Cloud computing — storing data and accessing apps via the Internet — has been widely adopted by businesses across industry and size. Like many technological advances, though, new derivatives continue to emerge — including so-called multicloud computing.
Under this approach, companies don’t rely on a single cloud service; rather, they distribute their data and computing needs among several providers. Popular options include Amazon Web Services (AWS), Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure.
The strategy offers various advantages. For example, like any cloud computing arrangement, it provides scalability. As your needs expand or drop, you can readily adjust your storage capabilities to keep a lid on costs.
Multicloud computing also is a way to hedge your bets. Every cloud provider has downtime at some point but, if you use multiple clouds, you can switch critical workloads and applications to a cloud that’s up and running. And it helps you avoid “vendor lock-in,” or getting restricted to a single provider’s infrastructure, add-on services and pricing models.
Improved performance is another factor. Using several providers based relatively close to you geographically means fewer “network hops” between servers. This reduces latency (the delay between a user’s request and the provider’s response), jitter, packet loss and other disruptions.
Many businesses prefer the “a la carte” nature of multicloud computing. Different providers may have different features that you need to meet your technical or business requirements. For instance, you might choose a pricier but more secure cloud for applications with sensitive data and a cheaper alternative for less sensitive data. Similarly, a business that relies heavily on Windows might use Azure for internal operations but tap AWS for its website and Google Cloud for machine learning.
Some companies find themselves engaging in multicloud computing without ever deciding to do so. Unintentional multiclouds can result from “shadow IT,” whereby different departments or business units start using public clouds on their own accord and then one day turn to IT for help.
Whether multicloud computing develops from shadow IT or a conscious strategic decision, it comes with potential pitfalls. Managing multiple clouds can prove complex. You can use integrated suites of software known as “cloud management platforms” to administer multiple clouds. But these platforms tend to take a “least common denominator” approach, treating multiple clouds as a single cloud by focusing on storage, network and computing functions. As a result, you may find it difficult to leverage each cloud provider’s distinctively useful features.
Last but certainly not least, you must consider the total cost of ownership of any multicloud strategy. Although the availability of alternative providers may increase your bargaining power, the cost of paying several vendors can go beyond the upfront prices and monthly fees. You may also incur additional fees for items such as licensing and integration.