Along the journey through the broad definitions, tools, and solutions for cloud computing, we find two concepts related to delivery models: multi-cloud and hybrid cloud.
Because every company has unique workloads, infrastructure, and processes, it may sometimes be necessary to adapt deployment strategy to specific needs.
Semantic assumptions and inconsistent use of the terms multi-cloud and hybrid cloud computing causes confusion for the uninitiated. Sometimes it even makes it difficult for businesses to choose which service is best for them.
What Is Multi-Cloud Computing?
Multi-cloud computing means using multiple clouds from different service providers to take advantage of each provider’s attributes. This article focuses on multi-clouds composed of public clouds, but note that some professionals consider a combination of multiple private clouds a multi-cloud as well. The key characteristic of a multi-cloud model is that multi-cloud computing incorporates two or more cloud types (public + public for our purposes) from different providers. This model offers extremely flexible functioning by spreading services and resources across providers.
Large operations that rely heavily on cloud services and a wide range of competencies often use this model. For instance, they might deploy a product critical to their business to two different cloud providers and run them in parallel. This gives them a broader resiliency plan and they can leverage the different cloud providers to optimize performance of the application.
What Is Hybrid Cloud Computing?
Hybrid cloud computing is very similar to multi-cloud computing, but instead of like clouds, hybrid clouds use a combination of public and private clouds. Hybrid clouds can also include on-premise cloud infrastructure.
Why would a company integrate on-premise infrastructure with a public cloud? Perhaps the company has legacy infrastructure that they don’t yet want to migrate to the cloud. Also, some businesses, like banks and credit card operators, prefer to implement specific hardware, databases, or data centers within their own company to maintain control of certain resources. With complicated and laborious approval processes for transactions like loans and credit card application, financial organizations sometimes prefer to keep their operation confined to their own environment. However, they also want to benefit from public cloud capabilities and resources, and thus, they benefit from hybrid cloud computing.
Multi-Cloud vs Hybrid Cloud: What's the Difference?
As cloud services providers grew in number, diversifying providers became easier. As a result, managing cloud solutions became more complex because companies wanted to exploit different configurations to harness whichever resources would optimize their business processes.
The main difference between multi and hybrid clouds is that multi-cloud leverages multiple public cloud providers to enhance resiliency, performance, and expansion; while a hybrid cloud leverages an organization's existing infrastructure and a public cloud provider to expand and build more modern applications. Although some providers offer private multi-clouds, a multi-cloud doesn’t mix types and can’t incorporate on-premise infrastructure. In contrast, a hybrid cloud combines clouds of different types (public + private), including on-premise infrastructure.
Are Multi-and Hybrid Clouds Mutually Exclusive?
Although multi-clouds combine public cloud providers with similar functionality and hybrid clouds combine different types, the benefits of each can overlap. That is, the benefits are not necessarily exclusive to one or the other model. The benefits depend on the challenges your business faces and how you’ll solve them. Depending on your current scenario and how cloud deployment will impact your business, either model could cost you more or less.
The next section describes some benefits of cloud-computing, and some of them apply to both multi- and hybrid computing models. However, there are times one model has advantages over the other, depending on your needs.
What Are the Benefits of Multi-Clouds and Hybrid Clouds?
1. Data Security and Compliance
Companies that want to grow quickly and reach new markets need to seek out solutions that help them attain their goals without neglecting security. As data privacy regulations increase, companies are subjected to ever stricter levels of compliance, like for example, complying with the General Data Protection Regulation (often referred to as GDPR).
Rather than companies configuring their own proprietary on-premise data centers for compliance, a multi-cloud strategy may be more efficient. Multi-cloud computing often offers better security than on-premise computing because providers have more specialized personnel and resources focused on state of the art technologies to keep your infrastructure safe.
However, hybrid cloud models can benefit industries like finance, health care, and government services that may need tighter control over highly sensitive data. A model combining a public cloud with a private cloud or on-premise infrastructure can give companies tighter control over sensitive data and processes. For example, in the financial industry, companies might rely on a private cloud to ensure customized compliance with complex security standards and government regulations, while still benefiting from the cost-reductions and resource-sharing of public clouds for less sensitive parts of their ecosystem.
2. Cost Considerations
Another common challenge for companies is keeping costs down without affecting the productivity of professionals and the quality of services the companies offer. By combining multiple cloud services, you can select those that provide the most bang for your buck by leveraging expertise and cost across providers.
Multi-cloud computing with public clouds provides greater visibility into costs for usage and controls to help teams optimize their costs. Each part of the organization all the way down to a specific application team has greater visibility into the cost of their compute to make better informed decisions on performance and optimization. Public multi-clouds will likely reduce the overall spend on on-premise infrastructure, but without proper monitoring and optimization can cost more than on-premise infrastructure. Organizations will be able to reinvest any savings back into the teams building applications where they may have had to purchase hardware and datacenter capacity in the past. This is part of the evolution of the organization to work in a cloud native way. In contrast, private clouds provide resources solely dedicated to your company and the costs can be amortized and capitalized.
However, while a public multi-cloud model can be more cost-effective, pricing can and will increase over time if not monitored and evaluated. This depends, in part, on which providers you choose, changes in resource allocation as your company scales, the complexity of services required, and the scale and speed at which the organization wants to operate.
3. Integrated Services
Multi-cloud models allow you to integrate different types of services across clouds. For example, one provider may excel at AI solutions, and another at database organization or SaaS. By combining the services of both providers, you can integrate the best of all worlds. Multi-cloud models offer more options to manage cloud services in a way that best meets your organization's needs.
Consider though, that you may need to integrate services from a public cloud with a private cloud. For instance, maybe you have legacy systems or your business handles sensitive data that requires strict control. Or you use advanced custom technologies not available in public clouds. In this case, you may want to combine the customization of a dedicated private cloud with a public cloud that allows you to scale resources as needed for surges in traffic. You can save on costs by storing only sensitive data on a private cloud and using a public cloud for less sensitive data.
4. Resilient Data Storage
Multi and hybrid cloud models mitigate the impact of outages if configured correctly between availability zones and regions. Cloud providers have specialized teams that constantly test for and counteract threats. In addition, redundancy is built into these models. For example, if you rely on a single cloud provider, any type of blockage, equipment failure, or cyber threat can be catastrophic if you are not following strong cloud native development practices and leveraging the built in capabilities of the cloud providers to mitigate issues like these.
Hybrid models are also resilient. Recall that this model combines public and private clouds, and therefore, may have less built-in redundancy than a multi-cloud model. Also, if on-premise infrastructure is part of your hybrid cloud, your cloud is even less resilient. When you control those parts of your computing environment, your team must fix any issues that occur on their own.
When Is Multi-Cloud Computing a Better Choice?
- When you need to expand virtualization and bring new opportunities without needing internal infrastructure
- When you need multiple customized cloud strategies
- When you’ve already faced performance and latency issues with your provider and want to try a more efficient alternative by incorporating additional providers
- When you need to manage several decentralized services
When Is Hybrid Cloud Computing a Better Choice?
- When you have a website or system hosted in a public cloud, but you want to keep certain data or applications in a private cloud
- When your company provides a SaaS system via a public cloud, but you need a private cloud with a higher level of security for highly sensitive data
- When you need the services and resources available from cloud providers but you also have custom architecture needs that only a private cloud can satisfy
- When migrating legacy on-premise infrastructure to the cloud is not currently feasible
What's the best option? That’s a very difficult question to answer. After all, IT has evolved to the point that it is a true strategic corporate resource. That's why it's important to carefully analyze your organization's needs before deciding which cloud model is best for you.
Ideally, your technology organization should conduct a thorough assessment of the company’s needs. In general, companies looking to scale and extensively transform their products and processes chose a cloud based environment. In contrast, more robust, complex, and well-established companies may choose a hybrid cloud environment. However, this varies, as no two companies with the same characteristics will have the same needs.