What Are the Benefits and Limitations of Multi-Cloud?

Organizations are increasingly deploying and implementing cloud services in an effort to reduce the cost and complexity of their infrastructure while accelerating their innovation levels. And this is typically a multi-pronged approach: 92% of enterprises have deployed a multi-cloud strategy, while 80% deploy a hybrid cloud strategy. The average organization uses 5.3 clouds—both private and public.

Multi-cloud offers a wide range of benefits for organizations, including flexibility, consistent best-of-breed updates, and options when it comes to selecting vendors. However, ineffective multi-cloud management can present challenges and limitations that put data privacy and protection at risk. In this post we’ll explore both sides of the multi-cloud coin, looking at both its pros and cons—but first, let’s define multi-cloud.

What is multi-cloud?

Multi-cloud is when an individual or organization uses more than one cloud provider for their IT needs. This approach enables companies to better support their business, technology, and service reliability requirements, while mitigating over reliance on a single-cloud provider that might not accomplish all tasks effectively. 

A multi-cloud strategy can encompass private, public, and hybrid clouds, and allows businesses to seamlessly manage multiple providers and virtual infrastructure performance while achieving greater efficiency. Multi-cloud architecture enables the distribution of cloud applications, assets, and software—including Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Platform-as-a-Service, and Software-as-a-Service solutions—across various environments.

Multi-cloud vs. hybrid cloud vs. private cloud vs. public cloud 

There is often confusion around the differences between multi- and hybrid cloud approaches and how private and public cloud solutions fit in. While private, public, and hybrid clouds are three different deployment models, multi-cloud represents a combination of any of those three. Here’s some more detail on how each of the three models compare:

Private cloud: Private cloud deployment means an organization owns and maintains its cloud computing resources. These resources are stored at the organization’s own data center—or, in some cases, companies rent private server space with a cloud provider. Alternatively, companies can opt for a pay-as-you-go solution for hardware colocated on their datacenter and managed remotely by a cloud provider. The key advantage to this approach is that resources are stored on a private network on dedicated hardware and software, meaning the organization gains enhanced control, flexibility, and scalability when it comes to their IT environment.  A disadvantage of this model is that companies adopting private cloud cannot fully realize pay-as-you-go benefits—they must pay for the infrastructure up front and keep paying for datacenter maintenance regardless of use levels. 

Public cloud: Public cloud is the most common form of cloud deployment. Resources are owned and operated by third-party service providers—such as AWS or the Google Cloud Platform—and delivered to users via the internet. The third-party cloud provider also owns and manages all hardware, software, and other infrastructure for its customers. These resources are shared between the cloud provider’s tenants and accessed via web browsers through web-based email, office applications, storage services, and development environments. Public cloud offers a low-cost, highly reliable, and on-demand service that requires no maintenance for its users. It also provides quick time to value, meaning teams spend little to no time procuring infrastructure, colocating servers, and maintaining them. On the flip side, you end up sharing resources with other tenants. 

Hybrid cloud: Hybrid cloud refers to using a combination of private and public cloud infrastructure. A hybrid cloud approach involves the use of orchestration tools to deploy workloads and manage the balance of organizations’ resources across private and public clouds. This approach also offers businesses more flexibility to move between these two models, depending on their needs and budget at any given time. The one potential drawback, however, is that working with different types of clouds can add complexity to your tech environment. 

Note: Though easily confused with hybrid IT, hybrid cloud speaks specifically to a company’s use of private and public clouds, not the blend of on-prem and cloud-based systems.

The benefits of multi-cloud

A multi-cloud approach presents organizations with many advantages, from choice and flexibility to more technical perks. Key multi-cloud architecture benefits include:

Avoiding vendor lock-in: One of the most persuasive multi-cloud benefits is that it keeps organizations from being locked into one vendor or service provider. This freedom is increasingly important as organizations want to capitalize on the rise of niche, specialist providers that focus on one area of expertise or one cloud application type. A multi-cloud app approach enables businesses to deploy multiple specialist services instead of relying on one vendor for all their software requirements, ensuring companies can deploy the latest best-of-breed solutions, deliver the software employees need to do their jobs as effectively as possible, and work with the latest and greatest technology. 

Meeting compliance requirements: Increasingly stringent data privacy and governance regulations—such as the CCPA and the GDPR—require customer data to be stored in specific locations. Multi-cloud enables organizations to deliver this specificity without having to build and manage their own on-premises data centers or lakes.

Increasing performance: With a multi-cloud approach, organizations can create a high-speed infrastructure that maximizes application performance and reduces the cost of integrating cloud solutions with their existing IT system. By extending networks to multiple cloud providers, organizations can develop connections that improve response time and user experience. Multi-cloud allows organizations to pick cloud providers based on location and the providers’ ability to meet price and performance requirements.

Enhancing resilience: Outages can happen at any time for any cloud provider, which makes it highly risky for organizations to rely on one vendor alone. A multi-cloud strategy offers businesses improved security, better failover options, and enhanced disaster recovery. It ensures data storage resources are always available, making the organization’s cloud deployment more resilient for the long term. It also helps to minimize performance-affecting factors like latency, jitter, and packet loss, which are typically caused by hopping between networks and servers.

Improving flexibility and scalability: With data volumes increasing exponentially, multi-cloud architecture is an ideal solution for organizations looking to store and process their data. It enables businesses to scale their storage requirements up and down as and when needed.

Multi-cloud challenges

Despite the widespread benefits of working with multiple cloud models and vendors, multi-cloud management isn’t completely free of limitations. 

Growing cloud costs: Multi-cloud is ideal for organizations wanting to work with the best and most recent cloud applications. However, deploying and signing up to a growing number of cloud apps and service providers can result in an uptick in spending.

Rapid changes in arrangements: As new cloud apps are added to their IT environments, organizations run the risk of losing control of their identity processes, access management, and security. Perimeter-based security tools are not built to secure and manage environments spread across multiple locations, and identity is paramount. Companies need to oversee and stay up to date on their cloud applications without drastically increasing spending on cloud management tools.

Specialist management expertise: Multi-cloud management requires specific expertise to ensure an organization’s IT environment remains highly available and secure. If they aren’t managed efficiently, multi-cloud environments can create significant issues for businesses, including increased costs and complexity. 

Legacy security concerns: A significant challenge for many organizations that want to migrate to the cloud is how the environment integrates with their legacy systems. Security architectures can sometimes be stretched beyond their limits by multi-cloud strategies. Businesses need to assess their networks, environments, and security architectures before implementing multi-cloud to avoid potential risks and liabilities.

Data privacy and protection: Cyber security provides a significant challenge for organizations that store all their data on-premises. But housing it in various locations in multiple data centers and cloud environments makes protecting data even more challenging. Organizations need to provide seamless access to all of their cloud services, maintain least privilege access across their cloud environments, and establish a robust identity architecture that federates with any application or service. 

Getting multi-cloud management right

Multi-cloud management is crucial as organizations grow and add new applications and services to their IT environments. While the cloud revolution continues to grow and data volumes increase, businesses remain reliant on traditional methods like passwords that put their diverse environments, remote workers, and multiple applications at risk. 

Businesses require a modern identity platform that makes the user the new perimeter, ensures secure access to applications and services, and enables rapid adoption. Okta’s approach to identity and access management simplifies the process and removes the risk of migrating to the cloud. This Zero Trust security approach ensures:

  • Context-based security
  • Centralized identity control and reduced password mismanagement through Single-Sign On
  • Protection of data through Multi-Factor Authentication
  • Automated user provisioning and deprovisioning
  • Reduced IT overhead through automated workflows

The Okta Integration Network provides thousands of prebuilt integrations that enable customers to easily centralize user management, adopt the latest applications, and automate access workflows across cloud and on-premise environments. Perfect for multi-cloud.

Learn how to secure a multi-cloud environment with Zero Trust