Over the last few years, we have witnessed exponentially growing interest in what is commonly called a multi-cloud strategy, or multi-cloud infrastructure, across the enterprise community. The focus isn’t limited to specific sectors, it spans across the board: enterprises from all industries are considering and putting in place multi-cloud strategies, virtualising their infrastructures and opting for a mix of cloud providers, rather than relying on a single vendor.

And while it is a deliberate choice for many, this is not the case for all organisations. But where has this sudden hype around the subject of multi-cloud come from?

What is multi-cloud?

Multi-cloud is the next leap of cloud-enabled IT architecture beyond hybrid cloud. It refers to an IT design where multiple public cloud providers and on-premises private cloud resources are used concurrently to realise certain business objectives and metrics that are difficult to achieve with private-only and/or hybrid cloud designs.

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These business objectives include the freedom of choice to pick and choose best of breed cloud services across public cloud providers, as well as enabling data mobility to eliminate concern over vendor lock-in. In addition, companies are looking to achieve enhanced data availability and durability with data sets spread across multiple cloud architectures, and cost optimisation with the ability to use the most appropriate cloud pricing scheme for each application across providers. In a nutshell, these factors put the cloud customer in charge with optimal leverage and control, thereby fuelling the growing momentum of multi-cloud.

Principles of multi-cloud

The benefits of multi-cloud outlined above hinge on a number of principles that must be adhered to. First is the need to normalise data access, control, and security across all clouds with a single interface, with the de-facto choice being the Amazon S3 API – assuming a full-fledged implementation with Identity & Access Management or IAM. Second is the need to ensure that data always stays in its open, cloud-native format – meaning no opaqueness anywhere – so that it can be accessed wherever it resides and can be moved around freely as required. Third is a transparent data brokering capability that allows data to be placed and moved around automatically based on pre-defined business policies. And fourth is dynamic indexing and searching capabilities across cloud architectures so that data can be found and acted upon wherever it happens to reside at any given time.

If not implemented correctly and with reasonable safeguards, multi-cloud could exacerbate the drawbacks and challenges that face cloud customers, such as increased complexity and overhead of data management, reduced flexibility in ways the data can be accessed and used, poor control and tracking of where data is placed, and inflated costs with unnecessary copies sitting on multiple clouds.

Many organisations can already be defined as multi-cloud users by default since the deployment of multiple cloud offerings within a single company has grown organically out of “shadow IT”

Many organisations can already be defined as multi-cloud users by default since the deployment of multiple cloud offerings within a single company has grown organically out of “shadow IT” practices over the past few years.  Those organisations are finding they need a solution to deal with these multiple clouds. A second set of organisations are building a multi-cloud strategy more intentionally in order to reap the benefits outlined above. At this juncture, an increasing section of customers are clearly better educated and more savvy in their use of cloud services, prompting them to explore and implement multi-cloud strategies.

That said, the undisputed benefits of multi-cloud could be wiped away if an organisation lacks the maturity, discipline, or capability to adhere to the principles outlined above. It is therefore imperative that organisations seek out trusted technology partners with the expertise, know-how, and solutions to ensure that the principles are met. For example, it is vital to implement and follow cloud provider-agnostic standards that ensure adequate control is maintained. Once locked into any vendor or technology, it is very difficult to change.

Looking forward

As multi-cloud is becoming the norm for cloud designs and is enjoying mainstream adoption, over the next couple of years there will be demand for a solution that fundamentally changes cloud storage and data management to provide customers with the full power and flexibility of on-premises storage and public clouds so that they can get not only the most value from their data but also the optimal experience in doing so. The rise of such new multi-cloud data controller solutions will help broker and manage information across different clouds.

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As Vice-President of Cloud Business Development, Wally MacDermid helps lead the product and partnering strategy for Scality’s multi-cloud solutions. Wally has spent his career in customer and partner-facing roles for companies in the virtualization, networking, storage, and cloud markets. A veteran of both successful early-stage startups (Motive, Onaro, vKernel) as well as industry-leading technology providers (Remedy/BMC, NetApp, Riverbed), Wally has spent the past 10 years of his career partnering with leading cloud providers including Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, and Google.