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Multi-cloud environments: Explore the pros and cons

The use of multi-cloud is trending up, but is it right for your workloads and business? Review the advantages and disadvantages with Gartner expert Daryl Plummer.

The one-size-fits-all cloud model is no longer feasible for most enterprises. They want to optimize overall performance and application agility, while cutting cost and bolstering security -- and many organizations are turning to a multi-cloud strategy to do so.

Multi-cloud computing boasts a number of intriguing advantages, as well as notable drawbacks that users must weigh before adopting this type of architecture. Daryl Plummer, VP and distinguished analyst at Gartner, is a believer in the multi-cloud movement.

"Multi-cloud is necessary, and I believe multi-cloud will get better and better," he said. "There's a lot of great things going on [in the cloud market] despite the potential problems people might run into."

But before organizations go all in on multi-cloud, they must evaluate every aspect of this architecture -- good and bad -- so they know whether to implement this cloud strategy.

Benefits of multi-cloud

Organizations want it all -- flexibility, scalability, and cost and performance optimization. Multi-cloud can often address those demands better than on-premises infrastructure or single-cloud computing.

Plummer attributes three main advantages to this type of cloud infrastructure.

Utilization of vendors' strengths

Different cloud providers have different strengths. This can be limiting when you use a single provider, but you can use it to your advantage with multi-cloud computing, Plummer said.

Daryl PlummerDaryl Plummer

For example, Google Cloud is known for its containerization and AI services. "If you're in the Google developer ecosystem, then you've been in Kubernetes from the beginning -- because they basically came up with [the idea]. The same thing with AI, you get advantages by being associated with their particular ecosystem," said Plummer.

Developers who work with different clouds will have a deeper knowledge of each platform as well as earlier access to tools from those providers. Being up to date on offerings from multiple clouds enables users to optimize performance and management on all their clouds.

The power of negotiation

In order to attract and retain customers, cloud providers must compete on price, functionality, discounts, consulting and more. If an enterprise can viably use multiple clouds to create its cloud infrastructure, it has the power to negotiate and force vendors to compete for its business.

"Your ability to get the right deal for [your company] is measurably impacted by your willingness to work with different cloud providers."

Uniform improvement

Cloud providers must constantly evolve and expand their services and capabilities to remain competitive. And to attract new users, they often have to leapfrog their competitors to make it worth the effort to switch providers.

Your ability to get the right deal is measurably impacted by your willingness to work with different cloud providers.
Daryl Plummer

If your enterprise wants to advance its IT capabilities in a continuous and seamless manner, it needs to take advantage of this vendor competition, while avoiding excess disruption, Plummer said.

Organizations can then create business value by utilizing the best of what's available across cloud platforms. "That turns into money [and] into new opportunity much quicker than you might imagine," Plummer said.

Drawbacks of multi-cloud

Multi-cloud is not the end-all, be-all of IT infrastructures. While it is a great choice for many organizations, it's not without its flaws. While acknowledging the benefits of multi-cloud, Plummer also highlights three drawbacks associated with this cloud strategy.

Added complexity

Deploying multiple clouds is complex. IT teams can struggle to configure services on one cloud, let alone configuring services on two or three clouds, Plummer said.

Multi-cloud architectures are not for everyone, especially if developers and administrators aren't prepared for the complicated management required by running more than one cloud.

Difficult cost management

It's a myth that organizations can uniformly optimize costs with a multi-cloud strategy. While it is possible, it is more complicated than you might think.

"If you do it across multiple cloud players, [you] usually wind up spending more initially, and it takes a lot longer to figure out how to optimize costs in that new model, even with better negotiation," Plummer said. This is not to say that if you adopt a multi-cloud strategy you won't be able to optimize your cost, but there is a learning curve to the process. 

Downside of choice

If you're overeager to go multi-cloud, you run the risk of picking the wrong clouds for your enterprise.

"If you think spending money, people and time to get deeply embedded in one cloud is hard, what if you pick the second or third one and it's the wrong one, so you have to pick and choose again?" Plummer said.

Enterprises do face a potential downside to cloud providers' constantly evolving platforms. Even if one cloud is a good choice for your workloads now, it doesn't necessarily mean it will continue to be.

Still, even if you pick the wrong cloud, it doesn't mean you should give up, Plummer said. A good multi-cloud strategy will involve some degree of trial and error as you try to identify the best fit for your organization.

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