sector is becoming increasingly crowded, not just with the big providers but challenger, more niche players who are looking to gain market share. For businesses, who are looking for a cloud platform that meets their business requirements, this sheer amount of choice can be overwhelming. Despite this, choosing the right partner has become critical to long-term business success.

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– Wikimedia Commons

The multi-cloud way

In response to this challenge, many organizations have adopted a multi-cloud strategy, which is typically made up of one private cloud, either operated by the business or managed by a third party, and at least two public clouds. This environment drives many benefits for businesses, one major one being the avoidance of vendor lock-in which involves dependence on a single cloud vendor, and can be costly and unreliable. Another advantage is the ability to flexibly scale multi-cloud resources up or down depending on particular business requirements.

This mobility means enterprises can optimize their return on cloud investments. Furthermore, businesses can exploit certain new developments from different vendors, who will naturally innovate in slightly different areas, as soon as they become available. Any business which wants to maintain a competitive edge and stay at the forefront of innovation needs the ability to test and develop new services and technologies at a rapid rate. Multi-cloud allows organizations to ‘fail fast’, experimenting with different models to find the best fit for their business goals.

A multi-cloud approach also provides a fail-safe should the primary cloud fail. Having another cloud environment available provides a failover. This undoubtedly leads to more robust and reliable services. For organizations that are particularly affected by downtime or outages, such as those working in financial services, this model is increasingly popular. The use of more than one cloud vendor is also advantageous to retaining an infrastructure that continually meets the demands of the complex regulatory environment. For example, data protection laws may stipulate that a company must retain data in certain geographies for data sovereignty.

By leveraging a multi-cloud environment, a business can flexibly select services and providers based in different datacenter regions and availability zones. Furthermore, public cloud providers are continually updating the services they offer at an impressive rate - from bare-metal servers to serverless computing. This enables companies to shift to more advanced workloads, without having to spend resources on buying, installing and operating more of their own infrastructure.

A hybrid approach

Multi-cloud may be growing in popularity but it’s important to consider the benefits offered by its perhaps lesser-known cousin - hybrid cloud. What do we mean by this? A hybrid cloud approach uses a combination of on-premise servers, private cloud, and public cloud, with tight operational integration between the platforms. A key benefit of this is the ability to manage changeable workflows. For instance, allowing an organization to run workloads internally, but then flexibly ‘burst’ them into the public cloud if compute demand increases. A retailer, who needs to flex its transactional order entry system around increases in demand for events like Christmas or Black Friday, is a good example. Less critical resources, such as development workloads, can be hosted by a third-party cloud provider; mission-critical workloads can be managed in the private cloud.

Such a strategy is also cost-effective, as organizations can run workloads in the least expensive cloud possible on a workload-by-workload basis. For example, an organization can make use of the virtually limitless resources of a public cloud for the bulk of its operations, but then utilize a smaller private cloud for specific requirements such as compute-intensive operations or for workloads that require added security. One consideration for businesses looking to implement a hybrid cloud approach is that of API compatibility and an excellent network connection. A lack of these may cause difficulties in the interaction between private clouds and public cloud providers.

For businesses looking to mitigate these problems, part of the answer lies in developing hybrid cloud workflows which can work with multiple cloud providers. It’s important to consider here though that this introduces involved workload design and testing. Furthermore, this added complexity also poses challenges when monitoring hybrid cloud deployments. Hybrid cloud differs from the best-of-breed element of multi-cloud, where different clouds aren’t necessarily dependent on orchestration between one another but are instead deployed in a way that allows organizations to operate applications in their most optimal environment.

Control and clarify in the increasingly complex cloud

Many businesses still rely on legacy on-premise servers within their IT infrastructure. The benefit of this approach is that an enterprise has full control of its data, which is particularly beneficial for those working in highly regulated sectors that require a high level of security, including government or finance. Under this model, the enterprise is responsible for maintaining the server, its cost, power consumption and all related processes.

The problem with this approach is that on-premise servers can be highly resource-intensive in terms of cost, software updates, power usage and maintenance. Another consideration is that they cannot be scaled as flexibly as public cloud, without incurring greater implementation costs so can therefore hinder growth for start-ups or, in fact, any business looking to expand.

There is a common misconception among businesses that handing over infrastructure to cloud vendors means losing control. Although it is a balancing act, a multi-cloud approach enables businesses to optimize their investment, reduce the risk of vendor lock-in, innovate freely and meet the demands of their customers, all while maintaining management of their own data. In today’s competitive environment, it is challenging for any business to grow, maintain agility, benefit from cost efficiencies, reliable platforms and better respond to a dynamic regulatory environment – all at once.

From both a business agility and a cost-efficiency perspective, achieving a balance of public and private cloud within a multi-cloud strategy is already proving to be the right fit for many organizations.