What Is Multi-Cloud Architecture? Advantages, Challenges, and Best Practices

Taylor Karl
What Is Multi-Cloud Architecture? Advantages, Challenges, and Best Practices 325 0

Today, a growing number of organizations are adopting a multicloud strategy, leveraging the unique strengths of top vendors like Microsoft Azure, AWS, and Google Cloud. In fact, a study by 451 Research found that almost every cloud journey is now becoming a multicloud journey, with 98% of enterprises already using or planning to use at least two cloud infrastructure providers and nearly a third using four or more.

Additional reports indicate that more than 80 percent of enterprises surveyed have a multicloud strategy, with nearly the same number (78%) already deploying workloads in more than three public clouds. While specific figures might vary slightly depending on the methodology used, estimates consistently place multicloud adoption well above 75% among enterprises. This signifies a clear trend towards managing workloads across multiple platforms.

Multi-cloud architecture involves integrating several cloud computing and storage services into one heterogeneous infrastructure. More companies want to be more flexible and risk-averse, which is why they are avoiding becoming dependent on a single provider. It allows businesses to distribute assets, software, applications, and more across several cloud environments, utilizing different infrastructures depending on their specific performance and cost-effectiveness.

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Multi-Cloud Architecture: Choosing a Platform

The major platforms offered in the market today are Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure, and, more recently, Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Google positions itself as the best for AI and machine learning (e.g. image recognition), while AWS and Azure are positioned more as general-purpose server/data providers. We’ll get into the benefits of using more than one of these options at once in a moment, but first, let’s look at what makes them stand out.

Amazon Web Services (AWS)

AWS has dominated the market for a long time thanks to its robust, well-integrated, and extensively tested suite of services, including computing power, storage options, and networking capabilities, catering to nearly any workload. It also has one of the largest networks of data centers, providing customers with low latency and high performance across the globe. AWS also offers strong security tools, which the company continuously updates to handle emerging threats.

Microsoft Azure

Companies like Azure for its ability to integrate seamlessly with other Microsoft software and services such as Windows Server, Active Directory, and SQL Server. Considering over a million companies worldwide use Microsoft 365, it’s not a surprise Azure is so popular. In fact, Office 365 is sometimes counted as part of the cloud market share, and when it is, Azure becomes the biggest market share leader. However, when Office 365 is excluded, AWS claims the title of #1 market leader. Azure also grants its customers strong support for hybrid cloud environments, so companies can combine on-premises infrastructure with cloud services smoothly.

Google Cloud Platform

Google has recently made-up ground on the other cloud providers thanks to its big data and analytics capabilities that leverage Google’s expertise in handling massive datasets and complex queries at speed. Cutting-edge AI and machine learning products like TensorFlow and AutoML are also increasingly appealing to customers, especially with GCP’s competitive pricing and discounts. Google has huge contributions to open-source (like Kubernetes) and ease of integration for organizations using Google business services (Gmail for Business, Spreadsheets, Forms, and Google Docs)., so it’s no surprise more companies are integrating GCP into their multicloud architecture.

Benefits of Multi-Cloud Architecture

Now that we understand why companies turn to the leading cloud providers for their services, let’s look at the benefits of leveraging more than one:

  1. Cost Optimization and Flexibility
  2. Improved Performance and Reliability
  3. Enhanced Security and Compliance
  4. Innovation and Agility

#1: Cost Optimization and Flexibility

Companies are always looking for ways to improve their operations and save money. Adopting a multi-cloud strategy is a great solution that can provide a lot of financial and operational advantages. This approach can help businesses save a significant amount of money and also gives them a level of flexibility that they can't get from using just one vendor. When architecting a multi-cloud, you’ll want to focus on:

  • Avoiding vendor lock-in: By using multiple platforms, companies are not beholden to the pricing structures and service limitations of any single vendor. They can choose the most cost-effective option for specific workloads, including switching vendors when facing potential price hikes. In business, flexibility equals agility, and as data egress fees go away, companies have more freedom to adopt a multicloud approach and shift workloads as needed for cost optimization, features, etc.
  • Matching resource needs with pricing: Different cloud providers offer varying pricing models and specialize in different types of resources. By using more than one, you get to leverage the most cost-effective option for each type of workload and service so they get the most out of their spending.
  • Taking advantage of regional pricing: Providers often offer lower prices in specific regions, so companies that can distribute their workloads across regions with the most competitive pricing stand to benefit from a multicloud approach.

#2: Improved Performance and Reliability

When deploying a multi-cloud strategy, companies are better positioned to minimize downtime, enhance service delivery to global users, and access cutting-edge technologies tailored to their unique needs. You can expect the following performance and reliability benefits:

  • Reduced outages: Distributing workloads across multiple platforms means companies can mitigate the risk of outages or disruptions within a single cloud.
  • Geographic distribution for latency-sensitive applications: For applications requiring low latency or catering to geographically dispersed users, a multicloud approach allows deployment across regions closest to end users, improving performance and user experience.
  • Leveraging specialized services: Different providers excel in specific areas, so smart companies design their strategy to gain access to each provider’s best services.

#3: Enhanced Security and Compliance

Adopting a multi-cloud architecture allows businesses to create a structure that strengthens security and ensures they meet all necessary regulations. When distributing data and applications across different cloud platforms, companies can spread-out their risk to allow for more safety nets.

  • Improved data security posture: Distributing data across multiple clouds can make it more challenging for attackers to target a single point of entry. Additionally, some regulations might require data residency in specific regions, and a multicloud approach can help meet those requirements.
  • Disaster recovery and business continuity: Replicating critical data and applications across multiple clouds ensures better disaster recovery options. If a disruption occurs in one, the others can continue operations, minimizing downtime and data loss.
  • Meeting diverse compliance requirements: Companies operating in different regions or industries might face varying regulations, and different providers can help them meet the specific compliance needs for each workload.

#4: Innovation and Agility

Using multiple cloud providers gives companies access to a broader range of technologies and features. This not only expands their options, but also speeds up development, allowing them to deploy and launch products faster. Organizations can also expect:

  • Access to a broader range of services and features: By leveraging multiple cloud providers, companies gain access to a wider array of services and features, allowing them to build and deploy applications that wouldn't be possible with a single provider.
  • Faster time-to-market: The flexibility of choosing the most suitable cloud service for a specific need can accelerate development and deployment cycles, shortening the window needed to bring products and services to market.
  • Experimentation with emerging technologies:  New services from leading companies allow customers to experiment and stay ahead of the innovation curve.

It's important to remember that this is not a one-size-fits-all solution and that companies should carefully assess their needs, resources, and priorities before adopting a multicloud strategy. The complexity of managing multiple cloud environments needs to be weighed against the potential benefits to ensure a successful implementation.

Challenges of Multi-Cloud Architecture

Going through the multicloud journey involves re-platforming your IT infrastructure, which impacts everyone from IT operators and networking teams to security teams and developers.

While the benefits are considerable, managing multiple services and providers adds complexity to IT governance, requiring sophisticated coordination and management strategies. Not to mention that data security and regulatory compliance become more challenging in a multicloud environment as data moves between from one to the next with potentially varying security protocols and compliance standards.

Understanding the challenges that come with pursuing a multicloud approach is important so you can develop or outsource the necessary training for your team.

Skills Gaps and Knowledge Deficits

Education should begin as soon as a new team member is hired or brought onto the team, especially since new employees may be unfamiliar with multicloud concepts or specific platforms. And with the rapid and constant evolution of the cloud landscape, new features, services, and best practices are emerging all the time, making it so existing IT staff might need to expand their skill sets to manage resources across different systems.

Performance and Management Concerns

Juggling multiple platforms introduces complexities in provisioning, monitoring, and managing resources. Keeping track of expenses across multiple clouds can be complex, especially as individual providers change pricing for their services at different times. Add into the mix security concerns for the data and applications across various cloud environments, and companies need to make sure they have a comprehensive strategy and knowledge of security best practices.

Integration and Interoperability Issues

Integrating data and applications across different platforms can face potential inconsistencies and compatibility issues. When creating a multicloud architecture, IT has to make sure that each cloud and its respective services work harmoniously, necessitating advanced integration solutions to maintain seamless operations across platforms.

Best Practices for Implementing Multi-Cloud Architecture

Adopting a multi-cloud architecture provides flexibility, scalability, and resilience, but it's complex. Organizations need a strategic approach to optimize operations, security, performance, and cost-efficiency. That’s why it’s important to master these best practices:

Comprehensive Planning

Start with a clear understanding of your business goals and this approach can help achieve them. Conduct thorough planning that includes assessing your current and future needs, identifying the best providers for different tasks, and defining clear objectives for what you aim to accomplish with each cloud environment.

Data Governance and Compliance

Establish robust data governance policies to ensure data is managed properly across all platforms. This includes compliance with regulations specific to your industry and the regions in which you operate. Data sovereignty, privacy laws, and regulatory requirements should be carefully considered in your multicloud deployment strategy.

Budget Efficiency

Utilize cost management tools and practices to monitor and control spending; with multiple vendors, subscriptions can be trickly to track and impact budgets if not done so carefully. This includes selecting the right type of cloud service (e.g., IaaS, PaaS, SaaS) based on cost-effectiveness and operational requirements and employing techniques like auto-scaling, right-sizing, and reserved instances to optimize costs.

Security Strategy

Develop a unified security strategy that covers all cloud platforms. Implement consistent security policies, such as identity and access management, encryption practices, and threat detection mechanisms, across different environments to protect data and applications from security breaches and vulnerabilities.

Automation and DevOps Practices

Leverage automation tools and DevOps practices to streamline workflows and improve efficiency across cloud environments. Automation in deployment, scaling, and management processes reduces the risk of human errors and frees up valuable resources to focus on more strategic tasks.

Skill Development and Team Training

Ensure your team is equipped with the necessary skills to manage multicloud environments. This involves continuous training and development programs to keep up with the evolving cloud technologies and best practices. Consider certifications and specialized training for different cloud platforms that address the following domains:

  • Understanding factors like cost, features, security, and compliance to make informed decisions.
  • The knowledge to assess business needs, design architectures, and create effective multicloud strategies.
  • Developing cloud-agnostic skills and strategies to avoid over-reliance on specific platform functionalities.
  • Providing strategies for seamless data transfer and application integration
  • Bridging existing knowledge gaps and staying current on the latest advancements in multicloud technologies.
  • Empowering employees to take on new responsibilities and adapt to changing workflows.
  • Strategies for cost optimization, resource allocation, and identifying the most cost-effective options for specific workloads.
  • Understanding and implementing security best practices specific to multicloud deployments.

Choosing the Right Tools for Management and Monitoring

Select and utilize tools that can integrate and manage multiple cloud environments effectively. Look for management platforms that offer visibility into performance, cost, and security across platforms, enabling you to make informed decisions and adjustments quickly.

Interoperability and Portability

Design systems with interoperability in mind. Adopt technologies and standards that ensure the portability of applications and data across different cloud environments, such as containers and microservices architectures so you can avoid vendor lock-in and migrate easily between clouds.

Regular Evaluation and Adjustments

Regularly review and assess your strategy to ensure it aligns with changing business needs and technological advancements. Be prepared to adjust your approach and migrate resources between clouds as needed to optimize performance and costs.

Case Studies: Successful Multicloud Implementations

Many global companies, such as Coca-Cola and Unilever, are embracing cloud technologies to transform their businesses. Let’s look at their success stories:

Coca-Cola

Coca-Cola moved to the cloud in 2013 when it signed a partnership with AWS. It has since reduced its operational costs by 40 percent and IT ticket volume by 80 percent and accelerated its digital transformation. And just recently, Coca-Cola adopted a multicloud strategy by expanding to Microsoft Azure. Part of its $1.1 billion deal with Azure includes experimenting with Azure OpenAI Services for generative AI use cases and testing for Copilot for Microsoft 365.

Unilever

Unilever, the global consumer goods company, partnered with Accenture and Microsoft for one of the largest and most complex migrations in the consumer goods industry, becoming a cloud-only enterprise. It uses Azure as its primary platform to accelerate product launches, enhance customer service, improve business resilience and strengthen security.

Conclusion

Embracing a multicloud architecture can drive operational flexibility, resilience, and strategic cost management. However, the adoption and management of such an architecture are not without challenges, including diverse operational demands across platforms, stringent security requirements, and potential integration issues.

To effectively manage these challenges, you need thorough planning that aligns with organizational objectives, rigorous governance and compliance protocols, and strategic cost optimization. Most importantly, continuous training and skill enhancement for IT staff are essential to keep pace with the rapid evolution of cloud technologies.

New Horizons offers specialized training and certifications designed to equip your staff with the necessary skills to efficiently manage and navigate multicloud environments. Take the next step in securing your company's future—contact New Horizons today to explore training options and empower your team to excel in multicloud management.

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