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Get the most bang for your buck in multi-cloud architecture

Learn how multi-cloud architecture can help with digital transformation, despite how many single-cloud structures exist. Expert Chris Tozzi talks security, availability and cost.

Migrating workloads to the cloud is one process that can help you to achieve digital transformation.

But you can go further by adopting a multi-cloud strategy. With a multi-cloud architecture, you can overcome some of the toughest hurdles to digital transformation and multiply the benefits you leverage by relying on just one cloud.

What is multi-cloud computing?

Multi-cloud computing is what it sounds like: the use of multiple clouds at the same time.

A multi-cloud architecture could involve two or more different public cloud platforms, like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Azure. It could also refer to the combination of a public cloud with a private cloud built using a platform such as OpenStack.

Multi-cloud computing should not be confused with hybrid cloud computing. In the hybrid model, you combine a cloud environment with traditional on-premises infrastructure.

In a multi-cloud architecture, some of your infrastructure may exist on premises, but it is structured as a cloud rather than conventional clusters of servers. Or, again, a multi-cloud architecture may consist only of public clouds and not involve any on-premises infrastructure at all.

Multi-cloud architectures and digital transformation

Digital transformation refers to the process of modernizing your tools, processes and organizational structure in order to take advantage of modern technological innovations.

Basic cloud computing is likely already part of your digital transformation strategy. Virtually all organizations now run some or all of their workloads in the cloud.

A single-cloud architecture provides important scalability, management and other benefits.

However, a multi-cloud strategy can double down on the advantages of a single-cloud architecture and deliver additional benefits on top of them.

Here are some examples of the ways in which a multi-cloud strategy can help you to advance further on your digital transformation journey, even if you already make heavy use of a single cloud.

Achieving high availability

Improving application uptime and availability is one typical reason for moving applications to the cloud. The cloud frees you from having to worry about hardware management and the downtime that could result from hardware problems.

However, a multi-cloud architecture provides even more uptime and enables true high availability. Even well-managed public cloud services are not immune to failures, as the great AWS outage of spring 2017 showed (and that's just one example).

With a multi-cloud architecture, you can deploy your applications on more than one cloud at once. If one cloud fails, the application remains available on the other cloud.

Achieving complete high availability requires you to have a plan in place for redirecting traffic and adding capacity to your cloud environment in the event that one of your clouds fails and you need to shift all users to the application instances hosted on a different cloud. With the right configuration, however, this switchover can take place automatically. The result is a much greater ability to meet the constant uptime expectations that users place on organizations today.

Resisting cyberattacks

The scale, costs and unpredictability of cyberattacks are constantly increasing. A multi-cloud architecture is one way to help harden your assets against cyberattacks.

Although, on the one hand, multiple clouds increase your exposure to attack, on the other, it can help you resist certain types of attacks. For example, a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack that targets one service provider would send all of your applications down if they relied solely on that service. With multiple clouds, that would not be the case.

As a real-world example, organizations could have survived the Dyn outage of 2016, which disabled a large number of major websites, by using Dyn and an alternate domain name system (DNS) service, like Amazon Route 53, concurrently. (This wouldn't quite constitute a multi-cloud architecture because Dyn is a DNS service, not a cloud host. However, if you use more than one cloud and take advantage of the built-in DNS service of each one, you would be leveraging a multi-cloud strategy to resist DDoS threats.)

A multi-cloud architecture can also help with security by making it easier to secure key data. For instance, perhaps you want to host most of your workloads in a public cloud, like AWS or Azure, but wish to use an on-premises cloud for data that you want to retain on site.

Avoiding vendor lock-in

No organization wants to be forced to continue using a particular vendor's cloud because of difficulty migrating workloads elsewhere.

If you adopt a multi-cloud architecture, you're designing a framework that inherently frees you from cloud vendor lock-in.

Simply having a multi-cloud architecture doesn't mean you'll automatically be able to move all of your workloads from one cloud to another. But if you run the same application on multiple clouds, then you already have the configurations in place to move instances between those clouds or drop one of them entirely, if you wish. You'll never be stuck with one cloud just because you lack the time or resources to migrate elsewhere.

Cost efficiency

Not all clouds do the same thing. And they certainly don't charge the same rates. A multi-cloud strategy helps to ensure that you get the most bang for your buck by providing choices when it comes to running a particular workload. For example, maybe you want to do most of your computing using a private cloud but have a special data analytics workload that you lack the expertise or infrastructure to run in your private cloud. That workload could be run on a public cloud service that is optimized for data analytics.

In other cases, you may find that some types of workloads are more cost-effective to run on one cloud than on another due to the billing nuances for different types of resources that various cloud providers charge. Depending on exactly which mix of compute, networking and storage resources you need for a particular workload, it may be less expensive to host it on an AWS Elastic Compute Cloud instance or an Azure virtual machine, for example.

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