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Multicloud vs. Hybrid Cloud – What's the difference?

Hybrid cloud and multicloud are often used interchangeably, however, there are several significant key differences. A hybrid cloud network is when a private cloud network connects with a public cloud network in such a way they begin to act as one network. Whereas, multicloud architectures are when two or more public cloud networks connect together and operate as a single unit. If a hybrid cloud network (connecting public and private cloud networks) becomes attached to a second public cloud network, then the network has both hybrid and multicloud characteristics.

Hybrid clouds work to utilize diverse configurations in private networks to secure proprietary data and software while relying on abundant cloud resources to run the day-to-day business.

Multicloud configuration can be used for redundancy measures, or for edge to cloud infrastructure services, by duplicating data at several locations, users can access it with greater speed and reliability. Even if one cloud in a multicloud setup goes down, the others can take on the workload until repairs are completed.

Operationally, multicloud refers to the use of multiple services from connecting public clouds, usually from more than one cloud vendor or provider. For example, interconnecting Google Cloud, with Salesforce, Quickbooks, and MailChimp would be considered a multicloud setup. When enterprises use multicloud they typically will use platform-as-a-service (PaaS) and infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) from more than one cloud provider, like AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure, Oracle, IBM Cloud, or Alibaba Cloud, to build in redundancy, scalability, and localization of resources into their overall IT infrastructure.

Hybrid clouds are network infrastructure configurations that combine at least one linkage between public and private cloud networks. These configurations are managed using software-defined networking technologies that meld these disparate networks under a single application of control. Users of the hybrid cloud interact with it as if it were one seamlessly unified network.

Hybrid clouds are different from multicloud configurations by always including at least one private network, whereas multicloud combine multiple public cloud services, which themselves may be part of a hybrid cloud.

Hybrid clouds enable organizations to reduce the costly inefficiencies of maintaining their own infrastructure. Additionally, hybrid clouds help companies address scaling concerns, and offer security features.

It is the location of resources in the cloud architecture that differentiates multicloud and hybrid cloud architectures. If a company's interlinked resources are entirely in the cloud, they have deployed a multicloud strategy. If a private network, and a public cloud service or provider are linked, then the company has deployed a hybrid cloud strategy. If the organization deploys both a private cloud, and two or more public cloud services, then it is a hybrid and multicloud.

Strategic choices about multicloud and hybrid architectures should be based on a variety of demands. Scale, compliance, flexibility, technological access, and business goals, are all considerations that determine the effectiveness of a multicloud or hybrid cloud or multi and hybrid cloud strategy.

Multicloud and hybrid cloud architecture have several of the same key benefits.

  • Innovation and Expertise — Reaching into the cloud for new capabilities is an effective way for businesses to tap into innovation and expertise that would be too costly in both dollars and time to do on their own. Beneficially, new services are introduced to the cloud constantly, allowing organizations to focus on their core value generation.
  • Vendor Flexibility — Competitive contracts and the plethora of vendors available in the markets help buffer companies from vendor lock-in. Multicloud configurations let companies choose which vendors they want to work with and allow them to configure their infrastructure to suit their needs without the fear that those configurations won’t hinder business growth.
  • Security — Often the first concern is how good is the vendor’s security? It should be asked, and the vendor should be able to demonstrate that, for their part, the cloud service they provide is secure. However, the end-user/organization is not absolved from responsibility, as both the vendor and end-user work under a shared responsibility model, where each must ensure their end is secure. This typically means instituting Identity and Access Management (IAM) and its best practices.
  • Cost Savings — Along with granting access to flexible public cloud resources, multicloud has tremendous cost flexibility because businesses can easily choose from a menu of cloud services. This allows them to ramp them up when needed, or pare them down when not, allowing them to tighten expenditures around actual productive use and demand. Also, cloud resources can be physically closer to end users which will reduce the latency that is critical in many industries.

Public cloud challenges shared by multicloud and hybrid cloud configurations
Multicloud and hybrid cloud rest in large part on public cloud infrastructure, so public cloud challenges will impact both architecture choices. Main public cloud challenges that IT admins should address include:

  • Multi-tenancy and Compliance — Companies that store personal identifying information within the public cloud have greater responsibility and are held to legally binding regulations to secure tenant information. The cloud may seem unbound, but the infrastructure that powers it still falls within geographic and national borders, which governs compliance obligations of companies.
  • Latency — Positioning resources within the cloud often introduces additional latency for business operations that are otherwise not experienced by on-premise servers. For certain businesses, such as real-time services, or ones that work with big data, or IoT devices, latency may prove a more pressing challenge. But this inherent latency, brought on by geographic distance from cloud data centers, is mitigated through state-of-the-art technology, and enterprise-level resource management. Simply, enterprise- level cloud providers are in a position to maintain more advanced, and faster systems due to economies of scale.
  • Vendor Lock-In — When a company’s data and software overly rely on a particular cloud provider, they are said to be locked-in. And as comfortable as a locked-in relation between the business of cloud providers can be, reliance on one provider can be a tremendous security risk. It can also leave companies at the mercy of unscrupulous vendors who decide to raise their rates. Vendor lock-in is a key challenge that multi-cloud configurations can alleviate by strategically positioning resources with different providers, redundancy and cost leverage are immediately built-in.

Multicloud and hybrid cloud implementation challenges
While the public cloud introduces its own challenges, choosing a multicloud or hybrid cloud strategy also introduces new planning and implementation challenges to adoptive architecture.

  • Determining the Correct Cloud Services — A plethora of cloud service providers abound today due to companies who are increasingly accelerating their digital transformation to the cloud. Choosing the best fit-for-purpose cloud services from a broad catalog of options and how they will fit into an organization's broader IT and business strategies is an important step. Due diligence about products and services, criteria selection, and implementation and long-term goals planning are the surest way to mitigate this risk.
  • Fitting Services Together — Fitting multicloud and hybrid clouds together adds a new factor of complexity for IT admins to manage. Fortunately, cloud and other software vendors offer solutions that can stitch multiple standards, technologies, protocols, and service tiers under one single management dashboard. However, as enterprise systems grow and networks continue to sprawl over the globe, more sophisticated software will be needed to integrate IoT software solutions, Edge computing, and future-proof infrastructure.

Determining between implementing a multicloud or hybrid cloud strategy requires considering many factors, but ultimately answering a single question, will the organization be utilizing an on-premise private network as a significant piece of their IT infrastructure? If yes, then implement a hybrid cloud, if not then implement a multicloud. After deciding, follow Gartner’s six steps for IT leaders to build and implement cloud strategies.

  • Develop a cloud-first and multicloud strategy — Technical considerations are important, but organizations must focus on business impacts and the advantages that either hybrid cloud or multicloud offer.
  • Continuously practice workload placement analysis — Agility and flexibility of services are some key cloud advantages. Organizations must continuously understand how their systems are handling workloads, and how new services in the cloud can evolve their processes.
  • Plan for cloud adoption maturity — Continuous skills development and process improvements help bring products to maturity.
  • Establish multicloud governance and management processes — Complicating technical challenges is organization’s obligations to government regulations and compliance. Technology is helping them address these burdens, by automating many protocols and management processes that improve accountability by making systems more visible.
  • Develop a multicloud management tooling strategy — Choose cloud resources based on fit-for-purpose and costs.
  • Evaluate multicloud SaaS integration requirements — In addition to choosing the best cloud infrastructure for their business model and goals, organizations should also continuously evaluate their software as a service (SaaS) options.

There are several top vendors that offer cloud management platforms (CMPs). Multicloud and hybrid cloud are similar in many respects and CMPs can manage cloud environments, services, and resources for both configurations. In addition to deploying a CMP, cloud environment best practices abound. Adopt those that work for the organization understanding that every organization’s IT infrastructure is different.

  • Map Workloads to Cloud Services — Multicloud is a workload strategy, and mapping workloads to the right infrastructure components is the most critical step. This allows the effective use of resources to achieve business goals.
  • Automate Whenever Possible — Multicloud environments can scale quickly, proving to be burdensome and difficult to manage. Automating repetitive tasks, and instituting policy-driven alerts, can help shoulder the burden.
  • Reevaluate Security for the Cloud — When moving to multicloud from single cloud, security is a concern and should be reevaluated to suit the new configuration. The fortress-style security common for private networks is no longer as effective in the cloud.
  • Leverage a “single pane of glass” Cloud Management Platform — CMPs do much of the heavy lifting for IT administrators, and often quickly elevate insights hidden about the network in real-time to admins via a dashboard with a bird's eye view of the entire network. A single-pane-of-glass control over all of a companies integrated cloud environments is the most efficient way to manage multicloud and hybrid cloud environments.

There are many cloud services to choose from, such as Salesforce, Quicken, or Workday. Enterprise-level cloud providers include AWS, Azure, IBM, or Google. With a plethora of household names, sometimes their offerings can be overwhelming. When choosing which one to go with, for small and medium businesses, cloud offerings can fall into three fundamental cloud categories.

  • Software as a Service (SaaS) — The most popular style of cloud service, SaaS solutions offer cloud-based applications for companies that are accessible via a web or mobile app. Slack, Salesforce, and Workday are all examples of this type of service. The main benefit is that the app is always current, there are no updates required. Secondly, integrations are popular, and often at the click of a button if integrating with other well-known products, which allows companies to leverage their data in many applications. Overall, employing SaaS typically grants companies huge cost savings, reduces IT overhead, and normally offloads much of the IT administrative tasks to the cloud service.
  • Platform as a Service (PaaS) — PaaS solutions are for development engineers who use virtual cloud environments to develop and test their own custom apps. This is an exceptional benefit for developers who no longer need to maintain their programming environments, including the infrastructure supporting them such as network, compute, and storage devices. PaaS solutions are typically used by larger organizations that rely on developing their own custom applications. However, low-code and no-code PaaS solutions are putting simple to complex development in the hands of non-programmers who can critically think about business processes, and now develop apps around those processes.
  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)IaaS solutions are virtual machines that give users access to all the resources of that environment, such as compute and storage, so they can install and run their preferred OS and applications. These are virtual machines that run on top of the hypervisor. Contrastingly, a bare metal cloud gives users access to the machines underneath. These machines are dedicated, and the user does not share them with other tenants.