The Evolution of Multi-cloud Architectures

The Evolution of Multi-cloud Architectures

by Vijay Kumar

As cloud adoption became the norm, we started witnessing the rise of the hybrid cloud where companies used both private and public cloud. However, the cloud environment is now becoming increasingly complicated with applications and services distributed across multiple public clouds, and the overall strategy is ‘mix and match.’

Organizations frequently face the challenge of deciding which public cloud vendor to choose for their needs. Cost and security are just two factors driving such decisions; however, the best option for one service may not be suitable for another.

Over the past few years, companies have been opening up to the possibility of choosing more than one public cloud service provider. Different applications and services within the same organization may be hosted on multiple public clouds.

Although, this results in architecture with challenges of its own. For example, different projects from the same company may have multiple providers fulfilling their requirements; however, what happens if these projects need to use similar resources, or if a company wants to use services that run on AWS for data created in Azure?

Users needs are changing and so are the dynamics of a cloud application. Using services from one cloud on another cloud may not have been a possibility in the past, but the evolving multi-cloud architectures are enabling developers to do just that.

How Multi-cloud Began

Multi-cloud began when businesses started investing in third-party service providers for enabling or improving automation of certain operations like CRM, human resources, and supply chain management. Limited IT budget, in addition to the IT teams being caught up in day-to-day activities, had businesses turning to SaaS providers for certain services; however, the data sources remained on-premise.

Businesses acquired iPaaS providers’ services to link on-prem resources with SaaS solutions. By outsourcing to external providers for IT services, these businesses paved the way for the multi-cloud environment that we have today.

As IT organizations continued to leverage IaaS and PaaS for better storage, computation, and accelerated development, the paradigm gradually shifted from on-prem to hybrid and, more recently, to multi-cloud infrastructures.

Why Did Enterprises Welcome Multi-cloud?

Since more organizations started turning towards cloud adoption, the market was proliferated by cloud vendors. Around the same time, organizations began to realize the security and compliance issues that third-party, public cloud vendors brought. Thus, policy-driven cloud strategies replaced ad-hoc outsourcing.

These policies dictated which workloads could be deployed on a public cloud and which stayed on-prem. Under these policy-driven architectures, mission-critical apps and sensitive resources remained on a private cloud while general operations were moved to a third-party, public cloud.

As organizations started shifting their workloads to public clouds, they grasped that no one-size-fits-all public cloud could meet the unique requirements of varying workloads. As each application had its requirements, each one of the major SaaS providers had its strengths and weaknesses, as well. Organizations started leveraging the strengths of multiple providers and formed cloud strategies accordingly, giving rise to multi-cloud environments.

Although the term ‘multi-cloud’ was coined relatively recently, organizations have been actively investing in multi-cloud deployments, even if it was more out of necessity than choice. Thanks to the multi-cloud approach, organizations can not only escape the nitty gritty of ensuring their IT systems are up and running 24/7 but also get to choose the best cloud options for different resources.

How Multi-cloud Differs from Hybrid Cloud

Often, multi-cloud and hybrid cloud are used interchangeably. However, these clouds are both innately different despite some fundamental similarities.

Hybrid cloud architecture is a composition of a privately hosted cloud with at least one public cloud. In a hybrid environment, some enterprise workloads remain on-premise or on a private cloud, while the others are deployed on one or more public clouds.

The most common application of a hybrid cloud is for organizations that are trying to shift their workloads from a private to a public cloud. Instead of going all in, they take the process slowly and gradually shift resources to third-party cloud services.

On the other hand, multi-cloud uses multiple private computing and storage environments in a single heterogeneous architecture. Organizations often adopt a multi-cloud strategy to leverage best-of-breed cloud services as well as to avoid vendor lock-in by working with multiple public cloud vendors at the same time.

Multi-cloud is different from hybrid cloud since it’s about choosing multiple cloud vendors instead of multiple deployment models. Although these clouds are different, hybrid and multi-cloud strategies are not mutually exclusive, and both can be adopted within a single organization.

Multi-cloud Architecture for Redundancy

One of the primary reasons for adopting a multi-cloud strategy is to enable redundancy, which is achieved when organizations deploy the same apps or data across multiple public clouds. This approach is predominantly adopted by organizations that are in a testing phase when starting their cloud journey.

Further, this approach requires no code rewriting or refactoring and is as simple as shifting the code to the cloud. This process allows organizations to familiarize themselves with the new environment before undergoing a complete shift. Another benefit of multi-cloud architectures is that organizations can avoid a single point of failure by deploying backup workloads across multiple external storage and computing environments. 

Using Multi-cloud Architecture for Distributed Workloads

Another approach for enabling a multi-cloud environment is by distributing applications or their components across multiple public clouds. For example, organizations may choose a cloud with high performance and agility to deploy the front-end of an application while the backend is deployed on a more secure cloud. This approach also enables organizations to deploy different apps and services on clouds that are geographically more suitable for users from various localities to avoid latency issues.

Benefits of Multi-cloud Architectures

The popularity of multi-cloud architectures stems from the immense benefits they provide to enterprises. A multi-cloud architecture offers companies the freedom to choose the best option for their application deployment and data storage. Further benefits include:

1.      Best-of-breed Services

Perhaps the most fantastic benefit of adopting a multi-cloud strategy is the ability to cherry-pick services from public cloud vendors. Enterprises can leverage best-of-breed services for their workloads. Additionally, enterprises can choose an environment that is best suited for a particular workload, providing greater flexibility and increased control over public cloud deployments.

2.     Cost-performance Optimization

Another benefit of a multi-cloud architecture is cost-performance optimization. In a competitive environment, all major cloud providers have similar price structures but different strengths and policies. Additionally, individual vendors offer better support for different types of workloads.

Multi-cloud can help organizations in achieving cost-performance optimization by deploying applications in environments that are most suitable for them. Organizations can determine the perfect fit based on metrics and the individual apps’ needs instead of the entire organization as a whole. This approach helps companies to avoid compromised choices that stem from an ‘all or nothing’ approach.

3.     High Availability

A distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack is when several computer systems attack a single network, website, or cloud hosting unit to exhaust the resources powering the servers through traffic overload. As a result, service is denied to actual users.

In these cases, even a few minutes of downtime can have a severe impact on an organization and cause cost and performance losses. However, if the resources are distributed across multiple clouds, users can be redirected to another cloud if one goes down. This system ensures high availability, which is crucial for excellent user experience.

4.     Low Latency

Another perk of the multi-cloud approach is low latency. Latency is the delay in app and data availability to the end users, which can be considerable if cloud services are delivered from a distant location from the end user.

Multi-cloud, however, enables organizations to deploy their apps and services across multiple clouds and distribute them geographically. The app or service closer to the end user can serve and process the user requests.

This architecture enhances the user experience and results in performance optimization. Further, having multiple cloud service providers that are geographically distributed is especially essential for organizations with a global clientele. 

5.     Avoiding Vendor Lock-in

Vendor lock-in occurs when organizations go all in with a single cloud provider in that their apps and services are entirely compatible with that particular cloud only. Organizations become so tied up to a single provider that migrating to another cloud becomes difficult, expensive, and time-consuming. This dynamic puts that single cloud vendor in a position where they can raise their prices and change terms of service at will, leaving organizations feeling trapped.

A multi-cloud infrastructure is a perfect remedy to avoid vendor lock-in, and it forces cloud vendors to offer competitive rates and improve services. When the cloud architecture is inherently designed to work with multiple cloud services, shifting workloads from one cloud to another becomes a breeze. Organizations never feel locked-in with a single provider; hence, they are never forced to accept a cloud vendor’s unreasonable conditions.

6.     No Single Point of Failure

Another reason for organizations turning to multi-cloud architectures is that they make them less susceptible to a single point of failure. Redundant deployments and distributed workloads keep organizations from putting all of their eggs in one basket. Even if a failure occurs, organizations can mitigate risks by diverging to another cloud network.

Challenges of Multi-cloud Architectures

Despite the many benefits, multi-cloud architectures come with their unique challenges that organizations must overcome, including:

1.     Operational Complexity

Deploying apps and data across multiple clouds requires learning the policies and processes of each vendor. For example, different vendors may have different access management policies, including password length and complexity.

Access management policies can add to the complexity of multi-cloud management. Organizations need to invest in multi-cloud management solutions to get a comprehensive picture of the company’s multi-cloud environment.

2.     Migration

If an organization already has its applications deployed on a private cloud, shifting them to several public clouds is challenging. In this scenario, containing costs and mitigating risks could be significant concerns. However, the right multi-cloud management tool can overcome these challenges by automating the deployments across various cloud networks instead of manually migrating each app and service individually.

3.     Lack of Required Skill Sets

As multi-cloud gains popularity, the market demand for admins and architects who have expertise in multiple major cloud platforms is at an all-time high. However, talent with the right level of cloud and IT proficiency is scarce. Companies need to invest in attracting the right skill sets and retaining the talent they already have.

4.     Security and Compliance Issues

Multi-cloud comes with security and compliance challenges, as well. It is difficult to protect enterprise resources when they are sprawled across a complex cloud infrastructure. Further, most of the companies have strict compliance requirements applicable to them.

Ensuring that each of the cloud providers that are a part of the company’s multi-cloud environment meets their compliance requirements is a complicated task. Enforcing security policies across a multi-cloud architecture is harder. From a security point-of-view, it is also imperative to know where providers stand before subscribing to their services.

5.     Operational Costs

It can be challenging to control and track the pricing models and costs incurred across several public clouds. Optimizing cloud utilization and right-sizing cloud resources and costs can quickly become overwhelming for IT teams.

Tracking costs is a challenge that requires finding the right multi-cloud management tools or a multi-cloud management partner. It is ideal that this tool or partner can take care of these cost-centric issues by unifying bills from multiple providers and performing a cost-benefit analysis for apps across the multi-cloud infrastructure.

The benefits of multi-cloud are plenty, but the associated complexity, cost, and risks may seem to outweigh the benefits at first. However, having competitive tools to deliver visibility and control across all network resources can make multi-cloud architectures more similar to single cloud solutions from a management perspective.

The Next Step in Multi-cloud Strategy

Workloads are now sprawled across several cloud networks, which surely resolved many problems that came with cloud adoption. Now, we are left asking, “What’s going to happen next in the multi-cloud evolution?”

Currently, multi-cloud architectures are evolving to allow services from one public cloud vendor to be used on top of another competitor’s. Different clouds are already hosting various components of a single application, and major cloud providers are enabling these components to integrate.

Next, they are moving towards allowing their services to run on applications and data regardless of where they reside. VMWare Cloud on AWS and Amazon RDS for SQL Server are the first steps in this new direction. Cloud providers are already supporting hybrid architectures by allowing their services to run on on-premise platforms.

To increase their customer base, the obvious step will be to enable their services on major cloud providers, like AWS, Google, and Azure. Google has recently announced ‘Anthos,’ which lets users build and manage applications across environments, including on-prem, AWS, and Azure. This trend will enable cloud providers to extend their services to organizations that already have their workloads up and running on major clouds.

In Conclusion

Regardless of how mature a cloud vendor is, no single provider can deliver all the features that an enterprise needs. Cloud-enabled organizations should focus on app performance while leaving infrastructure maintenance to their cloud vendors. Now, multi-cloud is enabling organizations to freely move their workloads and resources between multiple clouds, independent of the provider.

Remember, the most significant benefit of this new dynamic is perhaps avoiding vendor lock-in. The multi-cloud architectures are evolving to meet the changing user demands better, and the next step will be the ability to run services from one provider on top of another public cloud provider.

Vijay is a Senior DevOps Engineer and Systems Architect at Practical Logix

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