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Are you sure you want to have a multi-cloud strategy?
Sean Roberts, General Manager, Public Cloud
Thursday, March 28, 2019

Coined by Gartner, ‘multi-cloud’ essentially involves selecting cloud services from different vendors. On the face of it, this ‘pick and choose’ model sounds appealing – promising an escape from vendor lock-in, enabling companies to take advantage of best of breed features or more competitive pricing.

But businesses should also be aware that a multi-cloud strategy – for all but the biggest consumers – is often a false economy and introduces more complexity and cost than benefit.

  1. Duplication and fragmentation

Duplication and fragmentation of data, services and skills results in higher costs for storage and data transfer. Multi-cloud environments make it hard to track which applications are running, where your data is, and how much this all costs you day to day – which in itself, leads to compliance headaches. When you do decide to shift data around, there are data egress charges to consider.

Managing a multi-cloud environment often results in compromises and increased cost. Typically, the native tools within the cloud vendors meet most requirements, but once a company chooses to move into multi-cloud model they need to purchase third party tooling that often isn’t as feature rich as the native tools and costs more. Alternatively, organisations may persist in using multiple cloud native management tools, which lead to fragmentation and inconsistency in policies and a lack of a single source of truth for compliance reporting.

Moreover, each platform will have its own set of variables that make optimisation a real challenge - billing systems, pricing models, instance/VM sizing differences, data egress fees, and so on, that will make budgeting and cost control more complicated.

Even if storage and app sprawl issues are somehow ironed out, multi-cloud businesses are still going to need to make multiple investments in network connectivity, firewalls, and so forth. It’s also highly likely, regardless of how well you manage the environments, that your cloud bills will rise, as volume discounts are slashed because usage is split across multiple providers.

  1. Human capital

Staff who would usually only be expected to know one public cloud have to get to grips with many.

Unfortunately, this usually means one of two things: either expertise is spread thin and your business has to spend additional time and resources to upskill staff in these different areas, or the teams have to split in order to focus on one particular cloud and have minimal crossover. Neither is particularly desirable.

In short, the more clouds there are to manage, the more in-house technology skills must be developed and maintained. The problem is - most companies don't have the skills to manage infrastructure across clouds in general, let alone container applications that are strung out across cloud providers.

  1. Not making full use of public cloud solutions

To achieve interoperability, you have to resort to the lowest common denominator between platforms.

However, standardisation is constraining. Organisations often end up running virtual machines and containerized apps, and not really unlocking the true power of public cloud which are the in-built native services.

Is multi-cloud ever a good strategy?

It entirely depends on what you’re trying to achieve. What are your aspirations and why are you going to the cloud? If it’s to increase agility, global reach, and access new services then you can do that perfectly fine with one or more.

Generally multi-cloud works best in larger organisations where there are autonomous units that can design, test, build, release and support their own solutions and services. This allows those units to work with the vendors and tools that best suit them and allows them to maintain their specialization. I’d strongly recommend working alongside a partner that has scale in both platforms that you can lean on to help you navigate quickly to the best solutions for your problem

A less common approach is to look at this by technology platform, e.g IaaS in one location, data platform on another location. Again, the downside is of course data egress moving between the vendors.

Final thoughts

In the words of the American economist and business strategist, Michael Porter, “the essence of strategy is choosing what not to do”. It’s an apt rule for IT departments to live by.

Yes, there are circumstances where multi-cloud can work well. But generally speaking, successful cloud computing strategy is about making difficult choices and trade-offs, and selecting certain platforms over others. There most certainly is such a thing as having your fingers in too many public cloud pies.

For the significant demands that multi-cloud can place on IT teams, it’s vital to turn to a trusted hybrid IT managed services partner for support.

About the Author

Sean is the General Manager, Public Cloud, responsible for all consulting, managed services and finance functions of the business. Sean is recognized as a thought leader and regularly speaks at industry events such as Microsoft TechEd and the Microsoft Management Summit. Sean has extensive experience in unifying people, process and technology to deliver new capabilities and functions for your business.