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NEW YORK -- Hybrid cloud might be all the rage today, but the multi-cloud model -- where IT deploys a mix of cloud services from different providers -- is next in line.
"You can bet that, in the next few years, [cloud providers] are going to work together to create this bridge, not only between private and public [clouds], but also between public [clouds]," said Simone Brunozzi, vice president and CTO of hybrid cloud services at VMware, speaking here at the Cloud Computing Expo this week.
There are several trends nudging the industry toward the multi-cloud model, according to Brunozzi. First, multi-cloud, in many ways, is the natural next step for many organizations after hybrid cloud, a technology that analyst firms such as IDC expect to grow significantly over the next few years.
Secondly, cloud users see the multi-cloud model as a way to squash one of their biggest cloud computing fears: being locked-in to a single cloud provider.
"Customers are ready with their dollars, voting against strong lock-ins in the cloud," Brunozzi said.
Thirdly, a multi-cloud strategy gives organizations the flexibility to run applications on different infrastructure as a service (IaaS) platforms, based on those applications' unique needs. For example, a customer could choose to deploy Hadoop clusters on Amazon Web Services (AWS) or Google -- two IaaS platforms that Brunozzi said are especially well-suited for Hadoop workloads -- while running other applications, such as an Exchange Server or a payroll service, on VMware's public cloud.
Melissa PersonCEO of Inkwhy, Inc.
In addition, multi-cloud models offer greater redundancy than single IaaS deployments, which mitigates the risk of downtime, said Melissa Person, CEO of Inkwhy, Inc., a technology consultancy and services provider based in Ewing, New Jersey.
"When you have your own data centers you have multiple providers -- you use AT&T, you use Verizon, you use Level 3. It's the same concept," Person said. "What if one goes down? Where's your backup and business continuity? It's not there. In everything you do, you have to diversify."
While it may take several years for enterprises to embrace a multi-cloud approach, it's definitely the "endgame" for many organizations, said Jim Murphy, senior consultant at Garnerin Group, Inc., a technology consultancy based in New York.
"More and more [workloads] have to move to the public cloud and, especially for larger enterprises, they can't be completely dependent on, for example, AWS' business line," Murphy said.
Brace for hybrid, multi-cloud challenges
Despite its benefits, the multi-cloud model also brings a unique set of cloud integration and management challenges. Moreover, it will require collaboration between the leading cloud providers -- no matter how deep the rivalry.
"It would be very myopic for a company to say, 'Run everything on us, because we are the best.' The problem is, you cannot be the best for everything," Brunozzi said. "[Providers] have to admit that there will be a need for multiple vendors to be available."
Some cloud providers are already heading down this path. VMware recently struck a deal with Google to allow VMware vCloud Air users to access certain Google Cloud Platform features.
Meanwhile, other vendors, such as Cisco, have placed a heavy emphasis on workload portability across clouds.
"Interoperability between clouds is something that is happening already," Brunozzi said. "But it takes time."
In the meantime, there are still kinks in the hybrid cloud model that should be addressed before the industry shifts full-force toward multi-cloud. For example, there is still a level of complexity involved in migrating workloads between public and private environments, Brunozzi said. Tasks such as converting virtual machine images and importing and exporting security protocols aren't always as seamless as they should be.
"That is where much of the value will be in the next few years," he said.
Kristin Knapp is site editor for SearchCloudComputing. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow @kknapp86 on Twitter.