Multi Or Hybrid? Dealing With A Complicated Cloud World

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The second coming of cloud has brought with it a new set of complications for businesses in the form of a multi-cloud vs hybrid cloud debate

It’s now widely accepted that, in a general sense, cloud computing has moved beyond the first phase of adoption into what has been dubbed by many as ‘cloud 2.0’.

Following a high-growth 2016, adoption is predicted to accelerate again throughout the rest of this year, as organisations of all sizes look to maximise the efficiency, scalability and agility that the technology has to offer.

Even the more regulated industries such as banking that have been slower to conform have now acknowledged that they simply can’t do without cloud which, despite persisting concerns around shadow IT and a skills shortage, has been capitalised on by the ‘big four’ of Google, Microsoft, Amazon and IBM 

But this second coming of cloud has brought with it a new set of complications and considerations for businesses in the form of a multi-cloud vs hybrid cloud debate. The two terms are often used interchangeably, but there are subtle differences.


Multi vs hybrid: What’s the difference?

In a nutshell, multi-cloud involves using several different cloud services from several different providers. as organisations have realised that not all clouds are exactly the same. Different applications and workloads are suited to different platforms, depending on their specific needs and the intended business outcomes.

For example, one team within a company might require a platform that is optimised for powerful data analytics, whereas another might need something with more of a focus on secure data sharing and collaboration.

Hybrid cloud, on the other hand, is when a business uses two different types of infrastructure across the organisation, i.e. a combination of public and private.

A simple distinction is that a multi-cloud strategy involves separating workloads, whereas in hybrid cloud the data is spread across two different infrastructure types, usually for redundancy or security reasons. 

Problem solving

At Cloud Expo Europe in London earlier this month, one particular panel discussion highlighted how enterprises are approaching the multi/hybrid cloud dilemma.

One of the interesting points to emerge was that, despite many reports to the contrary,  on-premise systems still have a lot of life left in them. “We are seeing a huge shift to the public cloud,” said James Matthews, Azure enterprise lead at Microsoft UK. “But that incumbent compute is going to stick around for a very, very long time. It feels fast when you’re on the inside, but on a macro scale it’s decades away.”

Derek Cockerton, director of ESI and cloud EMEA at Dell EMC agreed, saying: “I’ve been hearing about mainframes disappearing ever since I started in IT and there’s no sign of them disappearing anytime soon.” 

Matthews’ reasoning for this was that it is predominantly down to “sheer pragmatism of deployment”. Some systems and data will simply have to stay on premise, he said, due to factors such as regulatory requirements, jurisdictional issues and operational restrictions.

It’s extremely unlikely that a businesses will have the ability or capacity to carry out one big migration, so “the technology needs to be flexible enough to allow for that slow migration of workloads over time”.


John Easton, IBM Cloud Adoption Advisor for EMEA added that it also depends on “what it is that people are trying to do. There is value in the data that on premise systems hold, but very often people want to move out into the cloud.”

The conversation was also dominated by the idea that, whichever route you go down, it should be focused on solving business problems.

“We’re seeing conversations shift towards multiple clouds, not one single technology,” said Simon Crawley-Trice, director of global solutions & services for EMEA at Rackspace. “I think it’s going to be a combination between hybrid and multi-cloud depending on what’s right for the business.”

“A lot of service providers tend to lead with the technology, but CIOs want a business conversation around what is the business value of hybrid cloud? They want to know what the business value is of consuming these different cloud technologies.”

Cockerton agreed, highlighting that “ultimately the conversation is going to become one of the right workload in the right place at the right price. That’s going to determine the conversation for the next 10 years”. 

This point was also highlighted in a separate panel discussion by Glen Larkin, technical architect at Marks and Spencer, who spoke of the importance of designing an application roadmap strategy that “pushes your environment to the right cloud”.

Unfortunately for businesses, there really is no easy option. There’s so much choice in the market now that knowing which platform is best suited to your organisation’s unique needs is easier said than done.

There is no single answer but, by focusing on solving business problems and thinking about the separate requirements of each workload, achieving the right mix of platforms can become a whole lot easier.

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